Beta Alpha Psi, an accounting honors organization at the University of Oregon, is again offering free help preparing income tax forms to students and members of the community through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
The group has been holding VITA sessions since February, and two upcoming sessions will be held from noon to 4:00 p.m. on April 9 and 16. They are hosted in Room 155, Lillis Business Complex. Required materials include a Social Security card, photo ID, and tax documents, such as W-2s, 1099s and others.
Accounting and law students from the Lundquist College of Business and School of Law volunteer time and expertise to help people prepare returns. Shannon Dolan, faculty advisor, helped start the program and returned this past fall to oversee it.
When Dolan was a student, the IRS contacted her about launching a volunteer tax preparation site in the area. That was 16 years ago, and today the program no longer has to borrow laptops from accounting firms and is firmly established as a site.
Despite the growth and changes in the program, the benefits are the same for the users and volunteers. Hands-on experience is why most of the volunteers help out with the program.
“It gave me leadership experience and taught me how to manage employees,” Dolan said. “When I had my own employees, it wasn’t so foreign. Students need this real-world experience, and it is a safe learning environment.”
Kris Bjornson, Beta Alpha Psi vice president of external affairs, currently runs the UO tax volunteer site. The group’s goal this tax season is to file at least 150 returns. Like Dolan, Bjornson believes volunteering with the program is great experience for those interested in accounting.
“It is tangible experience. It is a good program that helps out others in the community and it makes a difference,” Bjornson said. “It is rewarding to see people face to face with the taxpayer and the preparer.”
Bjornson said one of those rewarding experiences is to help students qualify for bigger tax refunds. Last year, he helped a student qualify for an education credit award of almost $1,000. Volunteers do not have to be affiliated with Beta Alpha Psi; several trainings and a test are offered to gain certification.