Student tax preparers aim to file more returns
Many people cringe at the thought of filing a tax return, but how about filing more than 1,000 returns?
That is what SF State student volunteers plan to do this year as part of the University's participation in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which provides free tax help to elderly, disabled and low-income taxpayers.
VITA is a nationwide program started by the Internal Revenue Service to provide advice and assistance to certain elderly and disabled taxpayers as well anyone earning under $49,000 annually, including most students. Many individuals are entitled to refunds or tax breaks but are not sure how to navigate the tax system.
"We get to help our community, some of whom really can't afford to get their taxes prepared," said Jonathan Chan, a senior accounting major who is the director of VITA at SF State. "We also get real hands-on tax experience and know how it feels to work in a business."
Last year, student volunteers filed 1,160 returns and saved their clients more than $1.5 million in refunds and earned income credit. The program began at SF State in 1964, and more clients have learned about the service over time through fliers and word-of-mouth.
"We have the one of the biggest VITA program in the country," said Assistant Professor of Accounting Mike Braswell, the faculty coordinator for VITA. "Our students frequently conduct presentations about VITA at our national meetings so that other chapters can establish or improve their chapters' VITA programs."
VITA service started on Jan. 31 this year, and Chan said they hope to complete more than 1,200 returns by the April 18 filing deadline.
"So far it's been slow, but it's going to be picking up around March or April," said Stephanie Chang, a student supervisor in her third year with VITA.
This year there are 226 volunteers, of which 158 are helping for the first time. Nearly all are studying accounting and see the program as valuable hands-on experience they cannot get in classes.
Volunteers from any field of study are welcomed after taking a required IRS training course. A number of volunteers are bilingual and can offer help in Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese or Japanese. Most clients are SF State students, but local families and individuals have also sought advice.
"We're really helping the community," said Rashid Belkheiri, who graduated last semester but has continued working with VITA. "It feels good to see a smile on a clients face; it feels good when they're walking out."
Drop-in help is available in room 205 in the Science building until the filing deadline, which is Wednesday, April 18. Hours are Monday through Friday from 12:30 to 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information, and to learn what documents to bring to receive tax help, visit: http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~bap/vita.html. The VITA program can be reached during hours of operation at (415) 338-1079.
-- Philip Riley