Sean Dempsey, Financial Manager
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA), is a program created by the IRS and operated entirely by volunteers. VITA seeks to provide free tax preparation and tax assistance to community members with low income, disabilities, and limited English-speaking ability. Last year, Professor Diane Bingaman and a group of Saint Martin’s University students created a VITA site. Professor Bingaman took a hands-off approach to the program, allowing the students to run the entire operation. When a taxpayer walks in, they are greeted by a student who makes sure they have all the documents they need, and then helps them fill out a form to determine what level of certification is required to complete their tax return. After filling out the form, the taxpayer is led into the tax preparation room and a student prepares their return. Finally, another student reviews the work of the first to ensure everything was done properly, the return is sent to the IRS, and the taxpayer is sent on their way. In its first year, the program filed the tax returns of 36 community members.
This year, Professor Suzanne Chaille is overseeing the program, and an almost completely new group of students are volunteering. She has continued the hands-off approach, and students still operate every step of the process. The program has grown significantly and has filed just over 100 tax returns this season. Jesus Quintero and I are the site coordinators of the program this year, and we have been very pleased with the work of all the volunteers. Jesus and I would like to give recognition to Aman Lidder, Cora Pope, Gary DePriest, Gina Domingo, Marie Dhanens, Ryan Patterson, and Lucas Linders for their continued efforts this year. Thank you all for your wonderful work.
This experience has been one of the most rewarding I have had at Saint Martin’s, and I urge anyone else who may be interested to talk to Professor Chaille about volunteering in the future. Preparing tax returns provides great experience, but more importantly, it is a great way to help the community. We have seen people from many different walks of life, including a special Olympian, a circus member, retirees, students, teachers, an EMT, a caregiver, salespeople, and many more. What they all had in common, however, was how grateful they were for the service we provided. The average refund is lower this year, and we have seen many people disappointed by this, but even when people received far less than they expected, they still thanked our volunteers and were very kind. There are some cases, however, in which people received larger refunds than expected, or in which we filed prior year returns and were able to get a lot more money back than they were expecting. Seeing how happy these taxpayers were with their results was a very gratifying experience and has made volunteering each Saturday more than worth it.
We have not seen many students use this program thus far, and while we are happy to help the rest of the Lacey community, we would love to help more students, too. We are also able to help with the change in 1098-T format that has occurred this year at Saint Martin’s, and has caused a lot of confusion and trouble. In previous years, the school was able to report tuition in a different manner than it can this year, and as a result, many students are seeing very different results on their 1098-T and their tax returns. We have done our research on this topic and have been able to correctly file for several students, going as far as saving one over $2,000 after discovering the correct way to report his information. The program is open to all members of the Saint Martin’s University community, so if you or anyone you know has not done their taxes yet, stop by Harned 110 9:00 A.M.-3:00 P.M. on Saturday, April 6 or Saturday, April 13, to get your tax return filed for free by a certified tax preparer.