Students gain experience, help others, through tax preparation program
This spring, 120 University of Iowa accounting and law students gained valuable career experience while helping low- to moderate-income families prepare tax returns.
The effort was a part of VITA—the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program—and is sponsored locally by the UI Tippie College of Business’ chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an organization for financial information students and professionals. All VITA student volunteers are certified by the Internal Revenue Service in preparing returns, and have had at least one tax class as part of their training.
VITA has been around for several decades, but in the last five years, Beta Alpha Psi student volunteers have become more active across the county, says faculty advisor and professor of accounting Joyce Berg. The local VITA program is a part of the Johnson County Earned Income Tax Credit Outreach Campaign, a project devoted to supporting the financial security of working families by offering free tax preparation services.
“I believe we’re a leader in the way we work with the community,” Berg says. “Most schools have a Beta Alpha Psi chapter, and most of those have VITA programs, but most just offer services to people around their campuses. The collaboration with Johnson County Social Services makes our program very special.”
In 2010, 100 student volunteers assisted with more than 1,020 returns. The taxpayers the group helped received more than $1.6 million in refunds. Student volunteers expected to help even more families and individuals this year.
Iowa alum Lisa Ortner was involved with VITA for two years before graduating in December 2010 with a degree in accounting. Ortner says volunteering with VITA prepared her for her current job preparing tax returns for high-net-worth individuals at Deloitte Tax in Chicago.
“VITA allowed me to work with clients directly, which helped me build my communication skills. I learned how to communicate complicated issues to taxpayers who may not have known anything about how taxes work,” Ortner says. “The experience taught me tax basics, and how to use tax software.”
Ortner says volunteering with VITA also helped her realize how important the program is to the people it serves.
“My favorite memory from VITA is preparing a woman’s return and telling her that she was going to receive a large refund,” Ortner says. “She looked at me with tears in her eyes and I thought she was going to jump up and hug me. She exclaimed, ‘I can buy a car with that! I don’t have to quit my job!’ It made me realize how much we were helping the low-income families.”
Find more information about VITA at The University of Iowa.
Find a VITA site near you online or call 800-906-9887.