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Trained SIU student volunteers prepare tax returns for free

February 12, 2018, Christi Mathis

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CARBONDALE, Ill. — Free income tax preparation is now available at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, thanks to a group of student volunteers. 

Beta Alpha Psi, an SIU College of Business honors accounting organization, is again sponsoring the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to assist fellow students and low- and moderate-income people from the community with tax returns. 

Free help available nearly every Saturday

On Saturday mornings, beginning this Saturday, Feb. 10, and continuing through April 14, free tax preparation help will be offered on the SIU campus. From 8 a.m. until noon, people may come to the computer lab on the lower level of Rehn Hall, located at 1025 Lincoln Drive. There will not be sessions on March 10 and 17 due to the university’s spring break. 

Anna Li, Jing Mo and Jared Nicholas are coordinators for this year’s VITA program. Nicholas and Li are both senior accounting majors while Mo is completing a master’s degree in accountancy. The students participated in advanced training to prepare for their leadership roles. They head a team of nearly 40 accounting and law students who will prepare the tax returns at no cost. The free tax preparation service includes free electronic filing. 

Well-trained student volunteers provide community service

Each of the students is an IRS-certified volunteer tax preparer and has completed mandatory ethics and basic tax exam courses. The VITA coordinators review all returns the students prepare and assist with more complicated questions. In addition, Benna Williams, a School of Accountancylecturer and former tax practitioner who serves as Beta Alpha Psi’s faculty adviser, along with other faculty, will be available to provide their expertise. 

“The program is valuable for accounting students to learn not only tax rules, but how to communicate with clients,” Nicholas, of McLean, said. “Of course, they get to do that while assisting low- and moderate-income members of the community, so everyone benefits.” 

Students have given invaluable assistance through the VITA program for more than 25 years. Student volunteers completed more than 300 tax returns last year – all at no charge. 

“I like helping people,” Li, said. “And it is a great experience for my future career.” 

Li’s hometown is in the Henan Province of China while Mo is from Guilin, China. 

Li noted several VITA volunteers completed special training in order to be able to do tax returns for international students this year. 

No reservations needed

Appointments are not necessary. Returns are typically completed in an hour or less. On average, the waiting time for help is no more than 15-30 minutes. 

VITA assistance is open to any U.S. citizen, whether single or married, as long as their income is no more than $54,000 and they take the standard federal deduction. 

Although there are a few specific tax situations which may go beyond the scope covered by VITA, the volunteers can assist with a number of typical tax situations including those involving wages and earnings from self-employment, interest and unemployment income, Social Security benefits, dividends and returns that involve child tax, education or earned income credits. 

What to bring

In order to take advantage of the VITA services, taxpayers need to bring with them legal identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, along with all of their current tax documents. That includes W-2s, SSA-1099S, 1099-MISCs or 1098-Ts as well as any other pertinent documentation. Taxpayers should also bring their Form 1095-B or another proof of insurance in order to avoid the penalty for not having health insurance. 

For more information, email the VITA coordinators at bap.siuc@gmail.com.