Students pursuing accounting degrees in the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Mike Cottrell College of Business (MCCB) get a chance this semester to build their tax preparation skills and aid the surrounding communities as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program sponsored by the IRS.
The tax preparation services are open to community members and fellow students by appointment only from 4-7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Feb. 4 through March 5 in room 109 of Newton Oakes on UNG's Dahlonega Campus. Appointments can be scheduled by leaving a message for Nash at 706-867-3082. The IRS provides a list of "what to bring" to a VITA site so that taxpayers can be prepared for their appointment. Nash will also discuss the list of items to bring at the time of making the appointment.
VITA offers free tax services to people who generally make $54,000 or less. Students prepare 1040 forms with schedules A, B, C-EZ, D, along with basic tax credits. Federal and state returns are prepared while taxpayers are present. Lisa Nash, lecturer of accounting at UNG and a CPA, reviews all returns before she files them electronically with direct deposit available, if desired.
"The experience students receive in the VITA program is invaluable. Students have the opportunity to encounter real clients, with real tax documents, confusion and ambiguity," said Dr. Anne Duke, department head of Accounting and Law at UNG. "We have the opportunity to teach students about truly caring for clients, listening, and helping make sound and legal decisions. Students with VITA training are very much more prepared for employment in public accounting after graduation."
The students, under Nash's direction, are certified by testing through the IRS.
"Being able to apply what we've learned in a controlled environment with real clients is a great thing to put on your resume," said Gabriella Santangelo, a senior from Cumming, pursuing an accounting degree. "It's something employers will be excited to see."
This is Nash's fourth year supervising the VITA tax preparation program at UNG. The program has generally served 75 to 80 taxpayers per filing season, but Nash hopes for more than 100 participants this year.
While the opportunity certainly will build the students' technical skills, Santangelo is also eager to improve her ability to communicate the tax rules and regulations in plain terms for people who may have a language barrier or disabilities.
"The tax law for 2019 did not see as many overwhelming changes as 2018 filing season, but there are always small changes that impact taxpayers and many of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes are still being implemented," Nash said. "Payroll withholding tables have changed, so taxpayers often need to consider adjustments to withholding for the next year."