“Most people can’t afford to pay a few hundred dollars to get their taxes done,” says accounting and finance major Diana Cano, who is the current director of the VITA Program and runs the lab.
All student volunteers are trained and certified by the IRS. And once your taxes are done, another person reviews them to make sure they’re right, and then the IRS will give one final review and let you know if anything is wrong.
“We’re pretty much an H&R [Block] minus the cost,” Cano says.
The program is open to anyone whose income does not exceed $50,000, no matter what state you file in. Steven Berry, president of Beta Alpha Psi and former director of the VITA Program, notes he’s even seen someone come from as far as Hawaii. In addition to helping students, faculty, and staff members, VITA often sees many people who are unemployed or retired.
“People come in and tell me how much they need this service. It’s very important and one of the more meaningful community services I’ve engaged in,” says Berry.
At their peak, VITA filed 700 tax returns in just one season. “Last year, we filed 276 tax returns. We gave out a quarter of a million dollars in refunds to the local community,” says Berry.
On average, the filing will take 20-30 minutes, sometimes even 10-15 minutes if it’s a very simple return. And the turnaround is quick. “It’s important to know that we do a lot of e-filing, which is a pretty new update to the taxing system. We can get someone processed and get their return back in about two weeks,” Berry said.
Wondering why you won’t be getting a fat refund check in the mail? In addition to filing your tax returns, the students can also offer some fundamental advice about why you owe what you owe and what you can do in the future.
“We try to get to know a person and let them know they’re not just a number. We really appreciate what we do and hope to continue the program for many years to come,” Berry said.
And this isn’t just a great opportunity for the community. It’s practice-based learning at its finest. “This isn’t just a course. Being able to prepare tax returns is real life,” Cano says.
The VITA Lab is open on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and is located in Room W403 at One Pace Plaza. If you have any questions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (212) 618-6598. For more information about VITA and what you need to bring with you, visit the VITA website.