The Student Life section of Utah State Today highlights work written by the talented student journalists at Utah State University. Each week, the editor selects a story that has been published in The Utah Statesman for inclusion in Utah State Today.
Being away from home can be a stressful time for students looking to complete their taxes, and to gain the maximum refund from their hard work. But Utah State has resources for students to help make their lives just a little bit easier, especially during tax season.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is a program for low income families and students to have their taxes done for free, by qualified tax preparers who are also students.
VITA, together with Beta Alpha Psi (the accounting honors program at USU), have provided this opportunity to students at USU for the past ten years, and continues to see success year after year.
Student volunteers who assist with VITA are trained to use a software program provided by the U.S. government. These volunteers ask a series of questions to individuals looking for help to determine if they qualify for VITA, and if so, begin the tax filing process.
On average, 800 returns are prepared every year, with 200 of those being returns for international students at USU. Several of these returns include foreign tax returns that require advanced certifications to be completed. VITA volunteers also have a knowledge of educational tax credit forms, also known as 1098T forms that can be difficult to understand if not explained well.
Bonnie Villarreal is the advisor for Beta Alpha Psi, which also gives her the role of sight coordinator for VITA at USU. She is asked to make sure the site is staffed with competent people so that USU is compliant with what the Internal Revenue Service(IRS) expects of them.
Villarreal enjoys the fulfillment she gets from serving as the advisor for such a rewarding organization.
“I start a CPA firm from scratch every spring, invite students to be trained, come volunteer and ask questions. It’s basically like starting and managing a tax practice,” Villarreal said.
She said that this experience gives students more hands-on opportunities for learning, instead of just sitting through a tax class.
“It gives the students who are studying accounting a chance to be someone’s financial advisor, because not only do we serve the students, but we serve the community,” Villarreal said. “It’s really good for students to try out their occupation before they really decide if that’s what they want to do for their career.”
Villarreal also enjoys seeing the satisfaction of the students when they realize they like what they are doing and training for in the real world.
“It’s great to have the people getting their taxes done be appreciative, but I think the appreciation from the students of ‘thank you for letting me see what it’s like to help somebody’ is probably what’s in it for me more than anything,” Villarreal said.
Jared Fry is a sophomore studying accounting. He currently volunteers as an administrator over all the returners for the VITA program at USU.
Fry has always had a motto of working hard and reaping the benefits later, something that followed him as he came to USU. He worked hard to get involved, and eventually found the Institute of Management Accountana and Beta Alpha Psi to not only help him get involved, but live his motto while going to school.
“It’s all about the learning experience,” Fry said. “VITA provided a really good opportunity for me to give back, because I feel like I’ve been given a lot in my life.”
Fry said that VITA provides a safe, simplified process for doing taxes, in a less stressful environment than the traditional route.
“VITA is a good resource to have students get their taxes done accurately. They risk less by having VITA help them,” Fry said. “There is also less risk for mistakes, and having someone do the taxes wrong. There are always people that can answer questions.”
Ashley Abarca is a senior at USU studying social work.
Abarca discovered the VITA lab with her husband last year. They loved their experience, and decided to go again this year.
“I love being able to go and know that someone is doing my taxes right and I’m not just shooting in the dark,” Abarca said. “I have already recommended it to other students.”
Abarca recommends getting to the lab early, considering how popular it is, especially on Tuesday evenings.
Villarreal finds herself putting in extra hours during spring semester to ensure that those who step through the doors of the VITA lab are receiving the help they need to complete their taxes in the time they are given.
“I’m not going to turn my back on international students, or any students who need my help with their returns because I wouldn’t want anyone turning their back on me if I needed help,”
Villarreal said. “This keeps me doing an extra 15-20 hours a week just to get things done.”
For any students and low-income families looking for a free resource to have their taxes done well, look no further than the VITA lab on campus. This free service runs until the end of March.
The VITA lab is open from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesdays in the Eccles Business building room 118 and Saturdays from 9-11 am.