Tacos and Taxes with The FinLit Program

Kathleen Perry Contributing Writer

    The UMF Financial Literacy Peer Education Program (FinLit) helps students gain control of their finances through exciting events, including the upcoming Tacos and Taxes. 

    FinLit Coordinator Sarah Hinman said that the event will provide the help of peer educators, all of whom are certified tax preparers, as well as the ability for students to get their taxes filed for free, with a feeling of empowerment and free food. The peer educators will also be working with Hinman and volunteers from United Way. 

    FinLit’s Tacos and Taxes drew in about 30 students last year. Some individuals only needed a small amount of assistance, but the people within the FinLit Program also helped those who had never filed before and were “desperate to take charge of their tax situation,” said Hinman. 

    Taxes and Tacos was designed to provide a more cost-efficient and attractive alternative to the average tax-filing process. FinLit and Hinman recommend coming to this program instead of using another tax preparation service, such as Turbotax or H&R Block because it is free, there is food, and it is empowering. “Money equals power, and being able to handle your finances independently also equals power,” said Hinman.

    The empowerment comes from students being able to have a hand in their tax preparation process, and allows them to be active within it. Being able to file one’s taxes and see the process creates a feeling of pride and confidence. “Tax events are very effective for the people that come,” said intern Caleb Grover.

   Part of what makes the FinLit tax filing experience unique is the peer educators who are there to make the process as easy as possible. “There’s somebody to talk to and we know what we’re talking about,” Grover said with confidence. “If an issue comes up with your taxes, we would be the one to reach out to someone for you–you aren’t on your own.”

    According to a previous article published in The Flyer, the FinLit program was formed last year following a donation of $901,000 from Janet Mills, governor of the state of Maine, to fund the program which was set to be put into place at all public universities in Maine by 2021.

    FinLit helps with more than just taxes throughout UMF. “We provide a safe space for students to come and receive guidance or help on their different financial issues,” Hinman said. “That can range from understanding your bill better, reviewing what you owe for student loans and how much the monthly payment will be.” 

    Tacos and Taxes will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 25 in the Education Center lobby from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students are encouraged to bring their laptop and their appetite. Students can also visit the FinLit office hours Monday through Friday. To make an appointment, contact them through email or direct message on Instagram. 

    For future updates and opportunities for financial advice follow FinLit on Instagram @umf_finlit or email caleb.grover@maine.edu or sarah.hinman@maine.edu.

Stressed About Finances? The #FinLit Squad Can Help

Stressed About Finances? The #FinLit Squad Can Help

Leanna Farr Contributing Writer 

     When it comes to finances, the UMF Financial Literacy Peer Educators (FinLit), is the place to go. The program was created last year after Janet Mills, former state attorney general and the current governor of the state of Maine, donated $901,000 to a grant to fund the program which was set to be implemented at all seven public universities in Maine by 2021. 

    FinLit provides various financial services, such as one-on-one appointments and exit loan counseling on top of organizing presentations and events. The peer educators are experts on FAFSA, credits, loans, budgeting, investing, taxes, and saving. 

    With coordination from Sarah Hinman, the Financial Literacy Peer Education Coordinator, UMF was the first campus to implement the financial literacy program. Hinman has implemented the same program at the University of Maine at Augusta and University of Maine at Orono this year.

   Caleb Grover, a senior business economics major, has been a peer educator since the program began last year. “Our most popular service is filing the FAFSA with students,” said Grover. “One of the program’s missions is to increase the number of students filing their FAFSA in the state of Maine.” Only around 40% of students are filing their FAFSA to receive financial aid, grants and work-study.

Sarah Hinman, Jacob Leonard, and Caleb Grover, Members of the #FinLit Squad (Photo courtesy of Leanna Farr)

    To try and help students with filing their FAFSA, FinLit held an event where peer educators helped students file their FAFSA for free while eating cake. They also advertised a drawing for a $25 gift card. “It went really well, even better than last year which went really well for the first year having it,” Grover said. “This year there was even higher attendance. There was at least one student there at all times.”

    “The key to our success is definitely partnering with other offices to promote and have support for bigger campus-wide events,” Hinman said. They achieve this by giving presentations for admissions with visiting high school students and working with the career services and Merrill Hall.

    When discussing the work as a peer educator Grover said “it’s a professional but relaxed environment where we help students face challenges so they don’t make the same mistakes we did.” Working with other students has made him realize “there are a lot of situations you don’t realize are going on until you hear someone’s situation,” he said, “it is grounding working with people that have it a lot worse than you and you offering them help. 

    Jake Leonard, a junior in the computer science major, also works as a financial peer educator. “There is a lot going on with other student’s finances that you wouldn’t expect. Some people come it not knowing that they owe $30,000 and others are really stressed but only owe a minimal amount,” he said. “There’s a visible weight lifted when people come in and sit with us and understand.” 

    For more information about upcoming events, learn more about the peer educators, and get financial tips, check out their Instagram @umf_finlit. The peer educators can also found in room 201 at Franklin Hall.

New Financial Literacy Program at UMF

By Abby Shields  Contributing Writer

The Financial Literacy program is being re-established with a 5-year long plan advised by program coordinator Sarah Hinman designed to help better educate students about finances in college and prepare them for life after UMF.

   “Our mission is to increase the financial literacy of UMF students by providing them with student led informational programming regarding personal finance, student loan borrowing, default prevention, and financial aid,” said Hinman.

   Hinman was hired in April as a program coordinator and hand selected eight peer educators:  Abby Waceken, Austin French, Bailey Parenteau, Caleb Grover, Isaac michaud, Jake Leonard, McKayla Marois and Sarah Veilleux. When August arrived, Hinman and the peer educators came to campus for a week long training.

   The program started the first day of school, with the goal being for Hinman and her team to reach across the UMaine system. The educators at UMF, known as the #finlitsquad,  run the program, giving Hinman the opportunity to travel across Maine, educating other schools about financial literacy

   Sarah Veileux, a junior at UMF, is happy to be apart of the team. “I came into this program really just out of being at the right place at the right time when I met the coordinator, Sarah Hinman, at Mantor Cafe through a mutual friend,” said Veileux. “We really just connected as people, she thought I would be a great fit for the program and liked my energy for taking boring topics and making them fun and interesting, and now I’m a Financial Literacy Peer Educator.”

   All the members of the team bring something different to the table. “Every educator is expected to perform the basic duties of the program, but they also all bring their own unique personality and skill sets” said Hinman. Whether it be being really good at understanding how to save, knowing how to make the most out of outdoor rec salary, or having experience with investing and budgeting, everyone has a skill they bring to the program.

   Makayla Marois, a junior at UMF, is happy to help students in whatever way she can. “My main focus is on saving money. I chose this because of my own personal savings journey that I believe to be successful,” said Marois. “However, I am trained to help students conquer all of their financial demons, just as every peer educator in the program is.”

   “Our program does a wide array of programming: once a month we host a pizza power in The Landing where we will have pizza and discuss a financial literacy topic for an hour,” said Hinman.

   They also will host special days around FAFSA, reaching out to the local middle/high schools and community colleges and plan to work with the CAs putting on programming throughout the dorms. “We would love to work with clubs, sports teams, and faculty to present to a wide variety of student groups,” said Hinman.

   As for the years to follow if anyone would like to join there will be a hiring process that consists of an application as well as a interview.  

   Their next campus event will be a Pizza Power Hour hosted on Wednesday Oct. 17 from 11:45 a.m. to 1:00  p.m. The topic will be on “the 5 steps to making a budget in college.”

   If students have questions the best way to contact this program is by emailing the coordinator, Sarah Hinman at (sarah.hinman@maine.edu) or stopping by the office in room 201 Franklin Hall.