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VITA a vital program

Barry McNamara
01/17/2011
Monmouth College, in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service, will offer free computerized tax preparation and e-filing, beginning Feb. 3. (Interested low-income tax payers can find more information here.)

This is the 12th consecutive year that Monmouth students have participated in the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program under the supervision of MC accounting professor Judy Peterson. VITA is aimed primarily at low- to middle-income taxpayers with an income of $50,000 or less. All ages of taxpayers are served, from students through retirees.

The program has grown in each of the past 11 years, topping 1,000 returns prepared for the first time last year. That’s due in part to the continued improvement in the service, which has included additional sites and new software.

This year’s additions include a translator and an opportunity for parents with college-bound students to receive help on their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

“We will have a Spanish translator at our Warren County Public Library site,” said Peterson, who now coordinates the college’s program along with department colleague Patrick Montgomery. “John White, the intercultural outreach coordinator at the Armoury, has volunteered to do this. Also, Teresa Schryver from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) will be at each of our locations to help community members complete their FAFSA, which is the important first step in the financial aid process.”

More information about FAFSA assistance is available from Schryver at tschryver@isac.org or 309-351-4754.

Peterson said the college’s VITA program has a twofold purpose – “service and education for the community, and citizenship and education for the students.”

“Everyone who comes to the VITA sites is strongly encouraged to e-file,” she added. “Taxpayers can expect quicker response to their filings, and the IRS can reduce its processing costs.”

Tax preparation is offered on a first-come, first-served basis at three locations: Monmouth College (lower level of Wallace Hall, the college’s main building); the Warren County Public Library (60 Public Square, Monmouth); and the Galesburg Public Library (40 E. Simmons Street). The library locations are available on select Saturdays only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students will be at the Monmouth library on Feb. 12, Feb. 26, March 26, April 9 and April 16 and at the Galesburg library on Feb. 5, Feb. 19, March 19 and April 2.

“If you have a disability that prevents you from climbing stairs, please visit the two library locations, which are wheelchair accessible,” advised Peterson.

At Monmouth College, VITA volunteers will be available Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m., starting Feb. 2. For the first two weeks, the college site will also be open on Thursdays at the same time. VITA will not be in session during the college’s spring break (March 4-13). The final day of service on the college campus will be April 13 .

In order to receive income tax assistance, individuals need to bring several documents with them to VITA sessions. A complete list is available at department.monm.edu/accounting/vita.htm or by calling 309-457-2160. Questions can also be sent by e-mail to vita@monm.edu.

“We ask that taxpayers who have higher incomes but have tax returns within the scope of the VITA program to 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. We also ask that taxpayers who have unusual or complicated returns go to a paid tax preparer of their choice.”

The service continues to be a popular one for Monmouth students as, for the second straight year, 40 have volunteered for the program.

“These students will be completing IRS certification requirements this month after attending workshops to study new tax laws and to orient them to the commercial software and internal control processes used,” said Peterson.

The Monmouth program will once again be using TaxWise Online, rather than TaxWise Desktop, which speeds up the process while further ensuring the integrity of the data.

Peterson is also enthusiastic about the success of the college’s new citizenship course, “Taxes and the Citizenry,” which will be in its fourth iteration this spring. In addition to participating in VITA, students in the course will research and discuss tax policy issues and submit a paper as well as give an oral presentation.

“I don’t see many colleges and universities even offering a VITA program, and to have it integrated in this manner with policy issues is truly one of a kind,” she said. “Surveys indicate that taxpayers would use our services 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.”