VITA offers free low-income tax services

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VITA offers free low-income tax services

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Robert Juarez

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The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and an army of student volunteers are offering students and community members on-campus tax services free of charge.

The program is funded by the non-profits Beta Alpha Psi and United Way Bay Area, and offers people with low incomes, people with disabilities, the elderly and those with limited English proficiency, assistance filing their taxes.

Crammed into room 205 of the Science Building, site manager Klaus Li and site coordinator Felix Sandoval work alongside other volunteers to file taxes for those in need. Nearly 100 SF State students volunteer with VITA every tax season.

“This is my second year [volunteering],” Li said. “I like to help people with lower income, [and] if I can help people get their refund, it’s good to see.”

Money management expert Dave Ramsey said the average cost of filing a basic tax return is $176, which could be out of reach for many students or low-income filers.

“It’s a great resource. How many college students know how to do taxes?” second-year business major Diego Castillo said. “Personally for me, I don’t know how to do taxes yet, so just having that resource on campus can really help out.”

The program’s filing process has four stages and takes two hours to complete.

First a volunteer tax preparer works with a client to fill out their tax forms, then the paperwork is passed on to a site supervisor.  Next, Li, who is a senior studying accounting, reviews the tax return and passes it on to Sandoval, who is studying for his master’s in accounting. Sandoval makes the final review before sending a client’s tax forms off to the IRS.

Students are put through a six-hour per day, five-day training course where they are taught how to use tax software and, upon completion, become certified by the IRS to become eligible to volunteer.

“It’s been very informational, I learned a lot from just going through training,” said senior accounting student Rhiannon Sinoy, who is a first-time preparer volunteer and also had her taxes done through the program. “When you actually do the returns, it’s a lot more nerve-wracking at first, but as you just sit down with your client, you realize that they are people trying to get their taxes done.”

She said getting her taxes done at VITA was kind of confusing at first.

“I know all of us here are just learning, so I’m not mad, I think it’s really helpful for people who need their tax returns,” she said.

Anyone can apply to volunteer for VITA, and while most volunteers are accounting majors, students from other departments such as BECA and psychology have joined the effort in the past.

VITA took applications for student volunteers in early fall, and one of the benefits for student site managers is eligibility for three course units offered by the Accounting Department.

“I think that’s great, it’s just another free resource for students to be able to save a little more money,” senior marketing student Jesus Alcaraz said. “I plan to give [the program] a shot.”

Sandoval said approximately 1,000 people use the service each tax season, but he hopes more people will use VITA this year.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “The IRS is not out to arrest every citizen or non-citizen.  Just come in, we’re here to steer [you] in the right direction.”

The VITA office is open Tuesday through Friday from 12:30-6:30 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and will be offering services through April 13.