Tax prep done free: Stetson student volunteers assist taxpayers

VOLUNTEER PREPARERS — Assistant Site Coordinator and Stetson student Mark Hodae and volunteer Isabel Botero, a Stetson employee, go over some of the materials they’ll use in providing tax-filing help.

VOLUNTEER PREPARERS — Assistant Site Coordinator and Stetson student Mark Hodae and volunteer Isabel Botero, a Stetson employee, go over some of the materials they’ll use in providing tax-filing help.

PHOTO COURTESY STETSON UNIVERSITY

Stetson University School of Business Administration recently announced that the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program will be offered on the DeLand campus to eligible taxpayers through April 13.

The free tax-preparation service started Feb. 1 and is located in Room 322 of the Lynn Business Center, 345 N. Woodland Blvd.

The VITA program is co-sponsored by the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties, Stetson’s M.E. Rinker Sr. Institute of Tax and Accountancy, and Stetson’s Center for Community Engagement.

The program has nearly 60 students registered to become certified VITA volunteers this year. Each tax return is reviewed for quality control by the VITA site coordinator, a student assistant site coordinator, or members of Stetson’s Accounting Advisory Board who donate their time and expertise to serve as mentors to the student tax preparers.

“This program is vital to low-income families in our community because it helps them receive their refund quickly and allows them to keep every hard-earned dollar, some of which would otherwise be spent on tax preparation and filing,” said Valrie Chambers, Ph.D., a certified public accountant and associate professor of taxation and accounting at Stetson.

In 2016, the Stetson VITA program celebrated $1 million in tax refunds secured over the program’s past six years, and the program anticipates celebrating $1.5 million in refunds in 2018.

Bonnie Holloway, a visiting lecturer in accounting in the School of Business Administration, serves as site coordinator for Stetson’s VITA program. She trains the volunteers and oversees the day-to-day operations of the site. Last year, she led the team to complete 358 returns for the 2016 filing season that totaled approximately $386,868 in tax refunds for local families.

“This program is mutually beneficial for taxpayers and students,” said Holloway. “Students gain hands-on experience in tax preparation while learning the importance of people skills as they interact and communicate with community clients.”

Taxpayers seeking assistance at the Stetson site must make an appointment before arrival, and upon arrival present valid photo identification and a Social Security card. Additional recommended documentation includes a copy of the taxpayer’s 2016 tax return, if available, W-2 forms, and bank-account information.

Eligible taxpayers must have an income below $54,000 to have a free basic income-tax return completed and filed electronically by trained student volunteers. Taxpayers with disabilities and with limited English skills who meet the income limit are also welcome to make an appointment.

VITA does not prepare returns involving rental properties, military combat pay, or foreign earned income. Other limitations may also apply.

Appointments can be made by calling 211 and following the prompts, or by calling the United Way at 386-275-1939 and requesting a VITA appointment.

Return-preparation times and days at Stetson are scheduled 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and noon-2 p.m. Fridays.

— Marie Dinklage

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