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UNG students holding VITA tax program

Ashley Short VITA 2017
Ashley Short, a senior accounting and finance major, talks to fellow students about the VITA program and the advantages it offers.

Six accounting students at the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega Campus are providing a public service through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which enables them to file taxes for low-income community members for free.

Under the guidance of Lisa Nash, a certified public accountant (CPA) and lecturer of accounting in UNG's Mike Cottrell College of Business, the students will gain valuable experience while providing eligible community members with professional-grade tax filing, according to Nash.

"This provides real world application of the theory these students learn in income tax class," Nash said. "They will be able to gain experience in using tax software and examining real-world documents to find the information needed to complete the returns. Sometimes people filing their own taxes can make mistakes or they don't understand the implications of some of their answers, and this will help eliminate some of those difficulties — the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is very supportive of that. The taxpayers we help will benefit from accurately filed returns, electronic filing, and direct deposit of refunds, as well as student tax knowledge and instructor expertise."

Nash also said the program provides students with résumé building experiences that cannot be simulated in the classroom; the students must apply the tax laws learned in the classroom to situations for each tax client they assist.

"The students will use actual taxpayer documents to capture the information needed to prepare tax returns. They will prepare returns within the scope of their training and certification with oversight of the instructors. Another less technical but equally important aspect of the program is the practice they will gain of using 'soft skills,'" Nash said. "The interactions with clients enhance communication skills and emphasize the importance of acting in a professional manner. Students answer taxpayer questions related to tax laws and engage in conversations to make the experience personable for the taxpayer being served, and learn to work together to serve the clients and solve tax related issues."

It has been several years since UNG has offered a VITA program, and due to the limited number of students and timeframe, the service will be offered by appointment only. After the students complete the work, faculty will review it before filing with the IRS.

"We get to do the returns completely, so we have to interview the clients and take all the forms and file everything," said Ashley Short, a senior accounting and finance major. "It's great to have this in a class, because although we get to learn a lot in accounting, there's not much opportunity to interact with potential clients. Now we will be putting what we have learned into action. I'll also be able to include this on my résumé and say I already have experience in filing taxes for others when I try to find work as a CPA."

The VITA program offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. Community members interested in learning more can contact Nash at 706-867-3082.

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