UM accounting students are helping prepare tax returns for free on campus.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is a nationwide program that coordinates IRS-certified volunteers with people who make less than $55,000 a year. The IRS partnered with the University of Montana to provide tax assistance to members of the Missoula community and students. The IRS provides computer software for the volunteers to use for the VITA program.
The volunteers help prepare clients’ tax returns for free every Saturday from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. in Gallagher Business Building 209 through Mar. 9.
Twenty-three student volunteers and 3 coordinators are helping prepare client tax returns this year for free; including day of walk-ins.
“The focus of this program here is the student volunteers using their skills to help the community. There may be coordinators, but the students really run this,” said Clem Lockman, one of the coordinators.
Nickolas Hannifin is a student volunteer pursuing his Master’s of Accounting and has been involved with the VITA program for two years. All the volunteers take a class with Kent Swift, one of the faculty coordinators, in the fall to learn about filing personal income taxes. Hannifin said VITA allows him to use what he has learned in classes in real life situations with the Missoula community.
“Most of the times with classes, you study, you take a test and don’t get to do it again after the class, but with this, I get to see new things every day,” Hannifin said.
Hannifin said the process for clients is very straight forward. VITA publishes a list of materials that clients need to bring with them. Clients fill out an intake form with their information and any questions that they have. The volunteers go through an intake interview with each client and help the client understand the process.
“For most people it is really simple,” Hannifin said. “Just a W-2, social security, identification, and then you are in and out.”
The VITA program is important to Missoula because often people don’t have the knowledge to take advantage of deductions or credits without help, Hannifin said.
“We help people get a lot of money back on their return when on their own, they would have to pay to do their tax returns,” Hannifin said. “They wouldn’t get as much back on their tax return as they might not get as much back as would be helpful for their family.”
The VITA program at the University helps to prepare 500 to 600 tax returns a year, which helps their clients get back between $500,000 to a million in total refunds each year, Swift said.
“This has been a particularly big and successful program at the University of Montana because of the students. We focus on quality and really want to do a great job for our clients,” Swift said.