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Students Gain Hands-On Experience Through Tax Assistance Program

Class of 2024 Grad Marie Hernandez Lands Summer Internship at Deloitte
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Marie Hernandez, president of Cal State Fullerton’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, spends hours processing hundreds of returns each tax season. 

VITA is a volunteer-based initiative supported by the IRS in the College of Business and Economics. The program provides free tax preparation assistance to individuals and families with $65,000 or less in income, individuals with disabilities, elderly taxpayers, limited English-speaking taxpayers and international students. 

Transferring from Rio Hondo College to CSUF, Hernandez has been immersed as a volunteer in the VITA program for three years. 

Advancing through the certification requirements as a volunteer, Hernandez witnessed the profound impact tax services have on clients’ lives, inspiring her to pursue a leadership role in the program to support fellow volunteers’ development. 

“I find fulfillment in assisting others through the complexities of filing taxes and making the experience less intimidating,” said Hernandez, who is majoring in business administration with a concentration in accounting.

Nearing graduation, Hernandez said she is in the process of leveraging her education to pursue a career in public accounting.

She landed a summer internship with Deloitte, an accounting firm that provides audit, assurance, tax, consulting, and risk and financial advisory services to a broad cross-section of the largest corporations and governmental agencies.

“Upon transferring to CSUF, I was not aware of the school’s reputation as a prime recruiting location for accounting firms in Southern California,” said Hernandez. “However, I quickly discovered the abundance of resources and networking opportunities available to students through student-led organizations and the College of Business and Economics.”

After graduation, Hernandez plans to continue her education at CSUF and pursue a Master of Science degree in taxation with a concentration in accounting.

“Reflecting on the benefits VITA has provided me as a volunteer, I can attest to how the program has empowered me,” said Hernandez. “I always recommend the program to students who are searching for accounting opportunities to help them succeed in the business landscape.”

Students Bridge Gap in Access to Tax Preparation

Through the VITA program, IRS-certified student volunteers gain hands-on experience in tax preparation. 

Students from any major can sign up and participate in free trainings that cover basic, advanced and foreign certification during the fall semester, with recruitment ending in November. Volunteers are required to interact with clients from diverse backgrounds, which improves their interpersonal skills while fostering a sense of social responsibility.

“The VITA program helps students prepare for a career in public accounting. Hands-on tax preparation builds a solid foundation for the Uniform Certified Public Accountant exam and future job interviews,” said Jon Durrant, assistant professor of accounting and adviser of the VITA program. 

Tax preparation is an essential life skill that is not taught in many schools. Many clients who visit the VITA site qualify for federal and state credits, but are unaware of eligibility or how to claim the credits, resulting in missed opportunities, explained Hernandez. 

The annual VITA program runs the last week of January through the Saturday preceding April 15, offering services to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to align with the tax filing deadline.

“Our services aim to bridge the gap in access to professional tax assistance,” said Hernandez. “Regardless of income level, our goal is to provide our community with access to quality assistance, maximize their tax refunds and empower them to make informed financial decisions.”

Written by: Vanessa Siguenza