Accounting Students Giving Free Tax Help

Senior accounting students at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, are helping low- and middle-income taxpayers to prepare their federal and state income taxes, free, through the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program co-sponsored by schools and other organizations throughout the country and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). VITA volunteers at Wartburg must have completed the first income tax course offered in the Fall, The Wartburg Trumpet says. Those currently involved in the second tax class are required to spend at least one hour per week at the site preparing tax returns, says Paul Magnall, associate professor of business administration and accounting, who has directed the program since 1997.


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“I want the students to have some workings with clients, and they’re not the types of people they would do after they graduate in terms of their income and so forth,” Magnall told the Trumpet. “So I think it’s a service and I want students to understand that regardless of where they are, they should be able to provide service to the community.”

“It’s a great opportunity for us as accounting students to get experience with filling out tax returns, as well as an opportunity to help the community members that maybe can’t afford to pay for tax assistance,” Senior Renae Vomacka said in the Trumpet report.

At California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB), the VITA volunteers, who are upper division accounting majors, prepare federal 1040 EZ, 1040A and less complex 1040 forms, as well as California 540 EZ, 540A, and simple 540 forms, Bakersfield.com reports. Jim Patten, CSUB accounting professor and certified public accountant, runs the program and personally trains all the volunteers. Patten said that VITA is geared to helping elderly and low-income taxpayers, “but our experience over the years has shown that VITA serves a broad range of taxpayers.”

Also, Patten added, “The VITA experience is one of the most important items that accounting students can report on their resumes, so VITA is a win-win situation for both taxpayers and volunteers.”

Dan Wagner, graduate student at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota, is volunteering in the VITA program for the second year. “It’s a good experience and it was really fun last year,” he told the Winonan, a campus newspaper, “We do good work, and it’s free. It’s great for the students because they have low incomes.”

“The primary goal of the program is to provide practicum experience for students and to provide a service for the campus community and, as it turns out, the greater Winona community,” accounting professor and program coordinator Richard Schneider said, according to the Winonan.

The VITA site at CSUB will have e-filing available for both federal and state returns. Volunteers will e-file returns they have prepared using IRS-provided software, but will also e-file returns prepared by the taxpayers themselves, Bakersfield.com says.

TaxWise® from Universal Tax Systems (UTS) is the software the IRS has selected for use by its volunteer counselors at (VITA) and Tax Counselors for the Elderly (TCE) locations, as well as IRS-operated Taxpayer Assistance Centers, according to a UTS press release. Under the new five-year contract, UTS will provide three-day training classes to many of the IRS volunteers and employees, including lessons on installing and running the software and preparing tax returns.

Individuals who are planning to meet with student volunteers at VITA sites should bring a photo ID, their Social Security card, a copy of the previous year’s return, plus copies of their current year W-2 and 1099s, the IRS Web site says. They should also be able to provide Social Security numbers and dates of birth for all dependents.

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