POCATELLO – Between January 26 to March 16, students volunteering with the 2017 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program filed more returns than the ISU College of Business has ever seen.
“Our goal this year was to file 300 tax returns, a pretty large increase from the 261 returns we filed last year,” said Dawn Konicek, accounting professor and advisor for the program. “By the last day of the program we had filed 320 returns total, surpassing our goal.”
According to the professor, most other schools of a similar size and student participation, file around 70 to 80 returns through the whole two-month span.
“I’m very proud because larger schools with a larger surrounding population- such as Utah State University file around 500 returns and have a considerably larger membership than ISU. Our program is much smaller with 20 to 25 students participating,” said Konicek, pointing out that ISU’s students are actually filing more returns per person than these larger schools.
When she took on the responsibility of the College of Business’s VITA program four years ago, Konicek’s goal was to increase student participation. In her first year, the program increased from around 10 members to 20 members.
“Once we had more students participating, my next goal was to increase the amount of returns we prepared,” said Konicek.
Over the past four years the College’s average returns filed went from a steady 70 to 80 to 200 in 2014, 185 in 2015 and 261 in 2016.
Konicek said over the years she has found success in the growth of the program by increasing advertising efforts and utilizing word-of-mouth from both student preparers and individuals that have utilized VITA before.
In addition to filing a record number of returns, Konicek said the program also faced a major change.
“This year we switched to a whole new tax-filing program. So, this was a big challenge for all of us to learn this new system and handle issues that came up in the program,” Konicek said.
VITA is a long-standing program at the ISU College of Business accounting department and is certified by the IRS. The program provides free tax preparing and e-filing for students and community members making less than $54,000 annually. According to Konicek the program provides a huge service to the community where the public would typically have to pay $30 - $40 just to e-file and around $150 for the tax preparation process.
“Some individuals receive returns around $150, so their tax return will often go to paying for getting their taxes filed,” said Konicek.
“VITA is a great program because we get to help people in the community and also help ourselves gain more experience,” said Zeke Uribe, senior accounting student.
Uribe and Sheldon Brown, also an accounting senior, served as site coordinators for this year’s program. As two of the four site coordinators, the students were in charge of reviewing the preparers’ documents and preparing them for e-filing, a job that requires more responsibility, understanding of tax and accountability.
“As we got to know the people we were helping and their specific real-world situations we started to draw more connections between the complicated laws in tax and varying real-world scenarios,” said Brown. “The tax system really tries to be fair to help align with real-life situations of the people we were helping file.”
Uribe agreed that tax preparing is very complicated, but having the opportunity to help real individuals allowed him to realize why the different tax laws were in place.
“In the past we had only ever been preparers, but as a reviewer there was a big learning curve from the beginning to the end of the program. We had the opportunity to really learn and apply the rules to the individual return,” Uribe said. “By the end I feel like I had the confidence to answer specific questions and analyze the return to determine the affect of what was input and the rules behind it.”
“I feel like everything I know about tax I’ve learned from VITA,” said Brown.