Glossary

529 Plan

a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future college costs. 529 plans, legally known as “qualified tuition plans,” are sponsored by states, state agencies, or educational institutions and are authorized by Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code.

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Asset

a store of household wealth, typically in the form of cash savings, stocks and bonds, as well as home, business or real estate equity.

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Asset building

strategies and policies that enhance the financial security of lower-income individuals, families and communities by increasing their access to savings and investment opportunities or protecting their net worth. 

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Asset building field

a sphere of research, activity and interest focused on building the financial security of families and communities through targeted strategies and public policy.

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Asset Building Policy Network

a coalition of the nation’s preeminent civil rights and advocacy organizations committed to coordinating savings and asset building policy and advocacy efforts at a national level, developing a shared communications agenda and strategy, and building the capacity of members and their networks. (http://assetbuildingpolicynetwork.org)

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Asset poverty

a term used to describe a household with insufficient financial resources to live above the poverty level for more than three months without a source of income.

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Asset protection/preservation

products, services, programs and strategies that enable households to protect or preserve the value of their financial assets, such as health and home insurance.

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Assets and Opportunity Network

a movement-oriented national network of advocates, practitioners, policymakers and others working to expand the reach and deepen the impact of asset-based strategies. Network members are on the frontlines of advocacy, coalition-building and service delivery. (http://assetsandopportunity.org/network/)

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Auto title loans

a type of short term loan (typically less than 30 days) whereby a borrower uses their car title as collateral.  Loans have a high interest rate and the car is forfeited if the loan is not paid.

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Automatic Individual Retirement Account (Auto IRA)

automatic enrollment of workers in a payroll deduction retirement savings plan.  Auto IRA policies has been proposed at the federal level but never passed; state auto IRA legislation has passed in several states – including Illinois and California – and is under consideration in more than 25 states.

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Building Economic Security Over a Lifetime (BESOL)

a Ford Foundation initiative that supports national policy organizations, state coalitions with grassroots constituencies, and research centers in their efforts to expand opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color to save and invest in wealth-building financial assets. (http://www.fordfoundation.org/issues/economic-fairness/building-economic-security-over-a-lifetime)

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Capital gains tax rate

the rate of taxation of investment income.  The capital gains tax rate depends on a taxpayer’s tax bracket, the type of asset sold, how long it was held and when it was sold.  A taxpayer’s “short term” capital gains tax rate is the same rate as their ordinary income tax rate and applies to investments held for a year or less. The “long-term” capital gains tax rate applies to assets held for more than a year. The top rate currently stands at 20% plus a 3.8% medical surtax for the highest income earners, far below the top income tax rate of 39.6%.

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Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC)

a nonrefundable tax credit designed to support working families to cover the expenses of caring for their children, an incapacitated spouse or another adult.  Households may claim up to $3,000 per year ($6,000 for more than one child/dependent). The credit applies to 20-35% of qualifying expenses, based on a taxpayer’s income; taxpayers earning up to $15,000 can claim the maximum rate of 35%. 

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Child savings account

a long-term savings account held in a child’s name, also known as Child Development Accounts. CSAs are typically seeded with an initial deposit, often accompanied by matching funds for lower-income households, and usually earmarked for specified uses such as paying for higher education, purchasing a home or saving for retirement.

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Child support

court-ordered payments, typically made by a noncustodial parent after divorce or separation to a custodial parent, to support a minor child or children.

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Child support debt

a non-custodial parent who does not pay court-mandated child support to a custodial parent, as mandated by the courts, will build up a liability known as child support debt, or “arrears”. This debt may include fines, fees and interest charges.  For the most part, states, rather than the federal government, handle child support debt.

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Child Tax Credit (CTC)

a tax credit that helps working families offset the cost of raising children.  The CTC is worth up to $1,000 per eligible child (based on 15% of income over $3,000, up to the $1,000 maximum).  The CTC has a refundable component, the Additional Child Tax Credit — if the value of the credit is more than what a family owes in taxes, they will get the remainder in the form of a refund from the federal government.

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Community development credit union

a nonprofit credit union chartered with the mission of providing appropriate financial products and services to low- and moderate-income people and communities.  

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Community development financial institution

private financial institutions dedicated to providing financial products and services to low-income, low-wealth and other disadvantaged people and communities.

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Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

a federal agency, established under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, charged with regulating products and services offered to consumers.  The CFPB is charged with enforcing financial legislation meant to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive lending. 

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Credit reporting bureau (or credit agency)

a company that collects, analyzes, stores and sells individual consumer credit information. The three primary credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, all publicly-traded for-profit companies.

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Credit score

a quantification of a person's creditworthiness, based on a person’s past credit history, used by lenders to assess whether a person is likely to repay his or her debts.  The most common is the FICO score, originally developed by Fair Isaac Corporation.

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Debt

an amount, typically of money, owed by one party to another.

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Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

a refundable, federal tax credit for low- and moderate-income working people, particularly those with children. The amount of EITC a taxpayer can claim depends on income, marital status and number of children.  Workers without children can claim only a very small EITC.

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Economic inclusion

a term used to describe the ability of all people to fully participate in the economic life of their community or country.  It also refers to public and private efforts to bring underserved consumers into the financial mainstream (also known as financial inclusion).

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Economic mobility

the ability of an individual or family to move up or down the income distribution. Economic mobility may be “absolute” or “relative”. Absolute mobility measures the likelihood that a person’s income will exceed that of their parents at the same age; relative mobility is the ability of children to change their rank in the income distribution relative to their parents, measured as movement between income quintiles. 

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Economic security (see “financial security”)

Employer sponsored retirement plan

a retirement plan, set up by an employer. Employers may offer defined benefit or define contribution plans, both, or no plan at all (they not legally required to offer retirement plans). Typically, employer sponsored retirement plans are tax-deferred, meaning that the employee does not pay taxes on the funds until he/she begins making withdrawals.  Employers receive tax benefits for contributions into employee retirement plans.

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Equitable development

an approach to creating healthy, vibrant, communities of opportunity, resulting from intentional strategies to ensure low-income communities and communities of color can participate in and benefit from decisions that shape their neighborhoods and regions.

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Equitable economy

one in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

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Equity

just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

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Federal budget

the amount of money that is available for the federal government to spend in a particular year. 

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Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)

a U.S. government corporation that preserves and promotes public confidence in the financial system by insuring deposits in banks and thrift institutions up to $250,000; by identifying, monitoring and addressing risks to the deposit insurance funds; and by limiting the effect on the economy and the financial system when a bank or thrift institution fails.

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Federal Housing Administration (FHA)

a U.S. government agency created as part of the National Housing Act of 1934. Commonly known as "FHA", it provides mortgage insurance on loans made by FHA-approved lenders throughout the United States and its territories. FHA insures mortgages on single family and multifamily homes including manufactured homes and hospitals. 

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Federal Reserve System

the central bank of the United States, often referred to as the "the Fed," created by Congress in 1913.  The Fed is an independent entity, with Congressional oversight, headed by a government agency known as the Board of Governors. Twelve Federal Reserve Banks are located in major cities around the country.  Supervised by the Board of Governors, they serve as the operating arm of the Fed.

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Financial capability

knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that result in decisions and the use of financial products and services that are appropriate for one’s circumstances.

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Financial coaching

a process whereby participants meet one-on-one in regular sessions with a “coach” who helps them set financial goals, tailored to their individual circumstance, and commit to – and follow through on – certain actions.  In recent years, financial coaching has emerged as a complement to financial education and counseling.

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Financial education/literacy

the set of skills and knowledge that allows an individual to make informed decisions about the current and future use of their personal financial resources.

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Financial institution

a private or public sector institution that deals with financial transactions such as investments, deposits or loans.  Depository institutions, such as banks and credit unions, pay interest on deposits and use deposits to make loans. Non-depository institutions, such as insurance companies, brokerage firms, and mutual fund companies, make money by selling financial products.

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Financial security

the condition of having access to an array of resources, capabilities, and institutional supports that enable individuals or families to sustain themselves, thrive, and move up the economic ladder.

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Financial services

services offered by mainstream financial institutions such as banks, credit unions, credit-card companies and insurance companies.

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Flexible savings

a pool of unrestricted savings that families can use to cover unexpected expenses or a financial emergency.

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Fringe financial services

businesses that serve the financial needs of – and/or target – consumers who do not have access to mainstream financial products and services including check cashers, payday lenders, pawnshops, auto title lenders, money transfer services and others.  Fringe providers typically charge high fees and interest, thereby fueling the debate about whether they are serving unmet needs or exploiting consumers with no or limited access to mainstream services.  Also known as “alternative” financial services.

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Great recession

a term used by the media and the general public to refer to the severe economic downturn that began in 2007 and was considered the largest downturn since the Great Depression.

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Higher education

education beyond high school, typically at a college or university. Also known as “post-secondary” education.

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Home equity

the market value of a house minus any remaining mortgage payments.

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Home loan

a loan from a bank or other mortgage lender to purchase a house.

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Home mortgage interest deduction

a tax subsidy benefiting homeowners by allowing them to deduct the interest paid on a loan used to purchase, build or renovate upon their personal residence. Since low-income households are less likely to own a home or to itemize on their taxes (only a third of all U.S. households itemize), they are unlikely to benefit.

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Household budget

an estimate of household income and expenses for a period of time in the future.

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Income gap

the difference in income between one group and another.  The income gap is often stated as a comparison between the income of people in one quintile to another—for example, comparing the top quintile (wealthiest 20%) to the bottom quintile (poorest 20%).

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Income inequality

a measure of the uneven distribution of income among various groups in a society/economy. Income inequality is often measured as the percentage of overall income that accrues to a particular quintile (a quintile is one fifth, or 20%, of a whole).

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Income quintile

a fifth of households, measured by income.  Income quintile is a measure often used when comparing relative wealth and income inequality in a targeted geographic area.

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Individual Development Account (IDA)

a matched savings account designed to support lower-income households to save for a targeted investment such as a home, business or higher education.

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Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

an account designated for retirement savings.  Different types of IRAs include the traditional IRA, Rollover IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA and Simple IRA, all of which have unique eligibility requirements, withdrawal restrictions and tax benefits.

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Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

a number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to individuals who are not eligible for a Social Security Number.  

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Liquid asset poverty

a state of a household having insufficient liquid assets to subsist at the poverty level for three months without income. According to CFED, a family of four with liquid assets of less than $5,763 in 2012 is liquid asset poor. 

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Liquid assets

financial wealth that can be liquidated quickly such as cash, funds in checking or savings accounts, or equity in stocks, mutual funds or retirement accounts (though withdrawals often come with penalties).

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Low income

having relatively little income.  Definitions vary, but typically include households earning below 150% or 200% of the poverty level. 

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Median income

a middle point whereby if all individuals or households are divided into two equal groups half would have income above the median and half below. 

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Median wealth

a middle point whereby if all individuals or households are divided into two equal groups half would have wealth above the median and half below. 

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Microenterprise

a business operating on a very small scale, typically with 10 or fewer employees and a small amount of capital.

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Minority Owned Business Enterprise

a business that is owned, operated and controlled by a member of a minority group within the U.S., including but not limited to African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Pacific Americans and Subcontinent Asian Americans.

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myRA

a simple, safe and affordable retirement account, first offered by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2015. myRA accounts are designed to serve millions of American workers who do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan or lack options to save for retirement. A new type of Roth IRA, myRA has no start-up costs, fees for maintenance, or minimum contribution requirement. Contributions are invested in a new U.S. Treasury security, which earns interest at the same variable rate as investments in the government securities fund for federal employees.

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Net worth

the value of assets (what you own) minus liabilities (what you owe) for an individual, household or company. 

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Overdraft fee

the fee charged by a financial institution when a withdrawal from a bank account is greater than the amount of funds in the account.

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Payday loan

A small, short-term unsecured loan that a borrower promises to repay out of their next paycheck.  Interest rates on payday loans are high, often resulting in the borrower needing to take out additional loans if they are unable to pay back the original loan.

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Predatory lending

unfair, deceptive, unscrupulous and/or fraudulent practices whereby a borrower is persuaded to accept a loan that they don’t need or can’t afford to pay back.  

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Prepaid debit card

a card issued by a financial institution that is preloaded with funds that can be withdrawn as needed. Prepaid debit cards may serve as an alternative to a bank or credit card, especially for those with low credit scores or no credit history.  The cards include an assortment of fees applicable when they are purchased (“set-up” fee), cash is added, funds are withdrawn and/or, in some cases, when a user checks their balance. 

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Promise Neighborhood program

a federal program designed to significantly improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children and youth in the nation’s most distressed communities. Beginning in 2010, the program has been awarding grants to support the development and implementation of a plan in communities across the country.

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Property tax deduction

a federal income tax deduction to cover the cost of real estate taxes.  Since low-income households are less likely to own a home or to itemize on their taxes (only a third of all U.S. households itemize), they are unlikely to benefit.

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Racial Wealth Gap

the difference in wealth (assets minus debt) between white households and households of color. According to Demos, the typical black household owns just 6% of the wealth of the typical white households and the typical Latino household only 8%. (http://www.demos.org/publication/racial-wealth-gap-why-policy-matters).

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Recession

a period of economic decline in which a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declines for two consecutive quarters.

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Redlining

the practice of systematically denying access to services in a targeted geographical area by banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions. The term refers to the once-used practice of drawing a red around certain areas – typically inner-city neighborhoods of color – on a map.

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Roth IRA

a type of individual retirement account (IRA), established under federal law, that allows a person to save a specified annual amount of after-tax income, with earnings accumulating tax-free. Withdrawals before the age of 59½ may be subject to a penalty.

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Small business

a privately-owned sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) defines as having fewer than 500 employees.

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Social Security

a federal insurance program, established in 1935, that provides benefits to retired people and those who are unemployed or disabled. The program is paid for by federally mandated payments by employers and employees.  Benefits may begin as early as 62 and as late as 67; income is based on the average wages earned over a worker’s lifetime.  Spouses are also eligible, even if they have limited or no work history.

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Social Security Number

a nine-digit number issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration to citizens, some temporary residents and permanent residents. The number is used to track Social Security benefits and for other identification purposes.

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Standard deduction

a basic amount of income not subject to federal taxes, thereby decreasing a taxpayers tax liability.  Each year, taxpayers can either chose the standard deduction or they can chose to “itemize” their deductions—i.e. deduct the value of specific, eligible expenses such as interest on a mortgage, local real estate taxes, certain college costs, etc. They typically chose the option that minimizes their tax liability.

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Student loan debt

funds owed on the balance of loans used to cover the cost of higher education including tuition, books and living expenses. There are two types of student loans: federal loans, subsidized or unsubsidized, sponsored by the federal government and private student loans. Federal loans are less expensive than private loans. Rising college costs have forced millions of students to take on loan debt in recent years, leaving many with an enormous financial burden, whether or not they graduate.

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Tax Alliance for Economic Mobility

a coalition of national organizations working to educate and engage their networks about why equitable, inclusive and progressive tax reform is crucial to building the long-term security of families, communities and the national economy. www.taxallianceforeconomicmobility.org.

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Tax benefit

a public subsidy, provided through the tax code, that encourages a particular economic activity.

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Tax bracket

income tax groupings applied to different sets of taxpayers, based on income. Currently there are seven tax brackets in the individual tax code, ranging from 10% to 39.6 percent. 

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Tax credit

a tax benefit applied after a person’s tax liability has been determined that directly reduces a person’s tax bill, rather than decreasing the amount of income that is subject to taxation. Tax credits can be “nonrefundable ” or “refundable.” Nonrefundable credits can only reduce a taxpayer’s liability to zero. Refundable credits can result in a refund—a direct payment from the government to the taxpayer—if, after the credit is applied, the balance is less than zero.

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Tax deduction

an expense that can be subtracted from a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income when calculating taxable income, thereby reducing their overall tax liability. Each year, taxpayers must either take the standard deduction, a fixed dollar amount determined annually by the IRS, or itemize their deductions by claiming certain eligible expenses, such as home mortgage interest or savings in an individual retirement account. Households typically itemize if the total value of the deductions for which they are eligible is greater than the standard deduction.

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Tax exclusion

income that is non-taxable, such as the amount an employer contributes to an employee’s health insurance plan or retirement account.

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Tax expenditure

a tax benefit that lowers an individual’s tax bill by reducing the amount of income subject to taxation, lowering the rate at which income can be taxed, or directly reducing a household’s tax bill. 

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Tax incentive

see tax benefit, above.

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Tax loophole

a provision in the tax code that allows people to reduce their taxes.

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Tax refund

the balance when the amount of taxes and individual or household paid in a given tax year exceeds the amount owed.  In some cases, taxpayer’s may receive a refund even if they have no tax liability because certain tax credits are refundable.

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Tax return

forms used to report taxable income to the federal and state governments.

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U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

the federal agency that administers federal programs dealing with housing and urban renewal, created in 1965.

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U.S. Department of the Treasury

the federal agency responsible for promoting economic prosperity and ensuring the nation’s financial security. The Treasury Department serves four basic functions: formulating and recommending economic, financial, tax, and fiscal policies.

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Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

a federal program that offers free tax help to lower-income households, persons with disabilities, the elderly and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their tax returns. Volunteers certified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals at VITA sites.

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Wealth

the market value of a household’s assets – such as cash savings, stocks and bonds, as well as home, business or real estate equity – minus their debt.  Wealth is a measure of a household’s “store” of financial resources, as opposed to income, the “inflow” of resources.  Wealth – or assets – enables families to sustain themselves during periods of financial hardship and/or invest in their future.  

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Wealth gap

a term often used interchangeably with “wealth inequality”, referring to the unequal distribution of assets within a population. Recent research by the Pew Research Center, shows the gap between the richest Americans and everyone else is the largest it’s been since the Federal Reserve began collecting wealth data.

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Wealth inequality

the unequal distribution of assets within a population (see also “wealth gap”).

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Wealth stripping

a term used by PolicyLink to describe policies and practices that deplete the wealth of lower-income households and households of color, undermining their ability to build their financial security.

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Women Owned Business Enterprise (WBE)

a business that is owned, controlled and operated by women.

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