Students and low-income taxpayers can receive free help with their taxes, thanks to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
VITA is a program funded by the Internal Revenue Service. The program provides the community with an opportunity to get free tax return assistance from student volunteers with backgrounds in finance. The program also allows student volunteers from CSUN a chance to gain firsthand knowledge of how state and federal taxes work.
The VITA program was first implemented at CSUN in 1971 to meet the demands of low-income taxpayers around the community.
“Anyone with (a) low income that needs assistance with (their) taxes is welcome to come,” said Nilima Kapoor, who volunteers her services every Saturday at a Pacoima center. “We usually get a lot of students who need assistance with their taxes because they’ve taken part-time jobs. (We also get) people who are starting their own businesses.”
Kapoor, who has worked with VITA for three years and has volunteered her time every Saturday from noon to 2:30 p.m., also works with the San Fernando Valley Financial Development Corporation as a senior loan officer.
“I think it’s great what they do,” said Jose Corrales, a 22-year-old user of the VITA program. “I really didn’t know how to do my taxes, but because of all the help I get here, I have a good understanding of how it works now.”
Corrales also said VITA allows easy access to his account through e-filing. According to the IRS website, taxpayers who do their taxes using e-file receive their refunds in half the time.
“Another reason the VITA program was created was to change the way people file their taxes,” Kapoor said. “Instead of mailing them in manually, we have access to e-filing, which makes the process a lot easier and faster.”
Students interested in becoming volunteers for VITA must enroll in ACCT 498, and have at least sophomore status. They are also required to take a 24-hour seminar to learn the logistics of tax preparation. After completing the course, volunteers must work at their designated centers three hours a week for eight weeks.
According to Kapoor, volunteers not only gain knowledge in their areas of expertise, but they can note the experience in their resumes to help them later in their careers. Since most volunteers are primarily economic or business majors, they can use their time at VITA as a stepping-stone toward making a transition into the workforce.
“We all need something we can put on our resume, and companies love when you list some volunteer work in your references,” said Kyle Brunson, junior business major.
As VITA continues to grow, so does the demand to open more centers around the San Fernando Valley. Right now, there are 12 centers located in Northridge, San Fernando, Pacoima, Panorama City, and North Hills, but the development for centers in new areas is continuing.
Because of the volume of people needing help from VITA, they discourage anyone earning over $50,000 a year from taking advantage of their services.
“Some people have told me they spend upwards of $50 to have their taxes done,” Kapoor said. “Our services save that $50, so the person can use it elsewhere.”