No cost help for basic tax returns is just a student volunteer away for local residents. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is free tax return preparation offered by University of Oregon accounting students who are specially trained for the task.
This free service for students and members of the community is presented by the University of Oregon chapter of the Beta Alpha Psi accounting student organization and includes the preparation of simple federal and state tax returns.
The VITA program at the University of Oregon began nearly two decades ago. Instructor of accounting Shannon Dolan, then a student and president of Beta Alpha Psi, was contacted by an IRS representative looking to launch e-file and free tax preparation on college campuses. Dolan and another student, Tracy Fisher, agreed it would be a natural partnership and launched the VITA program in the 1999–2000 academic year. Dolan currently serves as faculty advisor to Beta Alpha Psi.
“VITA provides our volunteers with an environment where they can interact with clients and build customer relationship skills,” explained Brett Christian, vice president of external affairs for Beta Alpha Psi. “Many of these student volunteers have not had this client interaction and are intimidated about the idea of working with a stranger. However, after their first tax preparation, our volunteers feel more confident and are able to provide this wonderful customer service the benefit to the community.”
A record number of taxpayers have taken up VITA on the offer already.
“We have completed 107 returns so far this season,” Christian said. “We are surpassing all prior records. We were far below 100 returns completed at this point last year. And we still have two sessions left!”
Along with excellent training and enthusiastic volunteers, Christian credits this year’s success to great marketing.
“We did much more this year,” Christian said. “Many people who come in say that they saw our banner or flyers. A banner was hung over 13th Street for two weeks and now sits atop The Fishbowl. You can also find our flyers on the Erb Memorial Union table tents.”
The service is being offered Saturday, April 7 and Saturday, April 14 from noon to 4:00 p.m. in the Lillis Business Complex, Room 240. The filing deadline this year for tax returns is Monday, April 16.
The VITA process is interactive and most returns take about an hour to prepare. Make sure to bring a photo ID, a Social Security card, and all tax documents. For a complete list, see the IRS website.
No appointment is necessary, and clients are served on a first-come, first-served basis. Volunteers are equipped to assist in filing basic tax returns. They cannot provide service for those filling an international return. Taxpayers unsure if their return fits the criteria may email Brett Christian at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit uobap.com/vita for more information.