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MC's VITA program returns on Feb. 1

Barry McNamara
02/01/2010
Monmouth College will offer free computerized tax preparation and e-filing, beginning Feb. 1. This service is provided in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

This is the 11th consecutive year that Monmouth students have participated in the program, which 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.

“Everyone who comes to the VITA sites is strongly encouraged to e-file,” said MC accounting professor Judy Peterson, co-coordinator of the college’s program. “Taxpayers can expect quicker response to their filings, and the IRS can reduce its processing costs.”

Peterson added the VITA program has a two-fold purpose – “service and education for the community, and citizenship and education for the students.”

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 – this is a new location this year); 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. 13, Feb. 27 and March 27 and at the Galesburg library on Feb. 6, Feb. 20, March 20 and April 10.

At Monmouth College, VITA volunteers will be available Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m., starting Feb. 1. For the first two weeks, the college site will also be open on Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. VITA will not be in session during the college’s spring and Easter breaks. The final day of service will be April 14 on the college campus.

In order to receive income tax assistance, individuals need to be aware of several items they must bring with them to VITA sessions. A complete list is available at department.monm.edu/accounting/vita.htm or by calling 309-457-2160.

“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. We also ask that taxpayers who have unusual or complicated returns go to a paid tax preparer of their choice.”

More Monmouth students than ever have signed up for the program, as 40 students will be participating, up from 28 a year ago.

“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, who shares her coordinating duties with accounting faculty colleague Patrick Montgomery.

Two upper-level accounting students, Dallas Johnson of Galesburg and Laura Greenwood of Milan, accompanied Peterson and Montgomery to IRS training and will assist in the coordination of the program.

For the first time, the Monmouth program will be using TaxWise Online, rather than TaxWise Desktop, which will speed up the process while further ensuring the integrity of the data.

“Although we never had a breach of security and our data was encrypted, we no longer will have taxpayer information on our laptops,” said Peterson. “This is a major step forward, and Prof. Montgomery provided the major push to get this going.”

Peterson is also excited about the success of the college’s new citizenship course, “Taxes and the Citizenry,” which will be in its third 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 having a VITA program, and to have it integrated in this manner with policy issues is truly one of a kind,” she said.

Last year, Monmouth’s VITA program prepared or assisted with 465 federal and 467 state returns. Since the computerized service began in 2000, the program has experienced an increase of nearly 400 percent for returns prepared/assisted and an increase of nearly 900 percent for e-filed returns.

Additionally, said Peterson, “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.”