Tax season is upon us, but those in the community who need extra help don’t have to look any further than the University of Redlands for assistance. That’s because the U of R and many of its accounting students are once again partnering with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to provide free tax help through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA). This year, demand is greater than ever.
“With the ability to obtain stimulus money and the change to how unemployment income is taxed, this year more than ever folks need tax help,” says Professor Greg Lackey, who oversees the U of R VITA program. “In just two weeks, we have almost 100 tax returns that are in process, while in comparison we had 43 last year and 49 in 2018.”
The U of R accounting students who volunteer to help VITA clients have been trained using IRS material and an electronic tax filing program to prepare Form 1040 with attached schedules and forms.
As reported recently on the local NBC and ABC news, despite the fact that many local VITA sites remained closed this year due to the pandemic, U of R’s VITA service began March 8 and will continue every Monday through April 12.
To adapt to current public health circumstances, this year’s format looks a little different than in years past. Assistance is initiated through an online intake form. Clients who submit the form will receive an email with an appointment and directions on how to submit documents either online, by email, or through a drop box located near Public Safety’s office on the Redlands campus.
“Of course, an online option was going to be a must,” says Lackey, “but knowing the many taxpayers who have come to our site on campus over the years, we realized that scanning documents and connecting virtually would not be a viable option for some. It has been great to provide an option for folks to drop off their documents and get everything uploaded for them.”
Lackey notes the program has been running smoothly despite the adjustments, adding, “It is a blessing to be able to help so many people and give them one less thing to worry about.”