Strategies to Increase Income
United Way’s financial stability work begins with tools and strategies that help families increase and maximize their income in order to meet daily expenses, as well as to begin the longer-term process of saving and building assets.
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
The EITC is the largest and most effective federal aid program for low- to moderate-income workers. For many eligible families, the EITC can increase their annual income by as much as 15 percent.
Recognizing the EITC’s potential economic benefit to both families and communities, organizations nationwide have formed campaigns to educate families about the availability and benefits of the EITC and to provide support services, such as free tax preparation, to facilitate receipt of the credit. United Ways have been a key leader in this movement, helping thousands of families claim billions in EITC refunds across the more than 250 communities where they are involved.
Workforce Development and Training
To be financially stable, people must have steady jobs and sufficient income to support themselves and their families. Workforce development programs and opportunities allow individuals to compete in the job market by gaining or strengthening the skills necessary to obtain and maintain a job and to advance at their current workplace or to secure a better job elsewhere.
United Ways are increasingly engaging in workforce development programs and opportunities in their communities, including job readiness and soft skills training; remedial and continued education; specific job-related skills training; and services that help individuals obtain and maintain employment, such as transportation and childcare.
Credit Repair and Debt Reduction
While credit repair and debt reduction strategies are often connected to financial education, they are powerful strategies that can dramatically impact household income, and therefore financial stability. Credit repair strategies help individuals improve their credit history and credit score, which is used by lenders, landlords, and increasingly by employers, to assess one’s worthiness for credit, a loan, an apartment, or a job, and to determine interest rates and fees.
Rising levels of debt are also negatively impacting households across the country. The average family with a credit card carries $9,000 in debt, leaving it vulnerable to serious financial difficulties in the event of job loss, an unexpected illness or a costly repair. United Ways are incorporating credit repair and debt reduction strategies into their financial stability work, recognizing that reducing household debt levels allows individuals and families to improve their credit score and increase their access to mainstream financial institutions and services.
Accessing Public and Employer Benefits
Millions of eligible Americans are not utilizing food stamps, health insurance, retirement savings plans and other public and employer-provided benefits that can significantly increase their household income and improve their overall health and well-being. The most common reasons for the underutilization of these benefits are lack of knowledge about the eligibility requirements, long and cumbersome application processes, and fear of non-acceptance.
Software or web-based applications — called benefit calculators — that simplify the eligibility screening and application processes for public and employer-based benefits are proving to be an effective way to remove these barriers. Benefits calculators use common data points, such as marital status, income, and number of dependents, to determine eligibility for multiple benefits programs and then electronically complete and print benefits applications for submission to the appropriate agency.