Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers students free tax work
By: Ashley Higginbotham
-Asst. News Editor-
Every Wednesday until April 10, any student, faculty or community member can visit the Business Administration building at STLCC-Meramec and get his/her taxes done for free by accounting students. This is the 11th year STLCC has taken part in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
“On the student side, this serves as an internship,” said Robyn Barrett, Associate Professor of Accounting.
The first four weeks of the program students are learning everything about taxes in the classroom.
“It was a lot to take in at first,” accounting student Jenny Williams said. “But [the accounting department] was very focused on making sure we know everything.”
After the training, BA 216 is turned into an office where real clients walk in the doors.
“It was very scary,” said accounting student Pam Tohtz, “just thinking about how we’d handle actual people and their taxes.”
The students go directly from studying to real-world work experience.
“It’s great because students are going to school and they get a job [for free],” Barrett said.
Students who have questions or need assistance have four CPAs available, and the accounting department has oversight of all student work.
“If the students do make a mistake, it is not a problem to go in and fix it,” Barrett said.
VITA is a program that started at STLCC in 2003 and offers students the tools to prepare taxes and work in a business-like setting. There is a check-in desk at the front door and desks are set up with everything students need to electronically file the community’s taxes.
“The people who come and see us are mostly repeated customers,” Barrett said.
Both students said they love doing something for the community.
“People are very patient and appreciate the service,” Williams said.
Tohtz said a perk of this job is working with the public.
“I found out that doing this, I enjoy working with people,” Tohtz said.
Tohtz is taking courses to achieve her AAS degree in accounting, and Williams is taking accounting classes. Students do not have to be accounting majors to be in the VITA program. To be eligible for VITA training students need to have completed ACC110, be currently enrolled or have completed ACC114 and make an appointment with Barrett. If a student meets the course requirement Barrett will consider professors comments and the student’s GPA.
“We are looking for good students with positive attitudes,” Barrett said.
Once all of the requirements have been met and the student is accepted the tax training begins.
“The number one reason why community members should come to us is because we offer a way to get taxes done for free,” Barrett said.
The VITA program focuses mainly on the elderly, low income families and students, but welcomes anybody.
“It is a wake-up call for some students,” Barrett said, “because they have this picture in their mind of what they want to make and when they see these other incomes they think, ‘how do they survive?’”
Barrett started as an adjunct in 2003. In 2009, she began working in the VITA program alongside accounting professor Markus Ahrens. In 2012, she took over the program from Ahrens.
“I think this is a great program because it’s completely free,” Barrett said.
All three said the VITA program was beneficial for student participants and the community.
“If you do it yourself,” Tohtz said. “It still costs you because you have to buy the program. This way saves you money, and who doesn’t like saving money at this time?”
Except for March 13, taxes will be done Wednesdays through April 10 from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The accounting department is accepting clients by appointment only. Call 314-984-7514 for more information or to make an appointment.