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Coalition helps low-income families do their taxes for free


For the third consecutive year, UTEP will offer free tax assistance through the Coalition for Family Economic Progress. GECU, IRS, EPISD and the El Paso Collaborative among others partnered with UTEP to prepare basic tax returns for families with a combined annual household income of up to $54,000.

CFEP works as an alternative for the community to help prepare taxes up until the April 18 deadline. CFEP will be open to UTEP students Saturdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Boquillas Hall located in Miner Canyon.

The service will only be provided to those who are filing married, jointly, as head of household or single. According to Carmen Gonzalez, the program manager for Outreach and Student Access at UTEP, CFEP does not serve married couples filing separately because both parties need to be present.

“They all go to a process of not only the person that enters the information, but there is a quality reviewer that goes through the application as well, and after everything is good to go, then the system actually goes to another diagnostic to make sure that everything is correct,” Gonzalez said. “Then it is submitted electronically and then, within a certain period of time, the system will actually come back and let you know that it has been accepted.”

Gonzalez said in the case of a mistake, the IRS can send it back to the site coordinator to fix.

CFEP functions depending on the registered volunteers on behalf of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. Gonzalez first started reaching out to find volunteers at UTEP last year.

“We thought it would be really great if we could host it here at UTEP, if we could find the place, so that we could serve our UTEP community and the surrounding community,” Gonzalez said. “We are preparing for this upcoming season and hoping to partner and to collaborate with the same entities or the same different departments.”

Carlos Rodriguez, a master’s student in  business administration, has been volunteering with VITA for four years. He will run a site for the upcoming tax service at UTEP.

“I started in my sophomore year here at UTEP and I have just been doing it.

It feels rewarding to help other people out. A lot of times you get people who don’t really know much about their taxes so they end up going just anywhere,” Rodriguez said. “They get refunds of maybe like $800 and they end up paying like $300 to other people that offer them to prepare their taxes.”

Rodriguez said he has gained a lot of experience from VITA such as  learning how to deal with people and how to handle all the tax information.

“When you do take accounting, you take tax law, business law, things like that. So the first time that I was actually volunteering, I was actually taking a tax law class, so it went hand in hand,” Rodriguez said. “So some things that we would go over in the tax law class, it could apply directly to the actual volunteer program.”

Gonzalez also said another reason for providing this service without any fee was to provide students with an easier way to apply for financial aid. By offering a free tax service, according to Gonzalez, the lack of tax returns do not become a barrier for financial aid applications.

Tony Graell, a human resource management major, volunteers to do taxes for free on his own time. He is currently working at Liberty Tax.

“I have marketed myself to just let people know that I help with taxes and that I can do your taxes. To gain more experience would not only benefit me, but benefit others that I’m helping too,” Graell said. “Because it is very important that everyone knows of the regulations so they don’t get in trouble with IRS. Because if you don’t follow the regulations, you cannot only get one fine, but on top of that other penalties that you have to pay too.”

Graell said he has learned how to be more interactive with other people and also to be more open to people to help them out.

“More than anything I’ve been able to give back to others in return for what I’ve gotten as an education, and it always feels great to be able to give back by helping others going in the right direction,” Graell said.

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Coalition helps low-income families do their taxes for free