What We Do

At Ladder Up, we give hardworking people the resources they need to move up the economic ladder, guiding them toward a brighter future through our Tax Assistance Program (TAP), Tax Clinic, and Financial Capability Program.

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Helping Thousands Of Low-income Households One Tax Return At A Time

Tax Assistance Programs

We offer free electronic preparation and filing of individual income tax returns to help clients access critical tax refunds. BOTH our in-person and online tax assistance programs are completely FREE – choose the service that works best for you. For FY 2022-2023, we’ve secured more than $19.1 million in refunds for Illinois taxpayers, money that can often mean the difference between treading water and turning a corner.

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The Guidance To Do More Than Just Dream Of College

Financial Aid For College

Through hundreds of on-site visits, we’ve helped students access financial aid for higher education through our financial aid program, money that can turn the dream of college into a reality.

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Building A Foundation Of Knowledge And Creating A Pathway To Financial Success

Financial Education

Improving your financial situation doesn’t happen overnight. It takes the right tools and know-how. Which is why we offer free financial education through our Financial Capability program to help individuals navigate an often complex economic landscape so they can take steps towards achieving financial stability.

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Simplifying the Process of Obtaining an ITIN

ITIN Services

As a Certified Acceptance Agent (CAA), Ladder Up has helped hundreds of taxpayers apply for or renew Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) to help them meet tax filing requirements as well as secure important tax credits.

Our History

Our History

Photo of Ladder Up founder, Robert Burke

When Chicago business analyst and volunteer basketball coach Robert Burke saw how the families of his West Side team were struggling to make ends meet, he wanted to help. With the goal of securing unclaimed tax credits, he recruited 90 colleagues to prepare tax returns at no cost. The efforts returned over $150,000 in tax refunds to 120 deserving households.

Since these humble beginnings in 1994, the Tax Assistance Program has continued to provide free tax return preparation services, expanding its free programs to include college financial aid assistance and financial education. In 2008, the organization adopted the name Ladder Up to reflect its broader mission of helping people access the resources needed to climb up and out of poverty.

In 2018, Ladder Up acquired Center for Economic Progress, another leading provider of financial services, and in late 2019, the two organizations completed their legal merger.

Since Ladder Up’s founding in 1994 and Center for Economic Progress’s founding in 1990, the combined organization has returned over $1.42 billion in economic benefits by serving more than 750,000 people across Illinois.

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“The professionalism I’ve experienced surpassed anything I ever expected. Because of you, my son can go to college.”


Single father, Financial Aid Client
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“Ladder Up has taught me a ton about financial aid in general and about being an independent student on the FAFSA.”


Financial Aid Client
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“I used to go to H&R Block and they charged over $500.”


TAP Client
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For every $1 invested, we return an estimated $30 in economic benefits to clients through our free services. The donations that fuel our programs can truly transform lives.

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For the past 27 years, volunteers have been the lifeblood of our tax program. Sharing your time and talent can make a profound difference for our clients.

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Our partners include businesses, universities, government agencies, schools, and community organizations. They provide critical financial support, volunteers and client outreach.

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A wealth of information is available to help you stay at the top of your tax game, including supplemental training organized by tax topics, as well as practice tests and videos.

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