April 3, 2012
With April 15 approaching, people who make $50,000 or less can get free help preparing their federal and state income returns, thanks to trained UNC Asheville faculty, staff and students volunteering in the IRS VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program. Already this tax season, UNC Asheville volunteers have helped prepare more than 300 federal and state tax returns, and helped taxpayers file for more than $430,000 in refunds.
UNC Asheville’s volunteers will provide free tax help, with no appointment needed, at two Asheville locations:
- Housing Authority of the City of Asheville central office, 165 S. French Broad Ave., from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday, April 10
- Pack Library, lower level down the hall from the children’s section, from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14.
UNC Asheville volunteers have provided free tax help the past two years at Pack Library every Saturday of tax season that the library is open. “This is such a needed service,” says Monique Taylor, UNC Asheville’s director of Internal Audit, who also directs the university’s VITA program, which trains students in tax laws and procedures, and confidentiality. “Everyone who works at a VITA site must pass the Volunteer Standards of Conduct exam, whether they are greeting taxpayers, preparing returns or packaging them,” says Taylor.
UNC Asheville’s volunteers this year include 10 students and five recently graduated alumni. Dwight Ehrlichman, who received his diploma in Accounting and Management last year, says performing this public service is tremendously satisfying, and he is putting in even more volunteer time this year as he studies for his CPA certification exams. “It’s such a good feeling,” Ehrlichman says. “You can see what a difference it makes in someone’s life and how grateful people are – people who can’t afford to pay a private tax preparer. Some people have been afraid to file, but when they see they’ve been owed refunds for a number of years and you get them all caught up, you can just see the weight come off them.”
Extra work from Taylor, Ehrlichman and other volunteers has enabled UNC Asheville to expand the program this year, perhaps tripling the number of people who were helped last year. This year, UNC Asheville’s VITA program has begun outreach to members of the Eastern Bank of Cherokee Indians, through sites on the Qualla Boundary. University volunteers have traveled to Cherokee to provide in-person assistance, and Taylor has also implemented a “Virtual VITA” program where tax documents are scanned and transmitted securely to university volunteers. UNC Asheville volunteers also spent two days at Industries for the Blind in Asheville, providing free tax assistance to clients there.
Each return prepared by UNC Asheville’s VITA program is reviewed multiple times, according to Joe Sulock, Cary Caperton Owen Professor of Economics who teaches the service-learning course that students take to become VITA volunteers. “Two accounting graduates, Dwight Ehrlichman and Rob Putterman, along with Monique Taylor, review the returns, so our returns are accurate.” says Sulock. “And we’ve gotten great feedback from the first-time student volunteers – they learn about the tax code and they feel great providing a service to real people who need help.”
Taxpayers coming to a VITA site should bring photo ID for themselves and social security cards for everyone covered by the tax return, including children and any other dependents. They should also bring wage and earning statements (including W-2 and 1099 forms), a copy of last year’s tax return if available, and statements from daycare providers that show amounts paid and the provider’s tax ID number. To facilitate direct deposit of an income tax refund, people should bring a blank check or other proof of bank account information. To file joint tax returns, both spouses must be present to sign forms.
For more information about UNC Asheville’s VITA program, call Monique Taylor at 828.251.4599.