College of Business VITA Program Continues to File Record Returns
April 6, 2018
This year’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program finished off the tax season on March 15 filing more returns than ever before, a trend that has continued for the past three years. Previous to implementing some new strategies under the direction of VITA Advisor and Clinical Accounting Professor, Dawn Konicek, the program filed a consistent 70 – 80 returns each season. In 2014 the number of returns filed jumped to 200, followed by 185 in 2015, 261 in 2016 and 320 in 2017. This year, students filed a whopping 430 returns over the course of two months, the second largest year-to-year increase the College of Business’s program has seen so far.
“Word of mouth has definitely played a major role in the programs growth every year,” said Konicek noting that in addition to the weekly Thursday night sessions, the volunteers also offered a Facilitated Self Assistance (FSA) program for two hours on Tuesday mornings. “FSA is a program where individuals come in and use a tax program that is supported by VITA. Here, we have students and myself in the room to answer questions when necessary,” said Konicek.
Despite the additional day, Konicek said Thursday evenings were still “insanely busy” with about 50 to 60 clients at a time.
As was the case with last year’s program, the College of Business again surpassed the average returns filed by other schools of a similar size to ISU. In an interview conducted after last year’s VITA season, Konicek said many larger schools with a greater surrounding population than Idaho State file close to 500 returns with more student members. At this rate, the College of Business is on the path to file just as many, if not more returns than schools like Utah State University in the coming year with significantly fewer members.
“This year we had about 25-30 active volunteers,” said Konicek. “I would say that of that group, 18 were beginners and 7 to 12 were advanced preparers who have either done VITA before or graduated from a Master of Accountancy or Master of Taxation course.”
When recruiting students for VITA, Konicek said she works heavily with the Beta Alpha Psi accounting fraternity as well as visiting classrooms. She often emphasizes VITA’s benefit in helping students to learn individual taxation in a real-world setting, as well as the opportunity to prepare their own taxes, along with family and friends’ tax returns at no charge. “Just e-filing alone can cost someone between $30 to $50. While paying to have a tax return completed can cost anywhere from $75 to as high as $500 for a basic tax return,” said Konicek.
As volunteers in the program, students benefit most from the opportunity to experience the true rush and real-life scenarios in the job of a tax professional. “My primary goal for the program is for students to learn individual taxation and to understand the process that goes into preparing and completing a tax return,” said Konicek. “The process is very similar to the real world. A beginner preparer completes the return, and then an advanced preparer reviews the return. The beginning preparer then learns of any mistakes or adjustments needed and corrections are made if necessary.” Konicek said her secondary goal for the program is to provide a free and beneficial service for lower income families and students in the community.
Overall, Konicek said her students clearly gain value from the experience as shown in their performance throughout the two-month program. “Students are very nervous at first. However, after their second return they understand the process, they understand the program, and they are applying the tax knowledge.”
VITA is a free tax preparation service provided to individuals and families making less than $54,000 or less per year. Student volunteers are tested and qualified before participating in the tax preparation program.