A statewide program brings eligible residents an incentive to invest their money while earning a chance to win a prize worth thousands.
The sweepstakes program, called SaveNow WinLater, offers the chance to win a $10,000 grand prize by investing in savings bonds, said Stephen Black, founder and president of Impact Alabama.
A family earns the chance to win the prize for every $50 they invest in bonds, Black said.
He said the majority of people who play games of chance, such as lotteries, are in households earning less than $40,000 a year. SaveNow WinLater is an opportunity to invest in bonds while still having the opportunity to win money, he said.
"A concern I've always had is that some people might call it gambling," Black said. "But there's no cost to it. This really is about putting money aside. It's about starting the behavior of investing and nobody loses."
Donors pay for the sweepstakes, he said. A random drawing to be held shortly after the April 15 tax deadline will determine the winner.
Impact Alabama is a nonprofit Alabama agency dedicated to helping the poor. Founded in 2004, the agency often collaborates with colleges in the state on programs dedicated toward that goal.
Black said the theory behind SaveNow WinLater is the program will encourage lower-income Alabamians to develop the habit of saving money.
He said the program is patterned after Michigan's Save to Win initiative, which started in 2009.
More than $9 million was invested by families in Michigan that year.
The Michigan program started on the heels of research by Harvard economist Peter Tufano, whose nonprofit agency was heavily involved in Michigan's initiative and also partners with the Alabama effort.
Two years ago, more than 1,000 savings bonds were sold through the Alabama program.
That's a total of $50,000 in savings bonds that otherwise would not have been invested, Black said.
"This is the one ethical version of a lottery in the nation," he said. "No one loses money, and if it gives investors the habit of saving money, all the better. Some people have labeled it gambling, but there's no money loss to it. This really is about putting money aside."
Impact Alabama also has an ongoing program that provides free assistance in filling out income tax returns.
That program, called the SaveFirst initiative, is for families earning less than $50,000 a year who have children in the household and families earning less than $20,000 a year without children at home.
Helping with the effort are 35 University of North Alabama business students who are trained and certified at preparing tax returns under the supervision of Impact Alabama personnel, Black said.
The tax preparation site this year is at Weeden Elementary School, 400 Baldwin St., in east Florence. The site is open Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays through March 2.
Eligible families interested in finding out more or making an appointment may call 1-888-998-2925.
Many local school systems have distributed cards to students to inform their parents about the program.
Tim Morgan, superintendent for Sheffield schools, said the programs are examples of ways to help parents.
"Things like this help encourage them to save for the future," he said. "We can work together. That's what we're here for, is to help our community."
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.