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Accounting and finance students will offer free tax prep

January 20, 2021

Students pursuing accounting and finance degrees in the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Mike Cottrell College of Business (MCCB) will build their tax preparation skills and aid the surrounding communities as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program sponsored by the IRS.  The program served over 100 taxpayers in the 2019 filing season.

The free tax preparation services are open by appointment only from 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Feb. 2 through March 2 in room 011 of Newton Oakes on UNG's Dahlonega Campus. For the in-person appointments, participants must adhere to UNG's requirements to wear a mask inside all university buildings and practice social distancing.

Appointments can be scheduled by leaving a message for Lisa Nash, lecturer of accounting at UNG and a CPA, at 706-867-3082.

The IRS provides a list of "what to bring" to a VITA site so taxpayers can be prepared for their appointment. Nash will also discuss those items when scheduling the appointment.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nash, who is in her fifth year leading the program, said the filing season for 2020 taxes will be a challenge for taxpayers as they navigate the numerous tax law changes enacted to provide relief.

"The changes affect all areas of the individual return: income, deductions and tax credits. The Recovery Rebate Credit requires taxpayers to reconcile their economic impact stimulus payments on their 2020 tax return to ensure they received the maximum stimulus amount," Nash said. "The mission of the VITA program is to help tax filers navigate the changes and file accurate returns."

VITA offers free tax services to people who generally make $57,000 or less. Students prepare 1040 forms with schedules A, B, C-EZ, and D, along with basic tax credits. Federal and state returns are prepared for free while taxpayers are present. Nash reviews all returns with the taxpayers before she files them electronically with direct deposit available, if desired. The IRS will begin accepting e-filed returns on Feb. 12, so returns prepared between Feb. 2 and Feb. 12 will be filed on Feb. 12.

"The VITA program offers students a wonderful hands-on experience serving our community. Students gain many new skills while taking part in the VITA program, which include growing their technical tax skills through preparing tax returns, learning how to interact with clients, and learning how to receive feedback on reviewed work," said Dr. Ellen Best, department head of Accounting and Law and an associate professor at UNG. "Skills gained in VITA ultimately serve to better prepare our students to be successful in a professional work environment."

The students, under Nash's direction, are certified by testing through the IRS.

"It's a really good opportunity given the fact that a lot of internships are closing down because of COVID," said Rachel Bryant, a senior from Carrollton, Georgia. "I'm looking forward to accomplishing more for the community."

Kenneth LaMore, a senior from Hiawassee, Georgia, is eager to gain this experience.

"It's wonderful to have the opportunity to help people with their taxes," LaMore said. "It also gives me a chance to learn a little bit more about how to do taxes for an individual, how to talk to them. It helps you see what it would be like to do this on a day-to-day basis."

In addition to a bachelor's degree in accounting offered on UNG's Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses, UNG also offers a Master of Accountancy. Contact Best for more information at ellen.best@ung.edu.

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