By Tiffany King
Come tax season next year, 16 College of Coastal Georgia students will assist local residents in filing their taxes through the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program (VITA).
The VITA program offers free tax help to low-income taxpayers, persons with disabilities, and limited-English-speaking taxpayers. The diverse categories of taxpayers have one thing in common: they need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals.
Coastal Georgia students will be volunteering for the Internal Revenue Service through the Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority Inc. Representatives from the IRS and Community Action Authority gathered with students at a meeting hosted by the College's Student Accounting Society in November. Thirty students—not all accounting students—attended the meeting to learn more about the program. Those who volunteered will go through an online training program of approximately 40 hours over the winter break to learn how to interview clients, fill out tax forms, and be prepared for tax season after classes resume for the spring semester.
Dr. Jim Benton, associate professor of accounting, said most of the volunteers have already taken the tax class he instructs, while other students may have an interest in accounting.
"This program will give students an opportunity to put into practice what many of them have already learned in the classroom—how to work within the federal income tax system," he said.
He hopes students will gain a basic understanding of how to interact with clients and their taxes, since it is the sort of environment many of them will be working in throughout their careers.
Once certified, students will work with Debra Powell of the Coastal Action Authority and do a test run to make sure they're prepared. When tax season starts, students will volunteer their time at the Community Action Authority greeting clients, doing intake, and preparing and reviewing taxes before submission.
"This is also a benefit to the community," Benton said. "It's an opportunity to help someone with the knowledge and ability you have that they don't. It helps make the community better. The VITA program was created by the IRS to help communities and it's an excellent outreach."
The accounting program at the College is currently offered as a concentration of the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration within the School of Business and Public Management. Benton said the program is continuing to grow and hopes it will soon be offered as a baccalaureate degree.
"The accounting program is not only growing; we're placing people in internships and accounting firms," Benton said. "We're producing quality, educated accounting majors."
Several students are on track to be certified public accountants and recently Coastal Georgia student Jennifer Wood was a recipient of the TJS Deemer Dana LLP Scholarship for 2019 by the Georgia Society of Certified Public Accountants.