Franciscan University of Steubenville accounting students are spending the spring providing free taxpayer assistance to locals for the 33rd year in a row.
The handful of volunteers are continuing a tradition of working through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, explained Franciscan accounting professor Albert Macre, who has been directing the VITA program at the university for 30 years.
“Essentially what VITA is is the IRS wants to provide free tax preparation services to lower-income and elderly tax payers,” said Macre.
Volunteers for this national program are trained through various IRS courses to assist individuals in these demographics with tax return e-filing.
“There’s VITA locations all over the place, although very few universities tend to do this,” said Macre, a point that makes the Franciscan program special.
Interested accounting students utilize knowledge acquired from both their normal classwork and from special training sessions in order to qualify as VITA volunteers.
“Training for them is one semester of Individual Income Tax, which includes a lot of tax preparation,” said Macre. “Then we do a training session on the software, and then a training session on the actual site work itself — meeting the taxpayer, getting the information, the mechanics of preparing a tax return.”
Macre noted that the program has attracted great community turnout in the past.
“A normal year we do 300 returns,” he said. “Last year was the COVID year so we only got through 100 before we had to shut the site down, but it’s usually between 250-300 returns that we prepare a year.”
Although the program does not begin until mid-February, “usually the phones start ringing at the mall, the university, in the business department offices right around mid-January.”
Macre emphasized the opportunity VITA provides to students to serve their local community in a unique way that incorporates their particular skillsets.
“It kind of goes along with the mission of the university, that we want to help those that need help,” he said. “It’s a good community outreach, its public service, it’s a chance to use your in-class knowledge in a very real-world way.”
Macre added, “The continuity is really neat, because some of these people (that get filing assistance), I’ve seen them 30 years in a row.”
The number of accounting students that get involved in VITA varies from year to year due to the fact that the program is volunteer-only, and six students are currently participating, said Macre. These students can use participation in the program for thesis credit.
This year, student VITA volunteers will be tabling from Feb. 16 to April 9 at the Fort Steuben Mall on Wednesdays and Fridays from 1:30-3:30 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30-2:30 p.m. They can prepare form 1040; schedules 1, 2 and 3; schedules A, B and D; forms for calculating child and childcare credits, education credits and earned-income credits; and Ohio returns for full-year residents.