CSUN’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is offering free tax preparation to qualified low-income residents until the end of March at 11 different locations throughout the San Fernando Valley.
Trained CSUN students and professional volunteers give clients another alternative to completing their taxes by the April 15th deadline. Anyone making under $62,000 a year typically qualifies under normal circumstances.
CSUN was the first institution to start the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in 1971 and over the last 40 years it has expanded to universities worldwide.
Director of operations, Babken Bob Basmadzhyan, started off as a V.I.T.A student tax preparer in the ’90s and is now managing the operation that provided him with the tools to start his own tax preparation business.
“This is as good as any job,” said Basmadzhyan. “Students get real life experience, it’s not simply a membership. It requires real work, extensive training and you are dealing with real clients.”
Qualified supervisors, whether they be tax volunteer professionals or CSUN students, overlook the students documents for accuracy before submitting the paperwork to the IRS.
Wilson Lewis, senior, has already done his taxes but would have preferred to be assisted by V.I.T.A for free.
“I prepared my taxes online with TurboTax and paid $20. So it wasn’t that much but I still would have rather saved some money,” said Wilson Lewis, senior. “Every dime counts.”
Though most participants are accountant and business majors, becoming apart of the team is open to every CSUN student and experience is not required.
Students are rewarded with either units toward their degree or credit, depending on their program participation. Usually, first year participants receive credit or no credit and while supervisors and coordinators receive a grade which can include anywhere from two to four units.
Sign-ups begin in the end of the fall semester and start their training during the winter session.
Students go through a three weekend, 24-hour training session where they get constructive feedback from IRS professionals and accountants alike. In training, students are presented with generic tax returns to practice on and coached about common dilemmas.
This year’s training included the new tax laws and regulations concerning the addition of the ObamaCare penalty. Fees can be waived for some low income families who couldn’t afford health care the previous year.
The $95 fee is deducted directly from one’s tax return and next year the fee will be increased to $300 or two percent of an individual’s income.
The main office for V.I.T.A is in room 4117 of Jupiter Hall and operates Monday-Saturday from 5 p.m.- 9 p.m. The other locations vary from facilities like local churches and libraries.
Each location’s manpower varies depending on the demand, but there is always enough help to go around with at least 10 participants per site.
“We have a record high 200 students this year,” said Basmadzhyan.”We are looking to increase our site number to 15 if this keeps up.”
Basmadzhyan plans on handing out brochures to spread the news about the free service in the future.
Now finishing up its second week of operations, V.I.T.A will close down in five weeks to make sure that all submitted documents are properly evaluated and submitted by the deadline.