Thursday, February 22, 2024

SECU - Consider This: Chapter 21 - Tax Prep, "We" Know Best? "WE" ... curiouser and curiouser!

In keeping with its "WE are SECU" approach to leadership, the SECU Board in 2022 dropped tax preparation services - without review or discussion with the SECU membership .

When challenged about the decision "the We Board" said tax prep was an unnecessary distraction and only served such a "tiny segment of our membership" - "in 2022, fewer than 2% of our members used the program". When asked by staff what to tell members, the answer was: "Although our staff diligently and competently prepared tax returns, "we've" come to believe that members are best served... by someone else."

Tax prep was a "unicorn service" at SECU. The Credit Union became involved in tax prep because less affluent taxpayers - including many SECU members - were getting ripped-off by a service then known as a "Tax Refund Anticipation Loan", which often unfairly grabbed from 10%, up to 25% of the taxpayer's tax refund - (much like RBL that lending practice was "legal" at the time!).

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance/ Tax Counseling for the Elderly (VITA/TCE) program was IRS sponsored and aimed at helping assure folks were treated fairly. SECU started participating @ 2012. That "tiny segment" of SECU members served had exceeded 100,000+, pre-pandemic. Along with AARP, SECU had become the largest volunteer tax prep service in the U.S. The VITA program was limited to folks earning < than $60,000 and accepted only simple 1040 returns. SECU was not attempting to displace CPA tax experts, nor to become H&R Block! IRS provided the training, software and support at no cost - plus a hard dollar cash grant. Can't think of a much better mentor on taxes than the IRS, can you?

Tax prep was a difficult service to offer, because of the time crunch which was from @ February 1 to April 15 - lots of pressure to perform. The program had some exceptional SECU leadership, however, and innovative ideas for improving and better managing the tax prep service occurred every year. Every interested employee was given the opportunity to be trained and certified by the IRS in tax prep. Those who earned and maintained the designation received salary increases. 

Much like the SECU Salary Advance Loan [see Chapter 13], process improvements, automation, and workflow enhancements were working. Tax prep was a "drop off" service which simply meant that the Credit Union could chose when and where to process the tax return; routine branch duties did not have to be interrupted. Returns were usually completed within a week. Originally, a service provided without charge, a fee of $95 was later added. Not hard to compute the revenue side of the program is it; 100,000+ returns at @$95 each = @$10 million.

But the "unicorn economic impact" of the tax prep program for the SECU membership and North Carolina was far greater than $10 million. Far greater! For example, the "average cost " to have a simple 1040 tax return prepared in the marketplace is @ $240 (check it out for yourself!). So, if each of those 100,000+ members saved $145 in tax prep fees ($240-$95 =$145), then that left $14.5 million in their pockets for such luxuries as food, shelter and clothing.  

But there is more! Lower income working men and women in N.C. qualify for several special tax deductions and credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). These credits can only be claimed if a tax return is filed. The average tax credit is @$2,476 but can go as high as $7,500 or more. 

  But, over 1 in 5 of eligible N.C. citizens don't apply for these credits, leaving over $450 million unclaimed "on the table". UNC-CH has done a lot of work in this area [here take a look]. What if SECU could help help inject $450 million into the North Carolina economy - especially rural N.C.? Or, put an additional $2,476 in the pockets of an SECU member or $7,500 in the pockets of a N.C. family of four - by simply getting paid $10 million to help them file their taxes?

  Would helping our members in this major way be worth a little trouble? Could we get together, figure it out, and make it work?  

Or are we too busy to be bothered by the members? 

Choices need to be made... your future depends on it!

.... "We are SECU"**?... or "Unicorn"! 

** "industry standard"- idiom, n., definition: to be neither better nor worse, middle-ish, average, halfway between good and bad, "C-paper"; for synonym see: mediocre. Often used as a substitute for original thought in strategic plans.


  1. If tax prep is the hill you want to die on, then you will certainly die on it. There is not a shortage of free tax prep out there, including via the VITA program and TurboTax. It was a waste of member resources. Good riddance.

    1. You know what else was a waste of members money? 6 mill to Jim Hayes.🤒

    2. 7:07 Last time I checked the users of this service are members too and greatly appreciated THEIR resources being used for their benefit. My members were severely disappointed that this service was cancelled and I had more complaints concerning cancellation of this service than any other action the SECU has taken. Contrary to your inference that there are convenient alternatives everywhere. My members were having serious problems locating this service if at all. A lot ended up back with paid tax preparers. We left them high and dry with little notice or wind down. Also if Turbo Tax was a viable alternative they would have already been using. This was a very valuable service that helped my most vulnerable and least tech and financially challenged members. I think this is a hill worth climbing but it takes effort and hard work. People Helping People is a mission and often is not convenient or easy but is definitely worth the effort.

    3. That "hill" has become a mountain of other issues aimed at we don't care about the members! Obviously you love the Gym Haze and Brady Bunch Koolaid. You sound just like a BANK - which we do not want to become! 4 more in '24!!!

    4. Yes. There are other places to file free taxes. There are elderly members and a few more who are technically challenged and more restricted in accessing these "free" places and websites. Agree the percentage is small but that percentage STILL exists. AND they are the "OWNERS" of this financial institution. Are you saying you will DENY the OWNERS their "RIGHTS" to get what they deserve?

      What hill do you think we should die on instead? Bad management, bad decisions, losing millions consistently, tax members with RBL, lower interest rates, insult employees as legacies and push them into a corner so they have no choice but to leave on their own so you can go around touting that you "haven't" laid off anyone, pompusly declare you are more smarter than those of us already employed here and buy software that is "being used by your previous workplace" (so much for being smarter than us), etc. etc.

      Please enlighten us.

    5. The problem with tax prep was that it absolutely overwhelmed branches for a quarter of the year. Employees had to take on a massive task in addition to their regular duties.

    6. Can understand what a relief it would be to lighten the workload, especially since the strategy of This Board and Hayes was to make things as difficult as possible in the branches so folks would leave. then "they" can bring in others with the bankers mentality. Leigh Brady and Her board have continued those policies. Full speed ahead. Running over members and employees. but the employees "think" something nice was done for them when tax prep was discontinued. Think again!!

    7. There certainly is a shortage of free tax preparers in many areas. I say that as someone who is not upset that I’m not having to file them anymore. It is a relief. I did it for years, was good at it, and learned a lot. Many branches just do not have the capacity to do it these days. However, it was a valuable service to many members and it gave us a well rounded understanding of information that benefited members. No need to be snide about it, 7:07.

  2. "...without review or discussion with the SECU membership ."
    Do they ever ask, or even care?

    "...we've" come to believe that members are best served... by someone else."
    Maybe that includes ALL my business ...

    "The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance/ Tax Counseling for the Elderly ..."
    ELDERLY! We don't care about no stinking Old People needing money to feed their cat!

    "... a fee of $95 was later added."
    The gov should subsidize this ... they give everybody under the sun money ...

    "then that left $14.5 million in their pockets for such luxuries as food, shelter and clothing."
    or maybe a money gun, or they could pay more interest on their RBL loans for kicks and giggles ...

    But there is more! There is always more ... ;)

    "What if SECU could help help inject $450 million into the North Carolina economy - especially rural N.C.?"
    BUT BUT we have folks from LA and NY we want to help ... maybe even DC (wink-wink)...

    Or are we too busy to be bothered by the members?

    so sorry we can't answer the phone right now please hold until the next available over-worked and under-paid legacy employee helps you out while us new/new enjoy our free lunch on you (sucker)!
    Bon Voyage ... see ya in Hawaii or is it Duck this year?

  3. As a senior citizen, I find information and instructions by the government to be ridiculously confusing. They seem to want to explain all scenarios to reduce the size of documentation, but the outcome is a series of complex sentences that are difficult to follow. I used a CPA last year for the first time because my recent retirement situation. I paid 350 to CPA and paid over 2k in taxes. This year I went back to TurboTax because I didn't want to pay nearly 400 for tax prep, but I can only hope that I interpret/translate the questions correctly. I never used the tax prep service at SECU, but I know someone that did use it to do his mother's tax return and was sorry it was taken away. I wish I had the SECU option now. The hostility of some employees toward helping members is really sad. For those employees who understand the SECU mission of people helping people, thank you for caring and serving others. You have the ability to empathize and can feel good about yourself at the end of the day. - Charity