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6 Free Tips Before You File Your Taxes

Setting smart goals now can be your key to financial success this year.

Lots of people make resolutions or commit to getting their finances in order at the start of the year.  Tax time is a good season to think about what you want to do with your money and set some goals.  Here are a few things people should think about before they file their taxes:

  1. Mortgage relief tax deduction – At the end of last year Congress extended the mortgage debt relief tax exemption so if you had a short sale or had some portion of your mortgage forgiven or reduced you do not have to pay taxes on that money.  That extension was only for a year.  They will have to revisit the legislation and extend it again by the end of this year.
  2. Are you eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit? –  The income limit has increased for the Earned Income tax Credit.  If your family earns $80,000 a year or less you might be eligible for more than $5,800 Credit on your tax return.
  3. You don’t have to pay to get your taxes prepared or filed.  Especially if you have relatively simple taxes.  The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program provides free tax prep services in Cuyahoga County.  ESOP is one location where you can get your taxes prepared and filed for free.   Call United Way 2-1-1 to schedule an appointment.
  4. DO NOT pay for tax refund advances!  – Many tax prep companies advertise that they will file your taxes and get you an instant refund.  That’s actually an advance on your estimated refund from the IRS.  They take a percentage of the refund you are due.  And if the refund amount turns out to be wrong, you have to pay the difference back to the company.
  5. What will you do with your tax refund?  – Don’t just splurge.  Think strategically about what you want to accomplish with your money this year.  Do you want to reduce debt, improve your credit score, save for a house?
  6. Financial advisors aren’t only for the rich.  – You can get free financial counseling and coaching to help you take an honest look at your finances and credit, set financial goals, and make an action plan to reach them.  If you’re interested in a free financial coaching session you can contact ESOP toll free at 877-731-ESOP or go to our website


ESOP is a HUD-approved housing and financial counseling agency. ESOP‘s mission is to foster the economic empowerment of disenfranchised communities through outreach, education and advocacy. 


ESOP is partnering with Third Federal Savings and Loan’s HomeToday which is a  comprehensive program which combines group education sessions and personal counseling to teach the fundamental skills of good financial management and successful homeownership.

ESOP’s homebuyer education class will teach you the important basics of the home buying   process covering topics such as:

  • Homeownership Readiness
  •  Budgeting and Credit Management
  •  Financing
  •  Accessing Affordable Mortgage Products
  •  Shopping for a Home
  •  Maintaining a Home

Complete the seminar requirements and Third Federal will give you $2,000 towards down payment.*

Dates:       July 10th & 17th

                    Sept 4th & 11th

Location: 7000 Euclid Ave., Suite 203

                    Cleveland, OH 44103

Time:        6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Contact ESOP at 216-361-0718 to reserve your seat.

*Maximum loan amount is $150,000. Must originate loan with Third Federal to receive $2,000 towards down payment. Details of the down payment assistance program will be provided at the seminar.


Innovative new program is aimed at helping low-income seniors pay off delinquent property taxes and receive free financial counseling to stabilize their finances.

CLEVELAND, OH – Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (“ESOP”) is excited to announce a Commitment to Action with the Clinton Global Initiative that will provide much needed assistance for homeowners aged 55 and older facing possible property tax foreclosure.


The Senior Tax Delinquency Loan Program is a partnership between ESOP, Third Federal Savings and Loan and Faith Community United Credit Union that will offer an affordable loan to older homeowners who have fallen behind on their property taxes.These loans should preclude the County from selling these tax liens to ruthless debt collectors allowing early risk senior homeowners to avoid exorbitant payday lenders and high interest credit cards.


The Third Federal Savings and Loan is providing $200,000 of working capital to fund the loans in this pilot program and Faith Community United Credit Union will service the loans.ESOP will provide outreach, underwriting and mandatory financial counseling to prospective borrowers, and will also offer other free financial services to help address the problems that caused the delinquency.


Since the start of the housing crisis ESOP has counseled more than 25,000 people facing mortgage foreclosure across Ohio.“In Cuyahoga County more than 40 percent of the people who have come to us for help saving their homes are age 55 or older,” said Roslyn Quarto, Executive Director of ESOP. “There is little help available for seniors on limited incomes once they fall behind on their property taxes.It’s really a shame to see someone who has lived, worked and raised a family in their home for decades in danger of losing it all because of only $2000 in back property taxes.”


“We’re pleased to provide not just the working capital to get the senior loan program started, but also to be a part of the social capital behind the program,” said Maria Thompson, manager of Third Federal’s Community Development Services. “So we consider our investment in the loan program as an investment in the community that we’re so much a part of.”


“Faith Community United Credit Union is a full-service Community Development Credit Union serving all of Cuyahoga County.For over 60 years we have helped many residents achieve their financial goals, one being home ownership,” said Jacqueline Moore, Acting CEO of Faith Community.“Programs such as this support our motto of “people helping people” we look forward to being the loan servicers and will offer additional financial services to participants as needed.”


The loan program was developed as part of ESOP’s participation in the Clinton Global Initiative’s Working Group on Financial Opportunity and was officially announced at the CGI annual conference in Denver, CO. The Working Group is tasked with developing new opportunities that strengthen the consumer marketplace with smart products and services, while enabling Americans to make better financial decisions. The senior loan program pairs a smart and affordable loan product with integrated financial services to help seniors age in place with a more stable financial future.


This year ESOP launched the Senior Financial Empowerment Initiative in order to increase the financial stability of Ohio’s growing lower income senior population. ESOP will help this expanding group of older homeowners with various financial services including foreclosure prevention assistance, one-on-one budget and financial counseling, credit repair services, free year-round income tax preparation services, public forums to educate seniors on how to avoid financial exploitation and benefits check-ups through our Ohio Benefit Bank site.


Ohio was one of the states hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, largely because of subprime predatory lenders who often preyed on seniors.“Many of them just don’t have anywhere to turn for this type of financial help,” said Quarto of ESOP’s older clients. “That’s why we wanted to start this program. In a lot of our communities it’s the seniors, lifelong residents, who are holding devastated neighborhoods together.We want to help them age in place as long as it’s safe and affordable and make sure they’re getting all the financial services needed to make that possible.”



About the Clinton Global Initiative America
The Clinton Global Initiative America (CGI America), a program of the Clinton Global Initiative, addresses economic recovery in the United States. Established in June 2011 by President Bill Clinton, CGI America brings together leaders in business, government, and civil society to generate and implement commitments to create jobs, stimulate economic growth, foster innovation, and support workforce development in the United States. Since its first meeting, CGI America participants have made over 300 commitments valued at more than $15 billion when fully funded and implemented. To learn more, visit

Established in 2005 by President Bill Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), an initiative of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, convenes global leaders year-round and at its Annual Meeting to create and implement solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. CGI also convenes CGI University, which brings together undergraduate and graduate students to address pressing challenges in their communities and around the world. To date, members of the CGI community have made more than 2,800 Commitments to Action, which are already improving the lives of more than 430 million people in over 180 countries. When fully funded and implemented, these commitments will be valued at $103 billion. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @ClintonGlobal and Facebook at
About ESOP
ESOP is a HUD-approved foreclosure prevention counseling agency. We have four offices across Ohio to help urban, suburban and rural homeowners. ESOP‘s mission is to foster the economic empowerment of disenfranchised communities through outreach, education and advocacy.

Free Tax Service Nets $905K in Tax Refunds

This year ESOP helped put nearly a million dollars back into the local community and into the hands of people who need it most by helping them file for $905,792 in tax refunds!

In February ESOP launched the first year of our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

VITA programs help low-income, working families make their way through the tax code, claiming the full amount of any tax refund for which they are qualified. Without VITA help, many struggling households will turn to the help of commercial tax preparers who charge fees in excess of $350. Since 2005, the VITA program in Cuyahoga County has saved EITC filers over $7 million in fees and high interest loans.

ESOP participated in the 2014 VITA program and the results solidified a new source of support for the communities in Cuyahoga County. During the 2014 tax season, the staff at ESOP was successful in providing free tax services to hundreds of low-income families. ESOP completed 574 tax returns for the 2013 tax year and 93 previous year returns for a total of 667 people who received free tax assistance provided by ESOP through the VITA program.

Here are the results of our work:

· Total of 667 returns filed

· Total in Federal refunds: $758,942

· Total in State refunds: $146,850

· TOTAL $ brought back into the community: $905,792!!!!

· Average Federal refund: $1,472

· Average State refund: $169

· Average total refund: $1,641

· Total Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): $382,112

· Total education credits: $66,787

· Total Child Tax Credit: $47,499

     The VITA program at ESOP will continue to provide free tax assistance for the remaining year.


ESOP Welcomes New Class of Board Members

Diversified Board Experience Aimed at Building on Past Success and Seeking New Opportunities

CLEVELAND, OH –Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP) is proud to announce the election of six new board members who will help to build new programs and partnerships that further ESOP’s mission to foster the economic empowerment of disenfranchised communities through outreach, education and advocacy.

“I am pleased to welcome all of our new board members and their commitment to advance ESOP’s mission.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them and continue the legacy of our founder Inez Killingsworth.” said Barbara Anderson, ESOP’s Board President.

“I’m very happy to have such a diverse and accomplished group of professionals join our dedicated board and staff members as we look at ways to expand our mission and programs to meet the emerging needs of the people we serve,” said Roslyn Quarto, ESOP’s Executive Director.

The new members are already working on innovative solutions and partnerships that will help meet the needs of our low to moderate income communities and provide tools for economic stability and financial empowerment.

Here is a list of our new board members and their thoughts on joining ESOP’s dedicated team:

Brent J. Semachko

  • VP, Corporate Responsibility, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • B.S, Political Science, Virginia Tech

o   “I joined ESOP’s board because I share in their passion for supporting individuals and their community and I hope to help them evolve and continue their mission.”

James Rudyk

  • Executive Director, Northwest Side Housing Center (Chicago, IL)
  • Young Professionals Board President, John Howard Association
  • MA, Northwestern University
  • BA, Race Studies, John Carroll University
  • Graduate of the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program 2012

o   “As a former staff member at ESOP, my passion and commitment to ESOP remain. I am looking forward to continuing the work of ESOP and provide guidance and oversight through my non-profit management and community organizing experience.” 

Angela Shuckahosee

  • Executive Director, Cleveland Tenants Organization
  • BA, Political Communication, University of Kansas
  • MA, Public Administration, Cleveland State University

o   “I hope to help the organization through changes in the philanthropic climate as well as changes in programmatic execution.”

Sean Simmons

  • VP, Community Development Reporting Manager, Huntington National Bank
  • MBA, University of Pittsburgh
  • Board President, All-THAT, an afterschool teen mentoring program

o   “I have been inspired by ESOP’s dedication to the future of their mission, their respect for a storied history, and ultimately, their commitment to serving those with a weaker voice.”

Geneva Anderson

  • VP, Human Resources, Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging
  • BA, Marketing, Notre Dame College
  • MA, Labor Relations/Human Resources, Cleveland State University
  • Chair, Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, Cultural Diversity Training Committee
  • Member, Community Planning Advisory Committee (C-PAC), part of the Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation
  • Member, Human Resources Committee; (ADAMHSCC Board) Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County
  • Member, Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM)
  • Member, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Breast Cancer, Human Resources & Volunteer Committees

o   “I am a neighbor, member and employee of the community that ESOP serves. It is an honor to become a part of the Board, to not only fulfill my personal commitment, but also my professional commitment of enhancing our community through services needed; neighborhood redevelopment and community involvement.”

Leslie Yerkes, Ex-Officio

  • President, Catalyst Consulting Group, Inc.
  • BA, Wittenberg University
  • MSODA, Case
  • WIRE-net Board
  • Friends of Max Hayes Board
  • Author
  • Speaker
  • Adjunct Faculty at CASE

o   “It is a privilege to support the mission of ESOP.”


ESOP is a non-profit, HUD-approved foreclosure prevention counseling agency. We have five offices across Ohio to help urban, suburban and rural homeowners. ESOP‘s mission is to foster the economic empowerment of disenfranchised communities through outreach, education and advocacy.

Save the Dream Ohio Set to Stop Taking Registrations April 30th

CLEVELAND, OH – A critical foreclosure prevention program that has already saved nearly 17,000 homes from foreclosure is about to come to an end. April 30th is the deadline for homeowners to register for Save the Dream Ohio and get up to $35,000 in assistance with their mortgage.

Save the Dream Ohio is designed to help struggling homeowners keep their homes in the event of a job loss, death of a spouse, overwhelming medical bills or some other financial hardship that may occur. The program can be a lifeline for a laid-off worker who is looking for a new job or a widow who is dealing with the loss of a spouse and their income. It can pay past due mortgage bills, make mortgage payments for up to 18 months and eliminate liens and much more depending on the individual circumstances.

However, the federal funding for the program is running out. Of the $570 million originally given to Ohio for the program there is approximately $100 million left. That’s why anyone who needs assistance should act now and get registered for the program before time and money run out.

Struggling homeowners should contact ESOP call toll free at 1-877-731-ESOP and let a trained housing counselor help them figure out if they qualify for the program. Counselors can get them registered and walk them through the full application process.


ESOP is a non-profit, HUD-approved foreclosure prevention counseling agency. We have five offices across Ohio to help urban, suburban and rural homeowners. ESOP‘s mission is to foster the economic empowerment of disenfranchised communities through outreach, education and advocacy.

FREE Income Tax Assistance Available at ESOP

It’s that time of year again.   Your W-2 and 1099 forms are arriving in the mail. You may be gathering receipts and thinking of what you can do with your much-needed tax refund.  Pay off some bills, get the car repaired, maybe make some home improvements.

But before you visit a shop promising to get your tax refund faster, stop and think … what’s in it for them?  Probably a chunk of your money!

Don’t pay for help filing your taxes and don’t get caught up in a tax advance scheme. Volunteers at ESOP can help you file your taxes for FREE so you keep ALL of your refund.

Bonus news … if your family earns $50,000 a year or less you might be missing out on more than $5,800 in Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) through your tax return!  All the more reason to get your taxes done for free and keep your refund money.

The EITC helps you get the dollars you deserve.  It is a refund to qualified taxpayers – even if you don’t owe any taxes on your income.  You may qualify for refunds from $460 to $5,800 depending on your family size and yearly income.  File your taxes free at one of many locations in Cuyahoga County starting in January. When you file free, you’ll get all your refund!

The ESOP tax site in Cleveland will be open Jan 21st to April 17, 2014.

Appointment Hours:

Monday 11:00a.m. – 2:00p.m.
Tuesday 11:00a.m. – 2:00p.m.

5:00p.m. – 6:30p.m.

Wednesday 11:00a.m. – 2:00p.m.
Thursday 11:00a.m. – 2:00p.m.

5:00p.m. – 6:30p.m.

Friday 11:00a.m. – 2:00p.m.


Visit or contact United Way 2-1-1 by dialing 2-1-1 to schedule your appointment.


CLEVELAND, OH – Today the Senate took a significant step to ensure a full and fair recovery from the foreclosure crisis.  Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP) applauds the confirmation of Rep. Mel Watt as the new Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

We especially thank Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman for putting Ohio families first in voting for today’s confirmation.

For too many years the rules at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, imposed by FHFA, have denied homeowners the possibility of principal reduction, a useful tool that can help preserve homeownership and stabilize communities.  This is an especially critical tool in hardest hit communities where foreclosures remain high and millions of borrowers struggle with underwater mortgages.  With the confirmation of Rep. Mel Watt we are hopeful that all the tools needed to help deal with the lingering devastation of the housing crisis will be put to full use.

Families are still suffering and there is still much work to be done.  It’s time to use all the options available to protect homeownership, help families stabilize their finances, and rebuild American communities.

We are optimistic that Director Watt will show real leadership to help keep families in their homes, ensure fair lending and servicing practices, boost the housing recovery and chart a course for the appropriate role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the future of housing finance.


Consumer Protection Deserves a Vote

U.S. Senators should stop the assault on the CFPB and hold a vote on the Cordray nomination.

CLEVELAND, OH – Last week the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs voted to move forward with the nomination of Richard Cordray for Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Cordray has won praise from bankers and consumer advocates, and from Republicans as well as Democrats. Yet the nomination and the vital work of the CFPB are in peril.  That’s because 43 Senators are threatening to block a full floor vote unless the bureau’s structure is changed to drastically reduce the its authority and funding. These changes would weaken the bureau and leave American consumers without a voice among federal financial regulators.

It’s time to stop the attack on the CFPB and let the bureau do its job.  Senators should end the games and hold a full floor vote on Cordray’s nomination.

“The last year has shown the nation what ESOP has known all along,” said Mark Seifert, ESOP’s Executive Director, “that Richard Cordray works in a fair, transparent and professional way to protect American consumers while balancing the needs of responsible players in the financial industry.  All the negative predictions about how the CFPB would hurt the industry have not come true.  It’s time to stop coming up with bogus excuses to block this nomination and the work of the bureau.”

The Senate faces a simple choice: allow an up/down vote on this nomination, or open the door to more of what the CFPB is working hard to prevent – abusive and deceptive banking and lending practices like those that fed an epidemic of foreclosures, saddled millions of Americans with unmanageable debt, and triggered a financial meltdown.

The bureau is finally taking some of the lessons learned from the financial crisis and using them to institute sound and consistent rules that protect American consumers without unduly burdening responsible players in the financial industry.

Forbes has called the CFPB “Main Street’s Best Friend in Government.” In less than two years since the bureau began its work it has made great strides:

  • Returning more than $400 million to nearly six million consumers cheated by credit card companies.
  • Standing up for students and families trapped in high-cost education loans
  • Protecting military families against illegal foreclosures and deceptive education-loan practices
  • Enabling consumers to finally know just how much they are charged for sending money overseas, and how much their family members actually receive
  • Going after fraudulent companies that collect up-front fees for help they don’t deliver to desperate borrowers
  • Beginning to monitor the out-of-control world of credit reporting and debt collection
  • Giving financial consumers an effective way to complain about errors and misdeeds

(Click here for a list of accomplishments by the bureau.)

Polls show strong and broad public support for the bureau, across party lines. No one has questioned Mr. Cordray’s qualifications or performance. Even many financial industry leaders agree that the CFPB, under his leadership, has been a fair and reasonable regulator.

It is wrong to hold up the nomination of a qualified leader, and hold hostage a law passed by Congress, signed by the President and supported by large majorities of the public.  It is bad for consumers, bad for responsible lenders, and bad for the broader economy.  We strongly encourage Senators to show they have the best interest of American consumers at heart and hold a full vote on the Cordray nomination.


Here we go again.  It takes Washington, D.C. politicians to take something so simple and common sense and turn it into a complicated excuse to act like petulant children.

Last week President Obama once again nominated former Ohio Treasurer and Attorney General Richard Cordray to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

201208_CFPB_rich-cordray-hires     The first time Cordray was nominated Republican Senators blocked a vote on his nomination and used procedural tricks to keep the President from moving forward.  They weren’t upset about Mr. Cordray’s qualifications, record of service or character.  Instead they were ticked off they couldn’t get their way to restructure agency so they decided to take their ball and go home.

Now it looks like the D.C. crowd will replay the same drama all over again.  Republicans have renewed their call for a 5-member panel to lead the agency instead of a director, as if adding four more people to the public payroll falls right in line with their effort for smaller more efficient government.  They also want the bureau’s funding subject to congressional approval.  But given how long it took them to approve funding for super storm Sandy relief one could only imagine how the bureau’s funding would be delayed, politicized and stripped to prevent any real work from getting done.

However this time there is proof that fears about how the CFPB and Cordray would hurt the industry with crushing regulations were completely unfounded.  By all accounts the CFPB, under Cordray’s direction, has taken a fair and level-headed approach to looking at mortgages, credit cards and other financial products.  The agency has been transparent and opened all of its efforts to industry and consumer advocates, incorporating their feedback into final rules and reforms.

Make no mistake the goal of all the political posturing is to protect the very industry that nearly destroyed our economy instead of average American consumers who are still suffering the effects of the financial crisis.  The bureau’s opponents are also upset that the President bypassed their petty parlor tricks last year and put Cordray in charge with a recess appointment.  So now they want to put their foot down and insist on getting their way.

But the facts are simple.  Unfair and even illegal financial practices brought our economy to the brink, costing millions of Americans their homes and jobs, destroying neighborhoods and decimating the financial support for basic public services.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is finally taking some of the lessons learned from the crisis and using them to institute sound and consistent rules that protect American consumers and even the financial industry from self-destruction.  At a time when Congress has pitiful approval ratings you would think that they’d embrace the agency designed to protect the people who give them their jobs.

So while we think it goes without saying, we’ll say it anyway; Senators should approve Richard Cordray’s nomination for Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The financial industry spends millions of dollars every year to have people looking out for their best interest in Washington.  American consumers deserve to have someone looking out for their best interest too.