As tax day quickly approaches, UMBC is offering a new service to the community through the VITA program. Launched for the first time this year, VITA stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and brings together students and staff alike who want to help community members in filing their taxes.
The program started on Feb. 27 and will go until April 9. Anyone who is interested can go to the Apartment Community Center on any Saturday between now and April 9 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and receive guidance. Families looking for help must have an annual income of $54,000 or less.
The process starts with something called intake, which is more or less an interview and a start to answering questions using the documents the clients provide. After that they are sent to the prep room with a preparer where the actual filing is done. The last step is a quality review from the clients.
Since the aim is to provide help, walk-ins are not currently accepted and clients are urged to call and make an appointment.
“This is more so that clients bring all of the documents they would need because without all the necessary documents, we are unable to help them with the actual filing process,” said Trisha Wells, director of student affairs and business and administrative affairs.
Wells was one of the main proponents of this program. As students were already volunteering at various other centers throughout Baltimore and also with the shutdown of the Towson tax site, there were enough people to help start the site here.
The volunteers are mostly comprised of students that are certified tax preparers. One in particular is sophomore interdisciplinary studies major Ethan Griffin who discussed the certification process.
“There are multiple parts to becoming a certified tax preparer but the basic certification starts with a three hours online portion, followed by a three hour in person seminar and finishes with an eight hour review including a test,” said Griffin.
For those who are looking for advanced certification or want to be site managers, they must undergo basic recertification and then task specific certification. All of the students that are a part of this program received their certification in January at Towson University.
“One perk to this position is being able to say that you are IRS certified, which definitely looks good on a resume,” said Griffin about the incentive to become certified.
Meghan Shutt, assistant director of the Shriver peaceworker program, discussed some of the other advantages to working at VITA.
“Some economics professors that we worked with are providing internship credit for volunteering here [at VITA],” said Shutt.
In addition to providing tax help, other goals are providing students with more savings opportunities and general financial education.