Faces of Success: Monique Brown
Stability is defined as the quality or state of something that is not easily changed or likely to change. Nashville’s Monique Brown takes the meaning of this word very seriously.
“I don’t hop from job to job; I know that you have to have stability in anything that you do.”
Brown realized her finances were holding her back from financial stability.
“I was looking for a job and wanted to get my credit report cleaned up,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of debt, but the debt that I carried hurt me tremendously.”
While working on a resume for a job application, Brown learned about the Nashville Financial Empowerment Center. The program — a United Way of Metropolitan Nashville partnership with the Office of Mayor Megan Barry — provides free 1-on-1 counseling to help Davidson County residents reduce debt, improve credit and increase savings.
“I had a lot of bills that I already paid off and they were still on my credit report,” said Brown. “My counselor worked with me to help dispute these bills and remove them from my credit report.”
The Nashville Financial Empowerment Center has enabled more than 3,700 clients like Brown achieve a combined debt reduction of $2.9 million and increase savings by more than $500,000 through 2015. Some of the best advice she received from the free financial counseling sessions came during tax season.
“My counselor said, ‘You can go right around the corner and get your taxes done for free.’”
The facility that houses the Nashville Financial Empowerment Center is also the home of the Sam Levy VITA Free Tax Prep Site, operated by United Way in partnership with Goodwill Industries. Brown had previously used paid tax service providers to file her tax returns. She was unaware she met income qualifications — households earning less than $62,000 in 2015 are eligible this tax season — allowing her to file free returns through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, powered by United Way.
“When I filed my returns, I was in and out of the site in about the same time I spent filing with paid providers,” she said. “It was a quick and easy experience and most importantly, it was free.”
In 2015, the average taxpayer spent $260 to file returns at paid tax service providers. Last year, IRS-certified VITA volunteers helped hard-working individuals and families save almost $4 million in filing fees. They also prepared more than 14,500 free returns for Middle Tennessee households, returning more than $23 million in refunds and credits to the community. Brown was one of the grateful clients last year who benefited from the knowledge and expertise of more than 200 VITA volunteers.
“I received a $6,500 return in 2015,” said Brown. “I paid off a car, made a down payment on another car and paid off several other bills.”
The financial programs offered by United Way transformed Brown’s life and moved her closer to financial stability.
“I feel like United Way gave me the building blocks to achieve my financial dreams,” said Brown.
She continues to work hard on improving her finances and is closer to her ultimate goal of becoming a homeowner. Brown can’t imagine what it will be like when that day finally arrives.
“They’ll probably have to catch me because I’ll be running through the street screaming,” she said. “I have three daughters and when they come home from college, they’ll be coming to our home for a visit; it’s unbelievable.”
Brown is about ready to lace up her tennis shoes and go for that highly anticipated run. Sometimes you have to make difficult changes before you can actually achieve stability, especially financial stability.