Trained students prepare taxes free of charge to those with low income

Helen Yip, Staff Reporter

April 15 is just around the corner, and for students, taxes may be last on the proverbial plate. But it may not be that bad this season since students can now have taxes prepared by a professional or by a trained student for free.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, or VITA, is a program being offered by the College of Business students at UTEP and the Internal Revenue Service.

Juan Pena, senior accounting major, has been helping with this year’s VITA program and is grateful to have the experience.

“We went to a course for a total of 16 hours, then we had to take an exam to get certified,” Pena said. “It was a great experience. I had a gentlemen who was very pleased with the money he got back.”

VITA has also started a partnership with UTEP in order to help parents file their taxes before the deadline for Free Application For Federal Student Aid applications are due.

Carmen Gonzales, program coordinator in the office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs at UTEP, said the partnership was initiated because lower-income families might not be able to afford help to ensure they filed their taxes before the FAFSA deadlines.

“We started last year in a two-pronged program, which involves FAFSA, and now free tax service for households of $52,000 or less,” Gonzales said.

FAFSA gives priority to students with documented financial need whose applications are received by March 15. The latest deadline to complete and submit FAFSA applications is June 30.

VITA will continue offering free tax preparations until the tax deadline on April 15. Gonzalez said the sooner the better for students and their families who haven’t filed their taxes in order to complete their FAFSA.

VITA was formalized in 2000 into a separate division from the IRS. The Stakeholder Partnership Education and Community division handles the VITA program.

“We are the community organization of the IRS,” said Erik Nevarez, a tax consultant for the IRS-SPEC program. “The earliest example we have is The Tax Reform Act 1969, basically allowing tax payers to gain knowledge and education.”

Nevarez said the act was instituted to allow for educational services to make it easier to file taxes.

“As (VITA) evolved, it provided more of a community service—somebody who knew the actual aspect of a tax return, which provides the service to somebody who had no means to access to any service without a fee,” Nevarez said.

Arturo Valenzuela, graduate student and president of Beta Alpha Psi, an honor organization for financial information students, has been helping with this program for two years.

“Nevarez asked me if we wanted to participate,” Valenzuela said. “We go every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to the designated sites.”

Valenzuela said that although Turbo Tax is a nice piece of software, he said he has seen occasions where the tax preparers have gotten the client more of a refund than when they did it on their own.

According to Valenzuela, anyone who has a domestic tax return and makes less than $52,000 a year may take advantage of the free tax return service.

“There are professionals doing this too,” Valenzuela said. “People who already work in accounting firms—they just do it to volunteer.”

SPEC collaborated with students at UTEP and the Coalition for Family Economic Progress to offer the VITA program.

CFEP started in 2006 as an alliance of more than 21 private, public and non-profit organizations that have been working toward economic advancement for El Paso families.

Government Employees Credit Union and Workforce Solutions Upper Rio Grande have teamed up to provide locations and equipment for the teams to prepare tax returns.

You can find locations for free tax help on Saturdays at CFEP’s website at freetaxeselpaso.org or call 838-9608.

Helen Yip may be reached at [email protected]