Although a string of high temperatures and a lack of snow have made it hard to recognize the season, one things doesn’t change this time of year – it’s tax season.
Once again, Monmouth College is here to help. For the 13th straight year, the college is offering computerized tax preparation and e-filing (federal and state) at no cost to the taxpayer. This service is provided in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program.
Professor Judy Peterson, coordinator of MC’s program, said VITA has a two-fold purpose: service and education for the community, and citizenship and education for the students. The service is aimed at low- to middle-income taxpayers (generally $50,000 or less) who cannot afford professional assistance and need assistance in the preparation of their return. All ages of taxpayers are served, from students through retirees. Taxpayers who use the VITA sites are strongly encouraged to e-file, as they can expect quicker response to their filings, and the IRS can reduce its processing costs.
Assistant professor of accounting Connie Mersch will assist Peterson in coordinating the program. Mersch, who joined MC’s faculty this academic year, spent several years working in the tax departments of various distinguished companies.
“I am excited to be working with Connie in this venture, as she is very knowledgeable, focused and professional,” said Peterson.
Beginning Feb. 6, the tax preparation will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at two locations: the basement of the college’s Wallace Hall and the Warren County Public Library. The library will be staffed by VITA volunteers on three days: Feb. 18, March 3 and March 31, all from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The remaining sessions will be conducted at the college. Weekdays sessions are 4 – 7 p.m. and Saturday sessions are 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. The weekdays include every Monday and Wednesday in February and March (except March 12 and March 14); two Thursdays (Feb. 9 and 16); and the Mondays and Wednesdays in April through April 16. The Saturday sessions at the college will be Feb. 11, Feb. 25, March 24 and April 14.
“We ask that taxpayers who have higher incomes but have tax returns within the scope of the VITA program please wait until after our first two busy weeks in February to come to our sites, as the program is aimed at those with lower incomes,” said Peterson. “Nevertheless, we welcome higher incomes as the learning process for the students in this program continues throughout the tax season.”
She continued, “We will be able to prepare 1040, 1040A and 1040 inclusive of itemized deductions. We will not prepare complicated returns. If your return is outside of our scope, we will let you know that we are not able to assist you.”
During last year’s tax season, Monmouth’s VITA volunteers prepared or assisted with 510 federal and 509 state returns. Since computerized filing began on campus in 2000, the program has experienced an increase of nearly 450 percent for returns prepared/assisted and an increase of more than 1,000 percent for e-filed returns.
“A great deal of the filers at our VITA sites are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC),” reported Peterson. “This credit is a financial boost for working people in a recovering economy. EITC is one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty programs, annually lifting 6.6 million people out of poverty; half of these are children.”
Nationwide, she said, the average credit was $2,100, but it can be as much as $5,751 depending on the worker’s income, marital status and whether there are children.
Peterson said that year after year, surveys indicate that taxpayers would use the service again and also recommend a friend.
“We are certainly pleased with the success of this program and the value to both the students and the surrounding communities,” said Peterson.
In order to receive income tax assistance, individuals should bring the following to a VITA session:
• Identification (such as a driver’s license).
• Social Security cards for each person listed on the return (includes taxpayer, spouse and all dependents).
• All documentation on income such as W-2s and 1099s.
• Last year’s return. This is necessary if the taxpayer itemized last year and now has a state refund to be added back to income, or is receiving a partially taxed annuity. This is also helpful to ensure income and deductions taken in a previous year are revisited for inclusion in the current year.
• Voided check (no deposit slips) if the taxpayer wishes direct deposit of the refund.
Taxpayers are reminded that both spouses must be present if they are going to e-file a joint return.
More details on what to bring to a VITA session and other helpful information can be found at department.monm.edu/accounting/vita.htm. Specific questions may be asked by e-mailing Mersch or Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.