Students offer free tax assistance

By Greg Gelpi

Clayton College & State University students are tossing out lifelines to low-income taxpayers lost in a sea of 1040s, 1099s and endless other tax forms.

Members and alumni of Clayton State's Accounting Club are participating in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), an IRS program to provide free state and federal income tax assistance to taxpayers who earned less than $36,000.

"They just felt that it would be a great way for accounting students to get hands on experience by giving back to the community," said Bridgett Bailey, who is coordinating the service project for the club.

Student volunteers underwent training from the IRS to participate in the program and had to pass a test in order to be able to administer the free service.

"It's not as difficult as it seems," said Bailey, a 24-year-old accounting major from McDonough. "It's not really difficult, but it may seem difficult because of the instructions."

Often times the most difficult part of doing taxes is knowing where to start and which form to use, said Beverly Walter, the president of the Clayton State Accounting Club.

"I think people have a lot of confusion about which form to use," Walter, 36, said, adding that tax laws change every year contributing to the confusion.

The VITA Program offers added benefits. Since the forms are filed electronically, taxpayers can get refund checks back in two weeks, as opposed to the six-week wait of traditional filing. Also, taxpayers receive the same services as they would receive from a commercial tax preparer, but without the cost.

The same services could cost up to and exceed $200 through a commercial tax preparer, Accounting Club Secretary Whitney Ordway said.

Unless people anticipate owing the government money they shouldn't wait to file, Walter said. The Accounting Club will host two more VITA sessions. The sessions will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and March 19 in room T-222 of the university's Technology Building.

Walter said that simple tax forms could be completed in 15 minutes if taxpayers have all of their paperwork with them.

"I think one of the most difficult parts is having all of your information together," Walter said. "There's just so many pieces of information that you need to bring to us."

Taxpayers interested in taking advantage of VITA must bring the following:

? Photo identification

? Social Security cards for the taxpayer, spouse and dependents

? Current year's tax package if one was received

? Wage and earning statement Form W-2, W-2G and 1099-R from all employers

? Interest and dividend statements from all banks (Form 1099)

? A copy of last year's state and federal returns if available

? Bank routing numbers and account numbers for direct deposit

? Other relevant information about income and expenses, including the total amount paid for daycare and the daycare provider's identifying number.

In order to file taxes electronically on a married filing joint tax return, both spouses must be present.

The deadline for filing taxes is April 15.