By Eric Covey
TNE Senior Staff Writer
(Broken Arrow, OK)--Moving full throttle into the New Year, tax season has arrived. Uncle Sam is officially knocking on America’s door, giving anxiety to some and anticipated financial relief to others.
At the Northeastern State University-Broken Arrow campus, a group of students led by P.J. Gorden, instructor of accounting, are offering local citizens, as well as NSU students, faculty and staff an opportunity to have their taxes prepared for FREE by an accredited professional staff.
The VITA program offers free tax help to low-to-moderate income individuals, generally earning $50,000 or less, and to people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. The certified volunteers at NSU are accounting and business students who have successfully passed an income tax course at NSU and the IRS exams.
“Vita is an income tax practicum class, just like any other class" Gorden said. "Students must give four hours a week to be given credit for the class.”
The VITA program is part of the curriculum at the BA campus and the students receive three credit hours for participating in the program.
“We sign a volunteer code of conduct, and all information is confidential and held in a controlled environment,” said Gorden. “Our partner is Community Action Resources and Development, a non-profit organization located in Coweta.”
CARD assists families in five counties in such ways as Head start programs, running a food pantry, helping first-time home buyers and free tax preparation at their office in Bartlesville. CARD is making all appointments and pre-screening potential clients so they will arrive confident they will have their taxes prepared completely and accurately.
“We are trying to get the lower wage earners, because they don’t know how to do earned income credit and child tax care credits,” said Gorden.
There are several new tax laws this year that will issue additional credit such as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
According to the IRS Web site there are extensions and revisions to college credits, first time home buyers and new car owners.
“They don’t understand the credits and why they are not getting money back and how this is going to work,” said Gorden.
VITA can also file in multiple states for those who are not from Oklahoma and also do federal e-filing and state e-filing.
“We are trained to take the time and ask the right questions because some people don’t understand,” said Gorden.
Gorden gave some general tips for this tax season.
In regards to receipts, “save everything.”
Students must remember that the IRS has a copy of any official document stating that money was earned, acquired or accrued.
“According to the IRS, you don’t have to file if you make $9,000 or less," Gorden said. "However, if you are self-employed, you must file.”
She also mentions that the Bank of Oklahoma is offering a free checking account to new customers who are getting their taxes done through this service.
Annie Mills, Tahlequah alumnus, is assisting the program for the third year in a row. As a co-site coordinator for the program, she assists in reviewing everybody’s work and making sure everything is submitted correctly.
“We are hoping to get over 500 returns this year,” said Mills.
Though some students usually have their parents do their taxes, it is comforting to see that a professional is available to do the job.
Mills said she wants to make sure the clients are comfortable with what they are doing.
“We have to be certified, be up to date with tax laws and take tests verifying that we are aware of the current laws because they change every year,” said Mills.
Depending on how complex the return is, most sessions take 30 minutes to an hour. However, as the season progresses, the team will become more comfortable with the program and returns should be processed quickly.
“We are really busy the first couple of weeks, then it’ll lull and then we’re busy for the last month,” said Mills.
Mills, who once took the class, said the enjoys helping the community.
“It’s nice to give back to those who can’t get professional help,” said Mills.
Mills said getting taxes figured can be expensive.
“One particular customer had paid a C.P.A. $1,600 to do his taxes and we did his taxes the next year for free,” said Mills.
The service runs through April 15, but will be closed the week of Spring Break, March 15-20. Hours of operation are 5:30-8 p.m. Mondays, 2-8 p.m. Thursdays and 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays in Building E, Room 118. Park in the east lots and enter the library building.
Bring W-2s and other forms, picture ID, physical copies of Social Security cards, birth dates of spouse and dependents and account and routing numbers. If applicable, bring a day care provider's tax ID number and any documents stating issuance to the IRS. Both spouses must be present to file an electronic joint return.
Walk-ins are welcome, but to schedule an appointment call CARD at (918) 486-2471. For more information about VITA services offered on the Tahlequah campus, call Dr. John Yeutter at (918) 444-2968.
Published: 2/12/2010 2:36:07 PM