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Free tax services offered by UB students

VITA program allows students to help local communities with tax returns

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While many college students will still be spending their Saturday lounging and catching up on homework, some will be heading to UB’s South Campus to spend the day providing free tax services to the surrounding community.

These students are in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA), a national program sponsored by the IRS offering free tax services to those with an average to low annual income, the cap salary being $53,000 a year.

Students in the program are from the School of Management and UB’s chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an international honors organization for financial information students and professionals.

Spencer Gates, a senior accounting major and president of Beta Alpha Psi, said the program is rewarding on many levels.

“Not only am I giving back to my community of Buffalo, it’s a good way for me to learn and touch up on skills that I can use in my own return, my career, or in helping out a friend,” Gates said.

Kathleen Nesper, assistant professor of accounting and law in the School of Management and faculty adviser to Beta Alpha Psi, said this is one of the main reasons UB decided to get involved in the program in 1981.

Faculty members at the time were drawn to the program because it would “give students some practical experience and not just book experience,” Nesper said.

The assistance porgram’s main audience is those eligible for the earned income-tax credit. The earned income-tax credit (EITC), is a refundable tax credit that pays on average $2,407 to those who qualify, according to the IRS website. But one in five workers eligible for the EITC do not claim it.

Last year, $359,500 of the $1.28 million of the program’s volunteers got back was the EITC, a fact that is satisfying to students who used the service and motivational for coordinators to make the program more accessible to the community.

“It’s a cool two-way exchange,” said Rowan Ketchum, a master’s student in UB’s accounting program and VITA volunteer. “They’re giving us an opportunity to practice and we’re giving them free tax preparation.”

The program operates through host sites set up by various organizations in communities around the nation. Beta Alpha Psi is one of its most prevalent sponsors. UB’s chapter partnered with the UB Accounting Association and they are responsible for coordinating the assistance program’s sites on UB’s campuses.

“Other tax services may be hard to get to, or the ones that are super close, may end up [costing] up to $300,” Gates said. “By [coordinating sites] on multiple campuses, you get to affect a community that’s in walking distance, or people that are just a bus ride away. Hopefully, we’re saving them time and money.”

In previous years there have been sites on both North and South Campus. For one weekend this tax season, there will be a site on UB’s downtown campus.

Garry Vinette, a senior accounting major and vice president of Beta Alpha Psi, enjoys the program’s ability to reach a large and diverse population.

“You literally meet every walk of life out there from student, domestic, to international who works a job at the Tim Horton’s or somewhere on campus to the guy with three kids that owns his own business,” Vinette said.

Although diverse, those seeking tax help from the program have a fundamental similarity – just how important this is to them. Vinette said a lot of the time, people come in whose tax return is one of his or her main sources of income.

Sessions begin in February and continue mid-way through April.

DATES:

South Campus: Feb. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28, and March 1.

Downtown Campus: March 7 and 8.

North Campus: March 28 and 29, and April 4, 5, 11 and 12.

email: features@ubspectrum.com


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