Utah State University students in Beta Alpha Psi international honorary accounting organization worked with USU Extension county agents to make volunteer income tax assistance more available to rural Utahns this year. Through a new process called Virtual VITA, rural taxpayers were connected with certified volunteer student tax preparers at USU through the Internet.
According to Dean Miner, USU Extension professor, Utah County, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance is an IRS program that helps low-to-moderate income taxpayers prepare their returns, particularly those who may be eligible for the Earned Income Credit.
“The IRS requires direct contact between certified preparers and the taxpayers as part of the process,” Miner said. “Rural communities frequently lack the certified volunteers needed, so the Virtual VITA concept was adopted by USU Extension over the past few tax seasons to overcome that obstacle.”
Miner said the IRS is very supportive and is looking for the collaboration between USU Extension and the accounting students to possibly serve as a model that can be duplicated in Beta Alpha Psi chapters across the nation.
“Beta Alpha Psi’s ability to reach non-traditional VITA customers makes them a natural fit to help expand the Virtual VITA model,” said IRS Stakeholder, Partnerships, Education and Communication Director Verlinda Paul. “We look forward to a continued partnership with Beta Alpha Psi so that we can reach even more taxpayers in rural communities.”
Bonnie Villarreal, USU faculty advisor for Beta Alpha Psi, said the program provides a great opportunity for the students as well as the taxpayers who are served.
“There are always challenges when you involve additional steps using technology like Skype and secure file transfer, but we enjoyed working out the bugs with Dean Miner and the other Extension personnel, and it was great meeting some of the rural taxpayers via our virtual connection,” she said. “We support Dean and the IRS in this effort and will be ready to serve again when needed.”
Miner said the collaboration between USU Extension and Beta Alpha Psi is a great way to fulfill the land-grant mission of the university by providing information to help families improve their lives.
“Combining the on-campus expertise of the Beta Alpha Psi students with the in-county presence of Extension agents helped participating taxpayers save more than $10,000 in tax preparation fees and receive nearly $130,000 in state and federal refunds this year,” he said.
Contact: Dean Miner, Extension professor, Utah County, (801) 851-8469, firstname.lastname@example.org