When it comes to tax time, it’s probably safe to assume that most folks aren’t thinking about savings. But that’s exactly what we at Southern Bancorp had on our mind in 2016 when we unveiled the Split, Save and Win sweepstakes aimed at encouraging people to save a portion of their tax refund. It is a non-traditional approach to savings, but then again, Southern is a non-traditional type of financial institution.
As a mission-driven financial institution, Southern Bancorp works to create economic opportunity in our communities by utilizing a wide range of traditional financial products along with very non-traditional development services. One such service is our participation in the IRS’ VITA program (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), which is our effort to help families keep more of the money they earn.
Every January through April, trained Southern volunteers in Arkansas and Mississippi provide tax preparation services to the local community free of charge. In over a decade’s time, we have filed more than 21,000 returns resulting in more than $42 million in refunds going back into the community, of which half was in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit (one of the largest poverty reduction measures in the country).
And while we have certainly been proud of this accomplishment, we knew that more needed to be done to encourage families to hold onto those refunds. Specifically, we wanted to encourage folks to build financial cushions for emergencies (which can help people avoid predatory lenders) and help them save toward their own financial goals. This is how Split Save and Win was born.
Modeled on the national Save Your Refund program from Commonwealth (more at www.saveyourrefund.com), Split, Save and Win encourages taxpayers to save part of their refund by using IRS Form 8888 to designate a portion of their refund to go into a savings vehicle, such as a deposit account, a savings bond, a MyRA retirement savings account, a health savings account, or even a prepaid card. Those participating are entered into a weekly drawing for $50 and a one-time $1,000 grand prize drawing at the end of tax time.
According to the CFED’s Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, more than half of the families in Arkansas and Mississippi do not have enough savings to subsist for three months at the poverty line, and tax time savings promotions such as Southern’s Split, Save and Win can help ensure families are prepared for the inevitable economic setbacks.
Split, Save and Win is just one of the ways we are pursuing an audacious set of ten year goals meant to create monumental change in the communities we serve. Over the next 10 years, we are committed to empowering 1,000,000 people to save through a variety of methods, including public policy, traditional banking services, and of course, innovative ways of bringing savings to the forefront of people’s minds, like Split, Save and Win!