Free tax preparation for qualifying low-income families and individuals is back at Cal State Fullerton this year, thanks to more than 80 IRS-certified student volunteers from Mihaylo College of Business and Economics working through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
VITA is a national IRS program, and volunteers are required to attend two or three days of training and pass an exam to become certified to process taxes.
Jon Durrant, adviser for the CSUF VITA program and assistant professor of accounting, explains that most of the student volunteers hope to pursue a career in taxation or use the experience to see if they are interested in one.
It's a big commitment, though. In total, volunteers provide over 2,500 hours of service and process over 900 returns each tax season.
Tracy Huynh, vice president of communication for CSUF's student VITA organization and senior in business administration-accounting, initially wasn't sure what area of accounting she wanted to work in, but taxes piqued her interest. "I thought it would be a great idea to gain some hands-on experience in this area," she says.
By working on returns and seeing what a typical day for a tax preparer is like, Huynh felt better prepared for the tax courses in her major and landed an internship at RSM, a large public accounting firm.
She also enjoys using her skills to serve the community. "Coming from another country, I felt compassion and a need to help my community," she shares. "A lot of people who utilize VITA resources come from a background similar to mine."
Cherrilyn Gaerlan '19 (M.S. accountancy), who has been involved with VITA for six years, shares Huynh's enthusiasm for helping others. "It's incredibly rewarding. When taxpayers get more in tax refunds and they tell me how much they need the money, I feel like I'm the one receiving the refund!"
VITA helped Gaerlan solidify her desire to become an accounting instructor. As a tax preparer and trainer of other VITA volunteers, she has gained confidence, patience and knowledge in dealing with diverse people and issues, and has been keeping up with the latest changes to the tax code and laws that affect returns.
The good news for taxpayers is that there aren't too many changes for individuals on 2019 taxes relative to 2018, says Durrant. "Perhaps the most significant change is the elimination of the penalty for the individual mandate. The Affordable Care Act required taxpayers to pay a penalty if they didn't have a sufficient level of health insurance or qualify for an exemption. That no longer applies at the federal level."
CSUF VITA offers tax services on a walk-in basis only on Fridays and Saturdays through April 11, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the Education-Classroom Building, Room 008.