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Students ready to offer tax-preparation help

February 10, 2009

Nearly two decades ago, Business Professor Susan Milstein had the idea to enlist her students to provide free tax-preparation assistance as a learning experience and to extend the college’s reach into the community.

Since then, McDaniel’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, or VITA, has blossomed into a national model for other colleges to emulate.

Starting today, Milstein and her students are again ready to offer their services.

The program is aimed at low- to moderate-income taxpayers, meaning those who are single earning less than $35,000 and couples earning no more than $50,000. Also, anyone from the McDaniel campus community is eligible to receive the free service.

The service is available by appointment only on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. To schedule an appointment, call 410-871-3344 or send an e-mail to vitatax@mcdaniel.edu.

The dates are as follows:

February: 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 24, 26 and 28
March: 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 24, 26, 28 and 31
April: 2 and 4

VITA clients are eligible to receive free e-filing, which means they may receive their returns in a matter of days, instead of weeks.

Amid an ailing economy burdened by a steady streams of layoffs and bankruptcies, Milstein said she is expecting to file a record number of tax returns on behalf of her students’ clients. Last year, they helped more than 200 taxpayers with everything from answering basic questions to filing full returns.

“Besides the usual returning clients, the economy certainly will send more clients our way,” Milstein said.

VITA offers free tax help to people who cannot afford professional assistance. Volunteers help prepare basic tax returns for low-income, older, handicapped, and non-English speaking taxpayers.

According to Milstein, the emphasis is to teach taxpayers to complete their own tax returns. However, taxpayers who are unable to participate in self-help assistance will be offered direct VITA assistance, meaning complete return preparation by volunteers.

Each student volunteer must attend three tax-training sessions that are held on campus, and conducted by IRS professionals. Students may earn course or internship credit for their participation.

Student coordinator Josh Smith, who is in his fourth year with the VITA program, said the program is a lot of work, but is also extremely rewarding.

“When you’re doing someone’s taxes, you see how you are helping them because you are trying to get them the best return possible,” Smith said. “We have many returning clients because they definitely really like what we do for them through this program.

 
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