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At STEPS, Tax Season is an Opportunity to Teach Lifelong Financial Lessons

anthony Anthony Monterroso, Case Manager at STEPS, meets with a resident of The Night Ministry’s transitional living program. (Photo taken February 25, 2020)

During tax season, it is unsurprising that many residents at STEPS, The Night Ministry's transitional living program for young adults experiencing homelessness, might need a hand with their taxes.

Though STEPS provides housing to young people ages 18 to 22, it is not the program's only focus. In addition to case management services, clients are also given life skills coaching to help them become increasingly independent.

Since 2011, the program's Case Manager, Anthony Monterroso, has been offering tax help to residents from this perspective. To Monterroso, yearly IRS filings are a means to teach his clients important financial – and life – lessons.

Many have never filed taxes before, either because they do not know how to do it correctly or because they have never earned enough to qualify. If clients choose to take him up on his offer of assistance, Monterroso helps them file for free through the IRS and Illinois Department of Revenue websites or, in complicated cases, complete and mail the paperwork by hand.

Residents often express surprise at how easy filing is. "The struggle comes in when it seems like a very complex goal to try to accomplish," he said. "At first, it can appear like filing is a big mystery, a big challenge. But once they're able to go through the process, there's a sense of accomplishment that I see in their faces, a little smile."

STEPS' clients tackle other financial hurdles by learning the value of saving. As a program requirement, those who are employed must save 40% of what they earn.

According to Monterroso, equipping them with positive financial habits like saving readies residents for life beyond the program. "If they don't save money, they're not going to be able to survive in the real world."

Those savings will often help STEPS residents afford security deposits and several months' worth of rent on their own apartments when they leave the program or pay for ongoing education. If they do decide to pursue higher learning, Monterroso aids them in finding ways to finance their education without taking on too much debt, such as through financial aid packages.

The impact of his assistance, he hopes, will help clients grow beyond just baseline financial stability and avoid common money pitfalls both now and in the future.

Beyond dollars and cents, his lessons impart an attitude of self-reliance. As he tells residents, "that way, you'll know how to do it in the future all by yourself."

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