For nearly a decade, groups of volunteer business students from East Tennessee State University have offered free tax preparation assistance through the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program.
This year, according to Dr. Michelle Freeman, member of the accounting faculty, completed with a total of 95 tax returns filed for the season after addressing restrictions caused by COVID-19. A total of eight students, two alumni, a support employee and three professors contributed to the process taking place.
“We were considering not opening the ETSU VITA website this year, but we have so many taxpayers in the community who are dependent on us that I just didn’t have the heart to leave them without help,” said Dr . Freeman. “We were determined to find a safe way to accommodate everyone. Taxpayers stayed in their cars and a student checked their taxpayer IDs and went through the information with them. The information was then made available to other students to help prepare the tax return while they phoned taxpayers to make sure their information was correct. “
The returns were also reviewed by professors who also spoke to taxpayers over the phone.
“While not ideal and a lot less personable, the process worked,” said Freeman.
While tax preparation may seem daunting and complex, PhD student and VITA volunteer Julie Ngendo, who is studying Tax in ETSU’s Master of Accountancy program, insists that the profession provides her with a unique opportunity to hear customer stories and, through her, a positive one To have an impact on their lives finances.
“The VITA program was a great opportunity for me to interact with people and hear their stories. We run income taxes for people in the community for free, ”said Ngendo. “This year looks different, of course, so our customers stay in their car and someone comes to their car to collect all the tax information that is then passed on to the creators,” added Ngendo. “While there isn’t that physical interaction, there is still an option to speak to them and then get them the full return and let them know if they can expect a refund or how to come up with a payment schedule for the tax liability. “
In addition to the challenges posed by the coronavirus, the latest changes in tax law also affected this year’s process.
“An additional challenge this year was the tax changes that were made after filing the tax return,” said Dr. Freeman. “The change in unemployment benefit tax liability and the cancellation of prepayment reimbursement has created a problem for about nine tax returns, but we are working through these to ensure our taxpayers are adequately cared for.”
ETSU College of Economics and Technology offers college and elementary degrees in accounting. For more information on the undergraduate program, call 423-439-4432 or email Dr. Joel Faidley at [email protected]. For the Research Training Group, send an email to Dr. Michelle Freeman at [email protected], Tracie Gamble at [email protected] or by phone at 423-439-5314.
ETSU will start planning VITA appointments in January next year. For more information, call 423-439-4432.
Contribution to the press