For the past three years, the Marilyn Davies College of Business has been offering the University of Houston-Downtown and Houston community tax preparation services through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
VITA is an IRS initiative designed to support free tax preparation service for the underserved through various partner organizations. Since its inception at UHD has served more than 250 clients through VITA.
“We get to do two things with VITA—we get to help the community, which is very important,” said Dr. Marvin Williams, chair of the Department of Accounting and International Business. “And, we also get to involve our students who gain practical, real-world experience that can benefit them in their future careers after graduating with a degree in accounting. That’s our impetus to do this is the two-fold nature of why we do this each tax season.”
In the past the College has worked with other local organizations, such as Neighborhood Centers, Inc., to assist people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English- speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.
This year, the Marilyn Davies College of Business is now an independent VITA site, known as UHD VITA. In fact, Williams hopes that other local agencies and organizations may want to come work with the College’s newly minted program site.
“We’re very excited about this,” said Williams, professor of accounting and taxation. “It’s a very big challenge…but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Last December, the Davies College hosted a one-day eight-hour training seminar for 117 students—the largest class since its inception. The Saturday training consisted of primarily accounting students, however, it’s open to any business majors. It’s required by the IRS that every student must be certified to participate in the VITA program. By the day’s end, 103 students were certified. Recently, the College offered another training on Feb. 3.
According to Williams, students are eager to participate in the program.
“This certification enhances their resume for the knowledge and experience they gained,” said Williams. “Employers take notice that these students are ready to work in the real world. VITA is good practical experience by helping out the community.”
The free tax preparation process for each client is approximately 45 minutes to an hour (sometimes more contingent upon each return) enlists the work of three individual students from the intake interview to data entry of the client’s information to final review of the tax return. Once the tax return is finalized, it’s filed electronically.
What does this mean for the community-at-large?
“The way the IRS markets this program, is how VITA program participants, like UHD, give earned-income credit back to the community,” said Dr. Cynthia Lloyd, assistant professor of accounting, who led the program last year. “UHD has put back into the Houston community about $300,000. The program offers its clients face-to-face time with advanced trained professionals; encourages them to be compliant with the tax law and they get their refund for free.”
After filing, clients can usually expect their refund within a week to a month; however, for international returns it sometimes may take longer.
UHD VITA regularly serves international students from surrounding universities and the Texas Medical Center. UHD is the only university site that does international and military tax returns as well as assisting with virtual tax returns for Greater Longview United Way.
Tax preparation through UHD VITA began on Jan. 29 and will continue through April 17, from 1 to 5 p.m., in the Shea Street Building (320 North Main St.), Room B308.
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