VITA offers Utah County volunteer opportunity to file taxes

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BYU students at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance spend time filing taxes for qualified Utah County residents, while other students cringe at the “t-word,” calling their parents for help with W2 forms.

But this project is not only for accounting majors; after required IRS training, anyone can do it.

VITA is a program that helps families who make less than $50,000 a year prepare and file taxes. Volunteers filed 3,800 tax returns last year, bringing $5.6 million back to citizens’ pockets, according to a recent press release from United Way. The program is currently recruiting volunteers.

Judy Stoudt, a BYU accounting graduate, worked at VITA for the past three years. She said the task is simple, it’s just a matter of plugging in numbers.

“There (are) a lot of volunteering opportunities where there’s not a lot of skill level involved, and while this one really doesn’t require that you be a skilled accountant, you do get training,” she said. “It is a lot the same as any other volunteer opportunity in that you are helping someone who can’t do it on their own or (for whom it) would cost too much for them to have a professional do it.”

Training provided by skilled professionals teaches volunteers everything they need to know, including software use. There are two training sessions available for the 230 positions VITA is hoping to fill. One session begins at the end of October and meets for two hours on Saturdays for six weeks. The accelerated session begins in January and meets twice a week for three weeks.

Volunteers will work with the general public from the beginning of next February through the middle of March. When Stoudt volunteered, she was asked to dedicate at least two hours a week but often spent more. She said one of the best parts of the experience was being able to work one-on-one with people in the community. She liked celebrating with them when tax return checks came their way.

Jace McLaws, an accounting major from Spokane, Wash., said filing taxes is not a challenging task as long as people have the right software. The trouble, he said, is that the software programs are expensive and people are often intimidated by the process.

“It’s one of those things you don’t even want to touch,” he said.

Similarly, Marcus Griffith, VITA regional coordinator, said annual changes in tax codes make the task more complex.

“It is very complicated. There are lots of exceptions to the rules and exceptions to the exceptions,” he said. “The program is needed because the volunteers are trained in such a way by the IRS to make it very simple, and then the volunteers are able to communicate it to the taxpayers.”

While filing taxes might not require the physical demands of typical community volunteering activities like raking leaves or serving food at a shelter, the experience leaves volunteers like Judy Stoudt coming back year after year.

“People gush you with praise,” she said in the press release. “I get the feeling of doing good knowing that these families can be served.”

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