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As they have done for the past 30 years, Champlain accounting students participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). VITA is a governmental program that offers free tax help for low-to-moderate income taxpayers, elderly taxpayers, and military personnel and their families. Champlain's accounting students are involved working primarily with low-to-moderate income taxpayers.
A three-day workshop run in conjunction with the IRS and a Champlain Accounting faculty member teaches students the fundamentals of personal income tax returns. At the end of the three days, students take an exam provided by the IRS, and if they pass, they become VITA volunteers.
The level of training determines the level of tax preparation that a student will be able to do when preparing returns at the sites. There is a test for each level that will make a student "IRS certified" to prepare taxes.
Volunteers are required to take training in the state tax law and to practice with the software. In addition, there is an online training tool for federal tax only. The Students are then placed in small groups and sent to local community centers with site coordinators where they can get hands-on experience.
The students receive one credit towards their Accounting degree for 40 hours of volunteer work. Ideally, all 40 of these hours will be spent working directly with clients to prepare their tax return.
In addition to gaining valuable experience and credit towards their degree, Champlain Accounting students in VITA will also positively impact the lives of many Vermont families. Robyn Bahar, the site coordinator at Casey Family Services, says that the Champlain College students who volunteer there are really invested in the program. Casey Family Services has provided tax help for VITA qualifiers for the past eight years. They are able to effectively execute the program with help from students, who make up about 75 percent of the volunteers there.
"Tax time is stressful and this program takes a big burden off of people," Bahar said. Casey has even created workshops that advise people what to do with their tax refunds. "It gives families opportunities to create savings bonds and open saving accounts so they can become financially stable," and according to Bahar, families who spend less time worrying about money are better able to focus on quality time with their children.
"This experience requires a large time commitment of training and service. Students must become familiar with federal and state tax laws and with the computer software we use," says Bahar, "We rely on your students to keep our program going, and local families rely on them for one of the most important financial opportunities of the year."
Chittenden Community Action is a branch of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) providing a variety of free services to help meet the needs of low income people throughout Chittenden County. Since 1890, CCA has operated a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, helping low income households prepare their tax forms from February 1st through April 15th. The Volunteer Income Tax Program focuses on bringing the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) and other tax credits entitled to them back into the pockets of families and other individuals and connect families to other opportunities for building financial assets.