VITA program is win-win for students, taxpayers

Ready or not, tax season is here. If complicated tax forms are not your forte and your household income is less than $51,000, you may want to consider having your taxes filed for free through the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Items needed for a tax appointment

  • Proof of identification
  • Social Security cards for you, your spouse and dependents, and/or a Social Security number verification letter
  • Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents
  • Wage and earning statements (Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R) from all employers
  • Interest and dividend statements (Form 1099)
  • Copy of last year's federal and state returns
  • Bank routing numbers and account numbers for direct deposit of refunds
  • Total paid for daycare and the daycare provider's tax ID number

To file taxes electronically on a married filing joint tax return, both spouses must be present to sign forms. You also must know whether you are being claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return.

The details

The VITA program is staffed by 20 to 25 trained Iowa State accounting students, most of whom are members of Beta Alpha Psi, a national honorary organization for students seeking degrees in accounting, finance or management information systems. Experienced faculty and staff assist the students as needed.

Beginning Feb. 1, taxpayers may schedule appointments online for Feb. 19 through April 11 (no assistance will be available during spring break, March 18-22). Hours are Tuesdays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., and Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. Walk-in appointments may be available if time allows. All appointments will be held in 2148 Gerdin Business Building.

Since VITA began about 20 years ago, the number of taxpayers who use the program has steadily increased. Last year, students assisted 450 taxpayers, primarily ISU students and Ames residents.

Positive student experience

Taxpayers who qualify to participate in the VITA program benefit from having their tax returns prepared at no cost, but ISU students benefit, too.

Prior to preparing the returns, students receive 10 hours of training, led by Bill Dilla, associate professor of accounting. Following their training, the students are required to pass an ethics exam as well as several state and federal IRS exams. Students receive one credit, which counts toward their total accounting and graduation credits.

The real-world tax experience also helps the students prepare for their future.

"Some students have already done a tax internship so they participate in VITA to keep gaining more tax experience," said Matt Allbee, VITA graduate assistant. "Some students may plan on going into tax, but have never done an internship, so VITA allows them to see if tax is something they are truly interested in and helps them prepare for internships and future careers."