Stetson And BCU Students Offer Free Tax Help

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DeLand, FL - Students at Stetson and Bethune-Cookman University are volunteering to help Volusia and Flagler County residents file their taxes free of charge. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is a federal program that is mandated by the Internal Revenue Service to be conducted in various cities throughout the United States. United Way of Volusia and Flagler Counties has been offering this program through the Campaign for Working Families for over 12 years. The program started with only 4 sites in the area, but it has since grown to 13, 2 of which are student-led sites at Stetson and B-CU. VITA gives student volunteers the chance to apply their classroom work to practical experience in their chosen career paths and teaches them how to interact with clients. At Stetson and B-CU, the program is student-led with an instructor or advisor serving as the site coordinator. All VITA volunteers complete 2 days of training and must pass 3 certification tests before they begin helping taxpayers. According to Shelia Davis Jackson - the program coordinator for the Campaign for Working Families at United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties - all VITA volunteers are trained using materials provided by the IRS. "They are either trained by a retired IRS employee or an employee of the IRS or 1 of our more seasoned volunteers who has gone through extensive training to train other volunteers," Jackson added. "Once they're trained, they are all certified to prepare taxes at either the basic, advanced, intermediate, military, or international level depending on how far they go with their certification." In Volusia and Flagler County, all VITA volunteers are certified to at least the advanced level, which means they're able to prepare taxes for anyone that comes into the site with a basic return or a regular income tax return. Before anything is officially submitted, all work is reviewed for quality either by the site coordinator or a quality reviewer. In 2015, B-CU students filed more than 250 returns resulting in more than $270,000 in refunds. Stetson students completed 232 returns totaling $19,300 in refunds. Coordinators expect those numbers to be higher this year in 2016. VITA offers eligible taxpayers whose salary range is at or below $54,400 an alternative to lending agencies and tax preparers who charge fees. According to Jackson, VITA can save taxpayers at least between $150 to $250 per year on having their taxes prepared. Copyright 2016 Southern Stone Communications.

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