The year is going well for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program.
The name is abbreviated to VITA. It is a course offered by the college, and is staffed by students do taxes for people with a total income of $54,000 or less.
“This program is actually something that the IRS offers,” said accounting professor Parnella Baul, “and they kind of market it to non-profit organizations, colleges, and universities. So this is a partnership with the IRS.”
Baul is the supervisor of the program.
“I thought it was important that my students have practical experience as accounting majors in particular. My hope was that we would have an internship at some point,” she said. “That didn’t happen, so this was kind of a great way to provide a business environment.”
Students do more than just prepare taxes in the program. They are assistant coordinators, greeters, and quality reviewers.
This is the second year that VITA has been offered at MCCC.
“Last year it was a special topics course,” said Baul. “I started with four students and one volunteer; Ian, who is now my site coordinator. We did 36 tax returns last year… the IRS requires that we do 50 for them to continue to support us.”
This year, fortunately, numbers are far better all around. 16 students work at VITA, and over the past three weeks have done 43 tax returns. On the day the interview was conducted, 13 appointments were scheduled, and walk-ins are welcomed and expected.
The process takes between an hour and an hour-and-a-half. The length depends on the returns’ complexity.
VITA runs for two further weeks, then ends for the season.
Ian Lawson is a returning member of the original five students, and is now co-site coordinator for VITA.
“When I first heard about this project,” he said, “I thought that it was an amazing opportunity for something like a mock internship. So, me being an accounting major, I took my first accounting class with Professor Baul.
“And she said, ‘I have this organization that’s starting, would anyone like to be involved in it?’ I didn’t know it was going to be a class, I didn’t know I had to sign up. I just thought ‘that’s amazing!’ and I jumped on. I’ve been saying yes to help and to advance since then.”
The VITA course can be taken in place of an accounting course, but any student can take it as an elective.
“We welcome all students,” Baul said. “I want this to be an experience from any major can participate in.”
VITA also partners with Habitat for Humanity and the Michigan State University Extension Service.
“What they do is they come during the day and offer financial workshops,” Baul said. “For instance, budgeting, what you can do with your income tax return, that kind of thing.”
For more information on VITA, please visit www.monroeccc.edu/taxassist.