Pawling, SUNY Oneonta Students Provide Free Income Tax Assistance
ONEONTA, NY (03/30/2023)– SUNY Oneonta business administration and accounting students are as busy as ever this tax season as they continue to help classmates, university employees and area residents prepare and file their simple tax returns via a campus program that is nearly a decade old.
A total of 19 students have been thoroughly trained through the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program during the spring 2023 semester. The VITA program is part of a three-credit course offered for a second year at SUNY Oneonta, where students spend a large portion of the semester getting certified and preparing tax returns for those with a salary of $60k or less.
“Preparing other people’s tax returns gives the students experience in meeting people and interacting with them in ways that demonstrate competence, professionalism, poise, punctuality, courtesy and empathy,” said Lisa Flynn, associate professor of accounting and the course’s instructor. “The students have learned how to ask for sensitive financial information in ways that put the client at ease to the greatest extent possible.”
Students work in pairs to complete client returns, ensuring accuracy as they handle sensitive information. Among the 19 preparers are four returning student coordinators, who have been given increased responsibility and an increased sense of “ownership” in the program.
The service provided by the students in the VITA program is free. VITA students who prepare returns must take and pass tax law training that meets or exceeds IRS standards. This training includes maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of all taxpayer information. Additionally, the IRS requires a quality review check for every return prepared at a VITA site prior to filing.
“The students have learned the importance of attention to detail and have experienced how important it is to ‘get things right’ the first time,” said Flynn. “There are still several open appointments that we hope to see fill up before we complete the VITA portion of the course.”
Students have already filed returns for 22 clients, both federal and state, with an additional 10 appointments scheduled. After all appointments conclude on April 12, the course will finish with lessons on international taxation in various countries.
SUNY Oneonta has been a VITA partner organization for many years, thanks to William “Jeff” Weinell, a business lecturer and advisement coordinator who passed away in 2020. Weinell, who also served as a mentor and advisor to various campus clubs, initiated and grew the VITA program, which, was initially held off campus and was a volunteer opportunity for a small number of students.
Rachel Henry of Holmes
Alex Santana of Pawling
SUNY Oneonta is a public, four-year university in Central New York, enrolling about 5,500 students in a wide variety of bachelor’s degree programs and more than a dozen graduate certificate and degree programs. The university is known as both an exemplary residential campus that values inclusion, service and sustainability, and a nurturing community where students grow intellectually, thrive socially and live purposefully. Learn more at https://suny.oneonta.edu/