April 25, 2019 | Joliet, Ill.
Filing state and federal income taxes can be challenging for anyone. In an effort to ease that challenge for qualifying Joliet area residents, the new Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) group at the University of St. Francis (USF) answered the call to serve.
Comprised of twelve accounting students, two accounting faculty and two community volunteers, the USF VITA site provided free, Internal Revenue Service (IRS)-certified income tax preparation and electronic filing services during tax season for families with annual incomes of up to $55,000 and individuals with annual incomes of up to $30,000.
“We were able to help senior citizens, international students and families who did not speak English,” said Amanda Dore, Visiting Professor of Accounting at USF and VITA site coordinator. “We helped families and individuals who used to utilize the Center for Economic Progress (CEP) site, but we also helped people who had never heard of a VITA site before and paid over $400 at commercial tax preparation sites.”
The new USF VITA site replaces the CEP VITA site that was in operation for a few years and that utilized USF’s facilities (but was not affiliated with the university).
“The CEP is a non-profit organization that assists low-income individuals with tax help and financial education. In 2018, the CEP merged with a company called Ladder Up. After the merger, they decided to close their Joliet VITA site, which previously helped over 600 individuals every year. CEP/Ladder Up still exists, but not in Joliet. Our USF students used to volunteer at the old Joliet CEP VITA site, and I did last year as well. I knew there was a big need in our community still, so I decided to open up our own site at USF,” Dore said.
VITA sites are set up through the IRS and must adhere to specific IRS regulations. IRS agents oversee each VITA site and its volunteers.
“There is a Volunteer Protection Act that protects all of our volunteers and a strict code of conduct that all volunteers must adhere to. The IRS has certification tests that all volunteers must pass as well. The IRS also provides the tax software that is used, Tax Slayer,” Dore said.
One way the IRS monitors for site compliance is through unannounced field site visits. When the IRS completed its unannounced visit on the USF site, the site received a perfect compliance score (100%).
“Thank you so much for the wonderful start to your VITA site at USF. I commend you for working well with all of the volunteers that I observed during my visit and love the enthusiasm from everyone, as well,” IRS tax consultant Lisa C. Johnson said in a summary report to Dore.
With this being the inaugural year for the USF VITA site, Dore set conservative yet realistic goals for the program. When tax season closed on April 15, Dore and the VITA team had successfully filed 257 tax returns for 2018.
“The IRS goal for a first year site is 50 returns, and my own personal goal for our site was 100 returns, and we surpassed both. In our last night alone, we filed 33 returns! We also filed a handful of prior year returns as well,” Dore said.
USF College of Business and Health Administration Dean Orlando Griego is pleased with the impact VITA has had in its first year.
“It is inspiring to see this type of good work coming from our accounting students and faculty,” Griego said. “They are truly living our university’s Franciscan values of service, compassion, integrity and respect.”
USF will once again serve as a VITA site next year. Details, including service dates and times, will be released in early 2020.
The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves over 4,000 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 49,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit stfrancis.edu.
University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.