W-2s and 1099s are not part of most West Virginia University students’ Saturday routine.
But starting Feb. 12, students in WVU’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program will be spending several Saturdays preparing those, and other tax forms at no cost for low-income individuals in the Morgantown area.
“This is our second year at West Virginia University at the College of Business and Economics doing this program,” said Presha Neidermeyer, an accounting professor and one of the group’s sponsors. “We basically run most Saturdays through tax season, which would end on the 18th of April this year.”
She said the group prepared more than 100 tax returns last year. Any individual making less than $50,000 per year is eligible to have their taxes prepared for free at any VITA site.
The IRS administers VITA in conjunction with the Earned Income Tax Credit program to help low-income individuals and families get the most from their tax refunds and tax credits. For students in the program, it offers them a chance to gain experience working with clients.
“It definitely gave us the opportunity to take what we learned in the classroom from a book and actually apply it, which I thought was a really valuable experience,” said Amanda Macklen, a graduate student from Ridgeley, W.Va. “We would sit with them, they would sit across from us at the table and then we would work hands on, in front of them, on their taxes.”
Macklen is in her second year working in the VITA program. She said, along with the experience she gained, it felt good to provide service to the community.
“I had a bunch of my friends come in last year and we had a couple older people from the community,” Macklen said. “Last year we had a lady who said she took her taxes somewhere else, to one of the big name places in the area and they actually charged per form. So if you have a return that ends up having a lot of forms that’s going to end up being expensive, but we provide that service for free.”
Neidermeyer said the program could also look very good on a resume because it can not only fall under a student’s work experience, but also as volunteer work.
“The students can get experience interacting with clientele. All of our students are accounting students and most of them will be going into public accounting, some of them will be going into taxation,” Neidermeyer said.
Jordan Bable, a graduate student from Bridgeport, W.Va., will participate in the program for the first time this year. He hopes this work will help prepare him for the Certified Public Accountant Exam.
“They have a section of the CPA exam in May that has a lot of tax material on it, so I’m hoping by doing the volunteer tax prep, I’ll be able to refresh those skills in my mind before I take that test,” Bable said. “I’ve only ever done tax returns in an academic environment before, so I’ve never actually done an actual tax return for anyone other than myself.”
Students can also participate for credit by signing up for a three-credit-hour course in the spring. Students who wish to participate must have completed an individual income tax course, at WVU or elsewhere, and received a grade of B or better.
The IRS also requires preparers in the VITA program take training and examinations to become certified as a quality control measure. Macklen said the exams weren’t that hard, but students have to get an 80 percent or better to work in the program.
According to Linda Brown, Outreach Coordinator for the EITC/VITA Program, millions of dollars in tax credits go unclaimed in West Virginia each year.
“There are millions of dollars in Earned Income Tax Credit that is not claimed, right here in the state,” Brown said. “Not only does this really affect or improve the lifestyle of many of these working family’s, but also it is a great boost to local economies, especially in a small, rural area.”
She said the IRS started the program to help people keep money they received from tax refunds or credits in their own pocket rather than spending it to have their taxes prepared.
“A family meeting the requirements can get up to $5,800, and that’s a lot of money, that’s a lot of extra funds in addition to their income tax refund,” Brown said. “This program has been credited with lifting more children out of poverty than any single program.”
There are around 80 VITA sites across West Virginia. Last year those sites prepared more than 16,000 returns providing close to $24 million in refunds and credits, Brown said. She said there is still a lot of money out there, and feels the program is underused.
Brown didn’t know if people were apprehensive to have their tax returns prepared by volunteers or if they simply did not know about the program. She said once someone has their taxes prepared at a VITA site they will usually return, often with friends and family.
The program at WVU offers excellent opportunities for both students and the community, Brown said. The University is able to provide outreach to the community, and student volunteers can help to change negative stereotypes associated with college students.
“I think we all need to be giving back to our community. I think it’s great for the University as an outreach to the community,” she said. “A lot of folks think students just party and make noise, and now they see these are really nice young people reaching out wanting to help folks.”
Interested students can contact Presha Neidermeyer at 304-293-7858. Students can still join, but will not be able to receive credit because the deadline to sign-up for classes has passed.
By Devon Unger
WVU P.I. Reed School of Journalism
CONTACT: Presha Neidermeyer, College of Business and Economics
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