Student-run program at CSUN helps with taxes

Ashley Soley-Cerro

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Forty years ago, CSUN became the first university to sponsor the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which helps low-income families, military and others file their taxes for free. Since then, the VITA program has given thousands of students work experience.

One of those students is senior Andre Sayadzadah, accounting and finance major, who is the director for external publicity for VITA and has volunteered with the program for three years.

“Last year we completed 10,000 forms,” Sayadzadah said. “(We helped) a rough estimate of 2,000 people, saving $300,000, not including refundable credit.”

VITA was started in 1971 by Gary Iskowitz and is now a nationwide program that also has locations on military bases to give those in the military, veterans and their dependents free services.

Coreoral Torres is one of approximately 34 volunteers for the VITA program at a military facility and also works for the military.

“Since we opened on Jan. 18, we have done 724 tax returns,” Torres said.  “We accept forms until April 15 but if someone is deployed they are allowed an extension.

Coreoral said anyone is welcomed to volunteer.

“Right now we have two civilians out of about 30 to 34 volunteers, including the officers and sergeant in charge,” Coreoral said. “While military volunteer during scheduled shifts, civilians can come whenever they are available.”

CSUN received an award last year for VITA’s 40 years of service. With the exception of a faculty advisor, the program is student-run, said Casey Binafard, a VITA coordinator in his second year of volunteering for VITA, and pre-accountancy major in his fourth year at CSUN.

“We have about 300 to 350 volunteers and while any student can volunteer, business, finance and communications are common,” Andre said. “Accounting is the most common (major).”

Andre said volunteers work different hours depending on their position.

“Usually in addition to 24 hours of training they will work at least another 24 hours, the minimum for service supervisors is 32 hours and service coordinators work at least 102 hours, but all usually will volunteer more time,” Sayadzadah said.

To be eligible for the VITA program, one must live in a low to moderate-income family, which makes about $49,000 a year or less.

Most CSUN students would be eligible to use the VITA programs services but most of their customers are non-CSUN students, low-income families and “repeat customers,” Sayadzadah said.

Volunteers at CSUN with no prior experience can receive two academic units and supervisors get three for volunteering their services. Students can sign up for the program in the fall semester.