Murray State University’s accounting department and the Epsilon Nu chapter of Beta Alpha Psi have partnered with the United Way of Murray-Calloway County to offer the local community the 45th year of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Tracy Ross speaks to MSU VITA program participants.
The VITA program enables local community members to have their income taxes completed, reviewed, and submitted by a team of trained student volunteers. Tax assistance is offered based on availability. This is the 45th year of the program in the community and the first year of its new digital format.
VITA is supported by the United Way of Murray-Calloway County. Gerald Washington, United Way MCC director of community development, says the VITA program is part of United Way’s mission to “influence families and individuals.” [Tax services] are real needs for people who certainly do not have the resources to do their tax preparation at no cost. This is a quality program. We want to influence the community in ways that will help meet the Murray-Calloway County’s workforce needs. “
Last year 50 MSU students were trained in IRS sponsored certifications, but the closure of the COVID-related university has cut the number of VITA sessions in half. This year there are 36 volunteers and a brand new online format that VITA attendees hope will provide services to the community regardless of weather, closings or otherwise.
“When we receive your documents, we prepare them, speak to you, review your tax return. This year you have two different options for giving us your documents,” said Hannah Tucker, senior accounting major at MSU and a four-year veteran of the VITA program.
“You can come by on the Fridays of the meetings from 10.15am to 1pm and drop them off there. We have a special way of scanning your documents and sending them on your way. Whenever your return is over, we will email you send and call you. Or you can upload it to our website Monday through Thursday. Our website is a very exciting new addition as we can provide an admission form for people who do not want to come in. You can download it, fill it out, and with the remaining tax documents I think we will definitely use this in later years too, because I think we can probably serve a lot more people this way. “
The new virtual method is completely safe, adds MSU accounting professor Dr. Denise O’Shaughnessy added. After the documents have been uploaded through the website’s portal, we call and interview them, send them their tax returns, password-protected. We call them with the password. They open it up and check it out if we’re good to go, I’ll check it one more time, and then we send an email. “
For those unfamiliar with the website functionality, O’Shaughnessy says clients can schedule an appointment with the accounting department to go through the tax return in a personal and socially detached manner. “We’re trying our best to give them a way to do their taxes,” says O’Shaughnessy.
“Another thing we need to address is the stimulus checks. So we’ve had two rounds. We’re about to do a third round. If [a client] did not get round one or round two, the IRS requires people to get their stimulus checks. They don’t take calls or let you write letters … you need to file a 2020 tax return. Regardless of whether it is zero or not, you still have to submit it to receive these stimulus exams. “
The VITA program is of great benefit to the local community, but it also provides a fantastic learning opportunity for the student volunteers involved. “You get hands-on work,” says Garrison Evans, a senior accounting major at MSU and a two-year VITA veteran. “In class, you get numbers and a paragraph. In real life, someone shows up with a number of things you don’t need, some things you do. You have to make sure it works properly. There is some kind of accountability in it that area – you don’t want to be the one to mess with someone else’s return. You know people are checking this out, but it helps put a little bit of pressure on real life. Later on … you won … don’t be so nervous or worried if you go in that direction. “
For Tucker, her experience as a freshman volunteer in the VITA program helped her get an internship the following year. “I’ve already had extra real-life experience by volunteering on a few Fridays in the spring. It solidifies what you learn in the classroom. You can see it in the exam and homework, but once you start, if you actually do with one Customers interact, develop those professional social skills. This is really, really beneficial. “
In addition to their classroom training, volunteer students are required to “train for a full day,” adds O’Shaugnessy. “You get IRS sponsored certifications. Even to be a bye-bye to the way we call someone to do the paperwork and meet our clients, they have to take two ethics reviews before they even qualify. We have different levels of tax certification – basic, advanced and strange–[they all require] various tests, all sponsored by the IRS. “
“We have our wonderful site coordinators overseeing them and helping them hold hands and answer questions,” she continues. “I never leave their point of view. I’m there all the time to answer questions and guide them. When all is said and done, I review each return before emailing them to make sure our customers are Protected and appropriate information is on its return. “
The Friday sessions of the VITA program cover February 26th. March 12th, 19th March, and 26th of March. The opening times for customers are on Fridays from 10.15 a.m. to 1 p.m. Online submissions are now open Monday through Thursday until the last meeting date. Additional information, including a link to the United Way MCC website, can be found on the Murray State VITA website.
The United Way of Murray in Calloway County is currently accepting donations to their COVID-19 Relief Fund, for which they have already raised an unprecedented $ 95,000. “We are giving dollars directly to people who have defaulted on rent, mortgages and utilities in a way that really makes a difference and encourages people to get through this pandemic,” says Washington.
“We’re continuing with literacy programs, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library programs, adequate nutrition and safety – we’re continuing our normal mission. We’re really focused on these COVID relief efforts right now. [VITA helps] make sure that [community members and] Our seniors in particular can make sure they have support at a time that is also so stressful. “
The United Way MCC website offers additional opportunities to support the nonprofit organization. Further information on the VITA program is available on the VITA website or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.