By Emily Reyst
Are you letting the anxiety of filing your taxes stop you from getting excited about the return itself? If you’ve yet to file, don’t worry, you have until April 18th, 2017. And thanks to MSU Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), you can get your taxes done locally, and free of charge.
VITA volunteers are trained and coached before passing an IRS certification exam, and range from freshmen undergraduates to master’s students. Recently, VITA earned the national Presidential Volunteer Service Award for collectively serving 3,444 hours the 2015-16 academic year.
The Broad College of Business spoke with Natalie Buckle (BA Accounting ‘17), the president of MSU VITA, to get the scoop on how the organization works.
Q: How do VITA members get certified? What does that process look like?
A: Our E-board prepares training sessions that are held before tax season, and the volunteers are given an option to complete the training in the fall semester or in January. We hold three hour-long training sessions where we teach them about the basics of taxes, what we see in most clients that we serve, and how to use our tax software. We have “office hours” so they can get help in order to pass the IRS certification exam. Our site usually opens the first week of February and goes until April 15th. We are open every weekday from 5-9 p.m., and on Saturday mornings. Our volunteers are required to work one, two -hour shift each week.
Q: Is there anything specific to college students (like tuition, textbook costs) that we should keep in mind when filing?
A: If college students file their taxes, it is important for them to know if they can be claimed on their parents’ tax return. Any tuition, scholarships or expenses would be reported on a form 1098-T that they should receive. If their parents claim them, then their parents will report this form on their taxes. If they do not, then they can be eligible for one of three education credits and will want to bring this form with them when they file. If students come to VITA to prepare their taxes, it is required that they have their social security card with them.
Q: What are the benefits of having someone else do your taxes for you?
A: Having a certified person do your taxes ensures they are done correctly. If there is a mistake on your return or forget to include something, it might result in having to file an amended return later in the year which is not worth the headache. Our clients are very thankful for our services because they do not have to pay to get their taxes done and it is an easy process that does not take much time, which is why I am proud to be part of VITA.
Q: Are a majority of your members accounting students? What draws people in to join the group?
A: The majority of our members are accounting students, but also include a handful of other business majors, such as finance. Last year we had around 125 volunteers and this year we have almost 200. It is a great way to get involved as a young professional, especially if you want to get your feet wet. When I started with VITA 3 years ago, I literally knew nothing about taxes. There is no prerequisite and although it can be nerve-wracking at first, it is amazing to see how much you learn throughout tax season. We teach the volunteers everything they need to know, but they learn more when they actually start preparing the taxes. The fact service is a huge component to the Broad College plays a big part in why VITA is growing so much, and why our volunteers stay for more than one year. Lastly, since we have a mix of younger to older students, it is a really great avenue for them when talking to firms during recruiting. Being involved in a professional setting is definitely something that will help you later in your career and it shows that the volunteers are willing to learn, give back to the community, and interact with people.
Q: What are your biggest takeaways from being involved with VITA, whether it be what you learned through leading the student organization or just about tax season in general?
A: There are many reasons why I love VITA so much. Something that I have seen the past two years being in a leadership position is how much the volunteers, as well as myself, grow throughout the tax season. Since we just opened the site last week, the volunteers are still getting used to the software and the tax information. But even in one week I can see how much these volunteers want to learn and will grow throughout the next few months. I love watching the volunteers have great conversations with our clients and be proud to provide service to the community. Like myself, it is great to see basic volunteers who move up the next year to be a site coordinator or join our E-board. They are able to improve their professionalism while meeting new people. Second, I love interacting with the clients. Since we are providing them services, they are very thankful for what we are doing for them. Taxes are important, and they are putting their trust in us to complete them accurately. We have so many stories to tell about clients that come in, as simple as getting a higher refund than they thought, which can make a difference in buying a birthday gift or new backpack for their child. Last week a client brought in her little puppy while we prepared her taxes and it made everyone’s day. I am so thankful to be part of an organization in my college career and am excited to continue next year as I start the Master’s program. I am looking forward to getting to know our volunteers more and encourage that students come to VITA to get their taxes done! As we wrote on our T-shirts: Keep Calm and Tax On!
To learn more about VITA or schedule an appointment, check out their website.