University provides free tax assistance for community
March 2, 2020
The University is providing a free tax assistance program for low income, elderly, disabled and limited English-speaking taxpayers from Feb. 18 to April 9.
“The VITA program provides free tax assistance to individuals (who) have gross income less than $56,000 and if you look at Champaign County, you know, a big portion of the population falls into that category … I think having trained volunteers that are supervised by faculty members that have designations to practice for the IRS is just comforting,” said Matthew Hutchens, professor in Business.
This is the second year the VITA program is taking place at the University, and there have been a few changes implemented in order to improve the overall experience for both the clients and the volunteers.
Last year, Hutchens and Amanda Alt, professor in Business, co-led the pilot program to get a grasp on its potential. The professors decided to implement a course in the University, ACCY 199: Tax in Action – VITA, based on skills students may acquire in the program.
“We just spent four weeks (in the class) talking about the technical issues of getting very specific in terms of what we see for our specific taxpayers … then we talked a lot about soft skills and client service and communication, and so then once taxpayers start coming, then they get to practice all those skills,” Alt said.
Even though 64 students were admitted to the course, a total of 150 students applied, according to Alt. The course allows students to gain a background in various communication and technical skills needed to interact with future clients.
VITA gives students hands-on experience concerning their major and allows them to improve their skills and observe whether or not they want to go into this field in the future.
“First of all, for students, it’s actually really hard to decide whether you want an audit or tax because you can talk to recruiters, and you can ask them about their everyday lives and what they do but they can’t really tell you a lot,” said Jeannett Yan, senior in Business. “So I think this program is a great way to tell whether you want to go into these fields or not.”
The main obstacle the program has encountered is the limited space available for the event because they have to restrict the amount of volunteers and taxpayers who can come in due to increasing interest.
“Space is always very limited here on campus, and so having enough space to house many taxpayers that have an interest — it has been an issue. We can’t necessarily do multiple rooms because there’s only one of me and so then that doesn’t work very well,” Alt said.
While the VITA program allows students to immerse themselves into a professional atmosphere, it also helps many taxpayers who need the support.
“I think it’s been going really well this year, and I’m really excited about the program,” Alt said. “We’re looking to hopefully expand it for next year.”