By Joel Hall
After spending the school year reviewing the number of tax-law changes brought about by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, accounting students at Clayton State University are helping those with low-to-moderate incomes file their income tax returns, free of charge.
This Saturday, and on March 20th and 27th, the Clayton State School of Business will host the Internal Revenue Service Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program. Between the hours of 9 a.m., and 1 p.m. on those days, people in the community earning less than $49,000 a year will be able have their tax returns prepared and filed at no additional cost to the taxpayer.
Clayton State Business Law Professor Judith Ogden teaches a volunteer income tax assistance course at the college and oversees its VITA program. She said the program provides a valuable community service, as well as valuable training for the school's rising accountants.
"Students have already passed a course on Income Taxation before taking the VITA class," she said Thursday, via e-mail. "The VITA class requires them to be involved with all aspects of tax preparation ... preparing returns, developing a familiarity with tax software, filing electronic returns, being current with tax law, and answering taxpayer questions. It reinforce[s] their knowledge of the tax laws, gives them an opportunity to work with the clients, and gives them a chance to give back to their community."
To participate in the VITA program, the taxpayer should bring the following: Photo identification; Social Security cards for themselves, their spouse, and dependents (with birth dates); wage and earnings statements from all employers; interest and dividend statements; other relevant information about income and expenses, including day-care expenses; a copy of last year's federal and state income tax returns, if possible; and a bank routing and account number for direct deposit of one's tax refund.
According to Ogden, VITA tax preparers will only file 2010 federal and Georgia returns for individuals and families. She said Clayton State has hosted the VITA program for 20 years, longer than any other university in Georgia. She said, without the program, many of the people participating would have difficulty getting their taxes done.
"I think it is a great opportunity and experience for students," she said. "The taxpayers are grateful. Some would have few other options, and they often need their refunds. Because we file the returns electronically, not only do taxpayers get their returns prepared for free, but they are filed for free. Refunds can be direct deposited into bank accounts, so people get their federal refunds very fast, without any money being withheld."
Danielle Chapman, president of the CSU Accounting Club, said this will her first year participating in the VITA program. She said the program provides experience that can't be learned in the classroom.
"This program will be beneficial to me, specifically, as I will soon be applying for jobs with CPA [Certified Public Accounting] firms, and I will need a solid base in tax preparation if I work on the tax side of accounting," Chapman said. "I also feel that this class helps me to learn how to listen to clients and understand what they need and how best I can help them.
"VITA gives students the opportunity not only to learn how to prepare taxes, but also to gain more experience with customer service," she added. "There is also a wonderful feeling when you know you've been able to help someone in the community."
VITA tax preparation services are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no appointments, and those with small business returns, who are self-employed, or with out-of-state returns, will not receive assistance. For more information, call the Vita hotline at (678) 466-4527.