Frequently Asked Questions
What are tax credit scholarships?
Tax credit scholarships provide an Illinois state income tax credit (not just a deduction, like with other charitable contributions) to individuals who contribute money to a non-profit Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO). That SGO then awards scholarships to eligible students from low-income families.
What is a Scholarship Granting Organization?
A Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is responsible for the following:
- Receiving donations from individuals.
- Receiving and processing scholarship applications.
- Distributing scholarships to eligible students/families in accordance with the Invest in Kids law.
SGOs must determine whether students meet the income eligibility requirements to receive a scholarship and must distribute scholarships to eligible students on a first-come, first-served basis. SGOs must honor restrictions placed on donations from individuals, if any. The archdiocese works with two SGO’s: Empower Illinois and Big Shoulders Fund.
Is the Archdiocese of Chicago an SGO?
No. The archdiocese is not an SGO. The archdiocese is not able to be an SGO as we operate schools that participate in the tax credit scholarship program. The archdiocese doesn’t have any control over the selection of which student receives a tax credit scholarship.
When are the scholarships available?
Scholarships for the next school year will be distributed beginning in late January of that year on a rolling basis and as designated funds become available at schools. If a school has no designated donations, the likelihood that scholarships will be distributed for that school is low. Tax credit scholarships are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Who is eligible to receive a scholarship?
K-12 students with limited financial resources and income up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, are eligible to receive tax credit scholarships.
For more information on scholarship eligibility, click here.
What age students are eligible for tax credit scholarships?
Scholarships are available for eligible students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Interested in donating?
We are here to guide you through the process. Please contact us at [email protected] or 312.534.2617 to speak with the Tax Credit Scholarship Office at the archdiocese.
How much of a tax credit do individuals receive?
Individuals who donate to SGOs may receive a credit off their Illinois state taxes equal to 75 percent of the donation.
How much money can be donated to an SGO for tax credit scholarships?
Tax credits are capped at $1 million per taxpayer per year.
Can donations be directed to a certain school or individual?
Individuals may direct donations to a particular school or subset of schools, but NOT to an individual student or group of students.
How do individuals direct their donations to a certain school or subset of schools?
Donors can reserve tax credits and designate a particular school or subset of schools during the donation process to an SGO.
What is the process for making a donation?
Visit our Donate to a Tax Credit Scholarship page for information on how you can donate. Click here.
Do I need to do anything to receive my tax credit?
All tax credit scholarship donors need to set up an account on mytax.illinois.gov before applying for a tax credit. This process can take up to 10 days and involves a mailed letter ID number. We encourage anyone considering making a donation to review these instructions to obtain your Letter ID. Renewal donors already have an account and therefore do not need a mailed letter ID.
Does my donation have to be paid with a check or cash?
No, you may consider the use of appreciated stock. Please consult with your tax consultant. The donation may also be funded using a credit card.
Will I be taxed on a donation using appreciated stock?
SGOs are nonprofits and gifts of appreciated stock/equities to a nonprofit are exempt from federal capital gains tax or the tax on the increase in value of the stock since you bought it. That means that by donating stock, a donor avoids federal capital gains tax but still gets to claim the 75 percent state income tax credit on the full value of the stock.
Is my gift eligible for my employer’s matching gift program?
Yes, a donation to the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship may be eligible. Confirm with your employer’s matching gift office. Empower Illinois will provide 95 percent of any matching gift to the benefit of the designated school for their discretionary use.
Whom can I contact if I am interested in making a donation or learning more about donations?
For more information on making a donation or if you have any questions regarding the donation process, please contact the archdiocese at [email protected] or 312.534.2617.
What type of expenses are covered through tax credit scholarships?
Tuition and eligible fees for any non-public school in Illinois are covered through tax credit scholarships. Families are responsible for paying any fees not covered by the program.
How much money can students receive through a tax credit scholarship?
Scholarship amounts will vary based on the student’s household income and be limited to the lower of actual tuition and fees for the student’s school, or the statewide average expense per student among public schools ($13,336). Students from households that are lower than 185 percent of the federal poverty level receive 100 percent of tuition and eligible fees.
See the below chart to determine how much your family may qualify for:
|Family Federal Poverty Range||% of tuition covered through TCS|
How is a scholarship payment made?
The SGOs manage scholarship payments and distribute them directly to the qualified school where the student is enrolled.
What if a student is already receiving a scholarship from a school or another scholarship program, should the student be encouraged to apply for a tax credit scholarship?
Yes. Any student/family who thinks they may be eligible for a tax credit scholarship is encouraged to apply because the tax credit scholarship may be greater than the awards they are currently receiving. Each family is also encouraged to consider the renewability of any other scholarship since the tax credit scholarship is not automatically renewable.
If a student does not receive a tax credit scholarship, what should the family do?
The family should work with their local school to determine what other scholarships/financial aid options may be available to them.
If an applicant doesn’t file income taxes, may they still apply for a tax credit scholarship?
Yes. Each SGO may have a different process to accommodate this situation in lieu of a tax return. Please visit the specific SGO’s websites for more application information.
If an applicant doesn’t have a Social Security Number, may they still apply for a tax credit scholarship?
Yes, a Social Security Number is not required by either Empower Illinois or Big Shoulders Fund SGOs.
Does the applicant need to be a U.S. Citizen to apply for a tax credit scholarship?
No. Applicants do not need to be U.S. Citizens to apply for a tax credit scholarship.
If an applicant received a tax credit scholarship for the current school year, are they a priority for the following school year?
Yes. They are a priority, along with their siblings, as well as anyone else whose income falls below 185 percent of Federal Poverty Level or lives in a Focus School District. On the application for both Empower Illinois and Big Shoulders Fund SGO, applicants will be asked if they received a tax credit scholarship from another SGO. Please know that in most cases, prior year scholarships will not change the eligibility category. It only matters in cases where the recipient’s income has increased above the eligibility threshold (300 percent in a focus district or 185 percent in a non-focus district). Big Shoulders Fund SGO will not require a letter.
If an applicant received a tax credit scholarship for the current school year, are they guaranteed a scholarship for the following school year?
No. Scholarships are not automatically renewed each year.
An applicant submitted their application but forgot to include one of their children. May they add the child later?
The parent will have to submit a separate application for the child that was left off and that child’s application will have a later time stamp, thereby reducing the likelihood of receiving a scholarship.
We recommend that you include each child even if you are not 100% certain that the child will attend a private school. You may always choose to decline a scholarship if subsequently received.
Do I have to have an email address in order to apply?
Yes. An email address is required. All communication from the SGOs are made through email so you should check your inboxes frequently.
Can I fax the documents that are required as part of their tax credit scholarship application?
Neither Empower Illinois nor Big Shoulders Fund will accept faxes for receipt of documents. Applicants will have to upload documents electronically so that the application process isn’t delayed. They may either take a picture from a smart phone or scan the required documents and submit either the photo or scans. If a family needs help getting their documents scanned, they should reach out to their school for assistance.
I haven’t decided which school I would like my child to attend. What should I do?
For Empower Illinois, an applicant may select up to three schools for each child on their application. The schools should be listed in order of priority. There is not an “undecided” option. Big Shoulders requires that only one school be listed. There is not an “undecided” option.
I received an award. How long do I have to make a decision and accept or decline the award?
Empower Illinois: For any awards issued prior to March 15, applicants will have until April 15 to accept or decline. Any awards made after April 15, will have a 30-day response deadline, until school starts in the fall, and then the deadline will shrink to 10 days.
Big Shoulders Fund: Families will receive a form via email that they will need to take to their school to have the principal complete and return to Big Shoulders Fund within 10 days. Principals will receive the same form via email, and it will need to be returned in 10 days. We recommend informing the school that an award has been made as soon as possible. If a family has not been admitted to a school when the award is made, they will need to contact Big Shoulders Fund for an extension while they go through the admissions process at their preferred school.
Can I apply to more than one SGO?
Yes, we encourage all families who believe they may qualify to apply to both Big Shoulders Fund and Empower Illinois in order to increase their chances of receiving an award.
When will I be notified if I am receiving a scholarship?
Both Empower Illinois and Big Shoulders Fund SGO will begin granting scholarships by Feb. 1, 2022, on a rolling basis as funds become available. For Empower Illinois, families are encouraged to check the portal page for updates on their application and award status.
Does a student need to be accepted at a participating school before they apply for the scholarship?
No, students may complete the scholarship application prior to gaining acceptance to the school of their choice. Students, however, will be required to confirm enrollment at a participating school after receiving their award commitment.
Is my child automatically accepted to their preferred school if they receive a tax credit scholarship?
No, receipt of a tax credit scholarship does not guarantee admission to a non-public school. Families still need to go through the normal admission process to gain admission to a school.
Can the scholarship money be used at any non-public school?
No, the scholarship money can only be used at schools recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
What if I receive a tax credit scholarship from both Empower Illinois and Big Shoulders Fund?
A child can only accept one scholarship from any SGO. Therefore, if a child receives a scholarship offer from multiple SGOs, the family will have to pick one and decline the other. In families where there are siblings, one student may have a scholarship from Big Shoulders Fund while another may have a scholarship from Empower Illinois.
What if families need help completing their application?
Empower Illinois: Call 800-616-7606 or email [email protected]. Assistance in Spanish is available.
Big Shoulders Fund: Call 312.751.8337 or email [email protected]. Assistance in Spanish is available.
When and how can students apply for a tax credit scholarship through Empower Illinois?
Step 1 of the Empower Illinois application will open on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022 at 6:30 p.m. Reservations may be submitted at 7 p.m. Please visit https://empowerillinois.org/apply/ for more information about the application process.
If a family is applying for scholarships for multiple students, do they need to make a reservation for each child?
No. Only one reservation and application will be accepted for each household. A household is defined as all family members living together at the address of the residential custodian. Duplicate reservations will be deleted. One application can account for up to 15 children per family.
What if a family doesn’t know what school their child will be attending?
The application allows for the selection of up to three schools. Please list in order of priority. No awards will be finalized until enrollment has been confirmed by your school of choice.
Do families need to submit any documents to reserve their spot in line?
No. The Empower Illinois TCS application is a two-step process. In the first step, families will reserve their spot in line by completing a brief online form with your name and contact information, your child’s name, and preferred school on Wednesday Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m. Families do not need to submit documents until the second step when they complete the online application.
How much time will families have to complete the application?
After receiving the application email, families are encouraged to complete part two of the process as soon as possible and before Jan. 25 to improve their chances of receiving a scholarship. Applications submitted after Jan. 25 will still be accepted, but funding may no longer be available.
When will families be notified of their application status?
Empower Illinois will notify families of their application status within 10 business days of reviewing their application and determining eligibility.
Will the application be available in Spanish? Will paper applications be available?
Yes, applications will be available in Spanish, as well as in Polish. The application process will be conducted online only. The Empower Illinois contact center will be available to assist parents with navigating the online application. If you need additional in-person support, please contact your school.
When and how can students apply for a tax credit scholarship through Big Shoulders Fund?
The Big Shoulders Fund SGO application is a two-step process. Step-one will open on Thursday, Jan. 13 at 8 a.m. In the first step, applicants will complete the online application with all household and student information and receive their date-time stamp.
After Jan.15, Big Shoulders Fund will contact a limited number of applicants (based on date time stamp and available anticipated donations) via email, requesting applicants to complete step-two of the process by submitting documentation to verify income and residence. Due to limited funding for this program, not all applicants will be asked to complete step-two. While step-one does not require uploading of documents, applicants do need to have their most recent federal tax return or other required proof of income on hand to accurately report their adjusted gross income. More information and an application how-to guide can be found on Big Shoulders Fund’s website: bigshouldersfundsgo.org.
What will we need to apply for the tax credit scholarship through Big Shoulders Fund?
To apply, you need proof of Illinois residency, your federal tax return and a valid email address. We recommend securing these materials and scanning copies of them now, so you have them on-hand when it is time to complete the application. For more information, visit bigshouldersfundsgo.org.
Will the application be available in Spanish? Will paper applications be available?
Yes, applications will be available in Spanish. The application process will be conducted online only