The University of Richmond’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement offered a free on-campus tax clinic for faculty, staff and students who have a household income of $60,000 or less.
The tax clinic was open for two sessions on March 17, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., in the Brown-Alley Room in Weinstein Hall. All 40 available time slots for the clinic were filled, according to the appointment page.
Sasha Hollister, assistant director of CCE’s community relationships team, said the goal of the clinic was to ensure everyone who came left with a complete understanding of their tax returns, including if they have a refund, and that they are ready to file their federal and state taxes.
“It’s a much-needed program, and it allows us to meet our mission to bring students out into the community and provide something that really adds a lot of value,” Hollister said.
Last year, UR’s tax site prepared 247 tax returns, putting $324,000 worth of refunds back into the community, Hollister said. The money went directly to people’s pockets without any cost for the tax preparation services, she said.
The tax clinic is part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, an Internal Revenue Service program that offers free tax preparation services for families and individuals with an income of $60,000 or less. The clinic is held annually on campus to ensure easy access and enhanced efficiency for faculty, staff and students in need, Hollister said.
UR’s main tax site is located at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Richmond, Hollister said. It provides free tax preparation services on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from Feb. 7 to April 15 during the 2023 tax season, according to its website.
“I love being able to help and having conversations with everybody who comes in,” Hollister said. “And it’s good for the campus community to know that we offer these services, and they can always come downtown.”
Junior Nashir Uddin, the quality reviewer of the tax clinic, said that an outside agency may charge as much as $350 for tax preparation services for a household with two parents and one dependent. For singles, the cost is $200 for one W-2 form, while for married individuals with two W-2 forms, it is $300. There is a charge of $50 for adding one dependent, he said.
With the help of the UR students as IRS-certified volunteers, the VITA program also assists with special credits, including earned income tax credit, child tax credit, and credit for the elderly or the disabled, according to the VITA program’s website.
Hollister said those tax credits, such as the EITC offering financial assistance to individuals with lower income, are greatly needed by people in the community. She is delighted to witness the program’s impact, as countless community members benefit from these crucial tax credits, she said.
“People get really excited when they have a refund,” Hollister said. “Even if they owe money, just having a clear understanding of what they owe, how to pay it off, and how to reduce their tax bill next year can bring a sense of ease and relief.”
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Hollister said the preparation for the program involved close collaboration between the non-profit United Way, business professor Joyce van der Laan Smith, and the Robins School of Business to set up the courses and weekend training for the clinic’s volunteers.
Students who are interested in becoming volunteers for the VITA program can register for one of the following half-unit courses: VITA I, which has no prerequisite, and VITA II, for students who have completed VITA I. Students who pass the final test will become IRS-certified volunteers, Hollister said.
Students don’t need to have any background in accounting or tax law to participate in the program, Hollister said. Although taxes may sound boring, working face-to-face with someone and having a conversation with them can make the process interesting, she said.
Hollister said she believes the students can get a lot out of the VITA program, noting that many students already do their taxes and their families’ taxes. The program offers a chance for them to work with people from different backgrounds and understand the various challenges they face.
Sophomore Steve Wang, the advanced preparer of the tax clinic, said the tax clinic enables him to learn more about how to communicate with people from different backgrounds in the real world.
Uddin said when filing taxes, the most important aspect is to interact with the taxpayer and ask a lot of questions. This not only builds communication skills but also helps develop the ability to work with a diverse range of individuals.
Hollister said UR’s tax clinic is not qualified to provide tax assistance for international students. However, Virginia Commonwealth University runs a site that specifically provides tax preparation services for international students. The site is virtual, making it easily accessible to students who need to file non-resident or international returns, she said.
International students can make an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, according to the VITA program on the Greater Richmond and Petersburg region’s website.
Contact news writer Mo Song at email@example.com.
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