VITA Offers Assistance With Tax Return Preparation
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, sponsored by Elizabethtown College, will offer assistance with basic income tax return preparation through Friday, April 1. Helping to prepare the returns will be volunteers (front row, from left) Kelly Matthews and Nikita Wigoda; (middle row) Edgar T. Bitting Chair in Accounting and director of the accounting program, Terrie Riportella; and volunteers Hang Nguyen, Stephanie Larmore, Greg Kenneally, (back row) Chris Miller, Joe Zielinski, Stephen Powell, Andrew Scheid, Mike Kenneally, and (not pictured) Marty Harnish.
By Krista Hurley
Tax season is not typically a time of year that many people joyfully anticipate. Knowing this, Elizabethtown College has provided trained volunteers and free tax assistance for more than 30 years to help people meet their tax return preparation head-on.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program strives to provide assistance with basic income tax return preparations to individuals who may not be able to acquire paid assistance, including those who do not speak English, those with low or fixed incomes, those with disabilities or special needs, and the elderly.
In the colleges case, the volunteers this year are 11 accounting majors who have completed a federal income tax class. Terrie Riportella, the Edgar T. Bitting Chair in Accounting and the director of the colleges accounting program, explained that in addition to completing the class, each student must pass IRS certification tests and undergo preliminary training before qualifying as a volunteer. She noted that the training familiarizes the students with the current years software, which has been provided by the IRS, and teaches them how to reduce opportunities for miscommunication with their clients while asking necessary questions.
VITA volunteers have been trained to help taxpayers with Form 1040A, Form 1040EZ, and the basic Form 1040, as well as with exemptions, deductions, and special credits. In addition to federal returns, volunteers will also help to complete Pennsylvania state and local returns.
In order for appointments through VITA to go smoothly, individuals should bring the following documents to their initial appointment: documentation of residential energy credits, interest paid on homes and real estate taxes, significant medical expenses, and charitable contributions; forms such as a W-2 and 1099; settlement papers for homes bought or sold; proof of identity; and Social Security numbers for themselves and all dependents. Riportella noted that all individuals who are not returning clients to Elizabethtown Colleges VITA program should also bring a copy of last years tax return.
The purpose of the first appointment is to allow volunteers to record their clients information and data and to schedule a return appointment for no more than three weeks later. During that time, the volunteer will prepare the returns in a secure room dedicated to VITA. No information will leave the room, and the room will be locked and secured. Additionally, all information will be locked in a file cabinet when not in use. We shred any preliminary copies that have names, addresses, and Social Security numbers on them, Riportella noted.
Once the returns have been inspected in detail by Riportella, a CPA (certified public accountant), the information will be filed electronically to ensure faster refunds for clients. The process (of electronic filing) has gone smoothly, noted Riportella, adding that VITA has used the IRS-condoned method for five years.
This year, Riportella stated that VITA will schedule approximately 125 appointments through Friday, April 1. All appointments will be on a first-come, first-served basis and will take place in the Hoover Building on the campus of Elizabethtown College, 1 Alpha Drive. Those who wish to benefit from the free tax return preparation assistance should make their appointments soon by calling 361-1270. For more information about the program or eligibility, readers may call the previously mentioned number.
Elizabethtown-Mount Joy Merchandiser - 02/09/2011