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UNG students offer free tax filing help with IRS’s VITA program

VITA tax program at UNG
Lisa Nash, a lecturer of accounting at UNG's Mike Cottrell College of Business and a Certified Public Accountant, prepares a group of students to assist local residents with filing taxes through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistant program (VITA). Students in VITA are certified through the Internal Revenue Service to help low-income individuals and families file tax returns at no cost.

A group of 18 students from the Mike Cottrell College of Business at the University of North Georgia (UNG) are providing some tax relief for local residents through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistant (VITA) program, which allows them to file taxes for low-income families and individuals at no cost.

VITA offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and taxpayers with limited English comprehension who need assistance in preparing their tax returns. These students are Internal Revenue Service (IRS)-certified volunteers who provide free, basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals.

Lisa Nash, a lecturer of accounting at UNG's Mike Cottrell College of Business and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), said 50 clients have already registered for the program, which was the total number of returns her group of six students completed last year.

Nash said both the students and clients benefit; students gain real-world experience in tax preparation while clients receive professionally-prepared tax returns, saving them dollars that would have been spent in preparation fees.

"The students must apply the tax laws learned in the classroom to situations for each tax client they are assisting," Nash said. "They interview the taxpayers and sift through the documents given by the taxpayer to find information pertinent to tax preparation. They then prepare the returns within the scope of their training and certification with oversight of the instructors."

Student volunteer tax return preparers must be certified to prepare taxes. All student volunteers in the VITA program must take the standards of conduct training and pass the advanced certification test with a score of 80 or above.  All returns undergo quality reviews by the site coordinators before filing electronically with the IRS.

Cody McQuillen, 23, of Jefferson, Georgia, said getting hands-on experience helping prepare tax returns is something one won't learn in a textbook.

"I thought it would be a unique experience, one that is outside a normal class setting," McQuillen said. "I really enjoy interacting with clients and the experience I receive here will help me in my future career."

McQuillen graduated from UNG in December with a bachelor's degree in accounting and is taking the class to build hours for the CPA exam. He plans to go to graduate school at the University of Georgia later this year, with a long-term goal of being an auditor and risk advisory consultant in relation to cybersecurity.

This is McQuillen's first time at tax preparation and he feels up to the task. He spent four weeks studying the materials on tax preparation and passed all the qualifying exams.

"I feel confident," he said. "We have the resources like the Volunteer Resource Guide for reference. On top of that, the site coordinators (Nash and Dr. Anne Duke, CPA) are here to help us if we have questions. And we partner with another student to check each other's work."

McQuillen's partner, Daniel Tipton, 21, from Columbus, Georgia, found out about VITA when Nash visited one of his accounting classes looking for volunteers. The accounting senior thought it would be good experience for his career plans of being an accountant and tax preparer.

"You're advocating for these people, for their financial situation," Tipton said. "A lot of the people who come through here would never go to a CPA for tax returns. It's a lot of work, but it is good experience for me, and we have a chance to help others who need someone knowledgeable to do their tax return."

The VITA program runs through March 8 and is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-7 p.m. by appointment only. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Lisa Nash at 706-867-3082.


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