With tax season well underway, beginning on Jan. 27, the SUNY New Paltz Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program aims to offer free help to New Paltz community members.
The services provided by the VITA program are available to community members with a gross income below $56,000, lower than Ulster County’s median household income of $61,52. New Paltz business students involved in the VITA program received Internal Revenue Service (IRS) training “and are certified to provide basic tax return preparation assistance and free e-filing.”
The SUNY New Paltz School of Business launched their VITA program on Monday, Feb. 3 and it will end on April 7. To utilize the services, qualified community members should bring a photo ID and social security cards, tax documents such as W-2s and 1099s, last year’s tax return and bank routing and account numbers for direct deposit.
“The VITA [program] provides an important service to a segment of the local community that might not otherwise have access to tax preparation services including local residents, students and international students,” said Enrolled Agent and accounting lecturer for the School of Business Skeeter Richardson.
Students either participate in the VITA program for course credit or they can volunteer without receiving credit for four hours a week.
This program does not only help community members who need tax assistance, it also provides a learning opportunity to participating students.
“The program is a great introduction to the field of tax accounting and provides hands-on applied learning for our accounting students,” Richardson said. “This experience helps prepare students for the real world. They not only prepare tax returns and serve clients, but also answer cold calls by telephone. A vast amount is learned about issues of ethics, privacy and handling of electronic data since we have moved to a paperless environment this year.”
In order to participate, the students must complete an undergraduate course required for accounting majors called Concepts in Federal Income Taxation. Additionally, IRS certification must be completed and includes training, testing in standards of conduct, quality review, advanced tax concepts and foreign student issues.
According to Richardson, Student Supervisors also complete additional site coordinator training and testing.
Since this tax season just started, many taxpayers are gathering documents and a “tremendous” amount of returns have yet to be completed, according to Richardson. However, for the past two years, the students involved in the VITA program have prepared approximately 300 tax returns for each year. So, Richardson expects community participation to “significantly” increase as the season progresses.
The VITA program hours are Mondays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in van den Berg hall, room 208.