Free tax help offered on campus

Students, faculty and staff who meet certain income requirements and are looking for a cost-free alternative to many tax-preparation businesses can attend the tax assistance workshops held in Hyland Hall.

The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistant Program is a program conducted by accounting students and professors at UW-Whitewater.

Photo illustration by Tim Gumz.

According to the VITA website, the program “offers free tax help and free electronic filing of federal and Wisconsin tax returns to people who earned less than $49,000 in 2010.”

Accounting lecturer Michael MacDonald, who assists the accounting students at the program, said VITA is geared toward situations that involve less complex tax returns, including W-2 and tuition forms.

Accounting students who take part in the program are enrolled in the Accounting 455 course, and are required to go through training conducted by the IRS.

These students are also required to pass certain online exams to become certified by the IRS to file tax returns, according to MacDonald. On average, 12 to 15 accounting students take part in the program every year.

Although the program is not required for accounting majors, it is offered as an alternative elective.

According to MacDonald, the VITA workshop has served as an opportunity for students without internships to have a similar experience dealing with clients.

“In this particular situation, the students meet with the clients, the clients look at them as if they were the experts, and they are the experts,” MacDonald said. “When the students get done with their work and I get done with my review, there is actually a real tax return produced and it is actually electronically filed with the [IRS] and the Wisconsin Dept. of Revenue.”

On average, the VITA program files between 200 and 300 federal and Wisconsin state tax returns every year, MacDonald said. MacDonald estimates the program has generated up to $200,000 in refunds and $40,000 in Earned Income Credits.

“What we do is to help people … ensure that they get the highest refund possible,” MacDonald said. “We hope to explain a few things as well, and in some cases, to take a little bit of the fear out of the process.”

The workshops are conducted on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and will be available until Tuesday, April 12.

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