SUNY Cortland economics majors are bringing community service to tax season by preparing free tax returns for community members. It’s volunteer work that’s saving tens of thousands of dollars in fees.
The 24 students, who all are IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Cortland County, will offer their free services to the community from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 2 p.m. on Sundays at Access to Independence, located at 26 N. Main. St., through Sunday, April 12. The IRS tax filing deadline is Wednesday, April 15.
Additionally, the student tax preparers will hold two special sessions for their classmates from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, March 9, and Tuesday, March 10, in Old Main, Room G-11.
Qualifying clients must have taken in less than $53,000 or less in taxable income for the 2014 tax year. They are asked to call 607-745-2114 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.
“Our program has a good reputation of being approachable and hands-on with community members,” said Liz Ingalls, a junior economics major from Centerport, N.Y. “People appreciate and get used to that experience.”
The normal cost of the students’ tax preparation likely would approach $150, Ingalls said. So far, the students have prepared more than 400 tax returns this season, which would add up to at least $60,000 saved by local residents.
SUNY Cortland students received official IRS training in the fall that required 10 classes and passing a preparer’s exam. Most opted to take an advanced exam as well. All of their work is double-checked by a supervisor.
“We work one-on-one with a person’s W-2 forms and we don’t take any money,” Ingalls said.
Many economics majors opt to participate in the VITA program to fulfill an elective that requires at least 120 hours of community service, but they quickly discover crucial finance skills.
“There are so many little things you need to know and it’s taught me those,” said Ingalls, who will pursue an internship with Merrill Lynch this summer. “They’re things most people my age wouldn’t know because they haven’t had this experience.”