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Accounting majors
provide tax-prep assistance

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Every year, low-income residents, who need their tax returns in a hurry, spend hundreds of dollars to file at commercial, tax-preparation businesses.

Often, those same people are encouraged to accept high-interest, refund-anticipation loans.

This Saturday, the Clayton State University School of Business, in conjunction with the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, will help local residents hold on to more of their hard-earned dollars.

On March 29, from 9 a.m., to 1 p.m., several business school staff members and accounting majors will help residents, who earn $36,000 or less a year, file their tax returns electronically, free of charge. The tax-preparation assistance will take place on campus at the School of Business Administration Building.

Judith Ogden, assistant professor of business law at the university, also oversees the school's VITA program. She said CSU has participated in the program for 18 years -- longer than any other college in the state -- and is the only college in Georgia to do the program annually.

"The purpose is to help low-income [taxpayers] and senior citizens prepare their taxes," said Ogden. She described the program as "service learning," because it helps train accounting majors how to do taxes for future clients, while providing a needed service to the public.

"You're dealing with the working poor," said Ogden. "They're paying a couple hundred dollars to get their returns done. Instead of going through some of these commercial places to get their refund, we can get it for them for free."

Cindy Kirkland, a Clayton State accounting major, said while working for a commercial tax-preparation firm, she felt many low-income clients were being taken advantage of.

"They are making more money on refund-anticipation loans than actual tax preparation," said Kirkland. "The interest fees are horrible ... sometimes 30 percent. [Low-income citizens] need their money in a hurry, so they are put into a bad situation."

In addition to helping people save money, Kirkland said the VITA program also keeps her accounting skills sharp. "The rules change, the laws change, so if you are constantly engaged, you can stay on top of it," said Kirkland.

Accounting major and Clayton State Accounting Club President Kristy Clabaugh said the VITA program provides hands-on training, which makes it easier to do the job.

"The heat's on when you're dealing with the taxpayers, but then it gets easier," said Clabaugh. "You can't learn that from a textbook or an accounting lecture."

Those having their taxes prepared will need to bring photo identification, social security cards and birth dates for themselves and any dependents, the current year's tax package (if received), wage and earning statements (W-2, W-2G, 1099, 1099-R), a copy of last year's Federal and State returns (if available), bank routing numbers and account numbers for direct deposit, and other relevant income information (such as day care expenses).

For married couples filing a joint tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the forms. Tax preparation assistance will take place this Saturday at the School of Business Administration Building Conference Room. Assistance will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.