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Tax Master 

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It may seem a stretch to connect personal finance with empowerment, especially for those who have lived by the mantra of "Eat the rich" since birth. Having money means you're evil, right? The 1%! Go to hell, Warren Buffett!

All joking aside, personal finance and financial planning shouldn't be a luxury reserved for the rich. We all deserve the chance to understand where our money goes and how we can make our income work best for us. That's why the Earn It! Keep It! Save It! (EKS) coalition is an idea whose time has come. Created specifically for Bay Area residents, EKS' mission is to provide free tax preparation as a tool to help low income residents become financially stable—and part of the United Way's strategic initiative to cut local poverty in half by 2020.

Here in Sonoma County, Empire College accounting students will use VITA, a tax preparation program through the IRS, to deliver free income services to low-income residents (household income must be less than $52,000 in 2013) through April 15. The program is a win-win in that it provides valuable tax prep and guidance, which can lead to greater returns, and works as a service-based learning opportunity for Empire College accounting students, who must become IRS certified in tax preparation to participate.

The EKS kick-off event gets underway on Saturday, Jan. 25, at Empire College. 3035 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa. 9am–1pm. 707.546.4000. Attendees will have the chance to explore free tax help, onsite healthcare and CalFresh enrollment, and direct deposit and bank services. For more information, see www.unitedwaywinecountry.org.

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