This semester, VCU’s accounting department offered a course where students become IRS certified to prepare income tax filings. To receive credit, the students must complete 30 hours of tax prep work, which most choose to fulfill at one of the 11 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites around the area.
The work is coordinated and organized by the Greater Richmond Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition, an organization that specializes in assisting low-income families with their taxes. Last year the organization, which has mercifully shortened its name to Metro CASH, prepared approximately 1,800 filings, which collectively returned nearly $1.9 million, according to Maureen Goode, an organizer for the GREITCC.
Roxanne Spindle, an accounting professor at VCU, created the course last December. She had to turn students away.
The students sacrificed three Saturdays at the beginning of the semester for training and then took the standard IRS test for certification. All VITA sites service families whose income is less than $49,000 and singles who earn less than $10,000. Spindle said this is because those are the cut-offs for an earned income tax credit aimed at the working poor.
Carolann Pacer-Ramsey, executive director for Hilltop Promises, has been using student volunteers to help prepare Hilltop’s clients’ taxes for nearly seven years.
“They bring an energy that just invigorates the place,” said Pacer-Ramsey. “Not only are they very bright, but they’re community oriented. It’s not just about them, it’s about what goes on in the community.”
On March 6, VCU’s business school teamed up with the Metro CASH and held an Asset Fair in the school’s Snead Hall. The event signaled the launch of a campaign aimed at raising awareness for the coalition’s free tax preparation service. Forty student volunteers from the business school and school of social work completed the taxes of 40 individuals in the community.
The fair marks the formal beginning of a three-year grant-funded effort to raise the number of lower income families utilizing the service. Tony Mallon, an associate professor at VCU’s school of social work, wrote the grant, and the program received $190,580 to spend over the three years. The funds will help created a marketing campaign designed by students in the School of Mass Communications, as well as provide staff support for the coalition.
Spindle said tax filings are something every citizen is able to do with just a little extra patience, and that their reputation is the only thing that scares people to accounting firms.
Drew Jackson is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected].