Accounting students help Reno-Sparks community file taxes

Low- to middle-income area taxpayers can have taxes filed for free

2/7/2014 - By: Patrick Harris
VITA Program Colby Cross, an accounting student at the University of Nevada, Reno, volunteers his time on Saturdays for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. The program is free to residents of the Reno-Sparks community who have a salary of $55,000 or less a year.

Reno and Sparks citizens with an income of $55,000 or less a year are invited to partake in a free tax assistance program known as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance from now through mid-April. The program is run by the Community Services Agency in collaboration with students from the University of Nevada, Reno's College of Business.

"The process is controlled and supervised, but simple," Richard Mason, associate professor of accounting at the University and student supervisor of the tax program, said. "Taxpayers come in, answer a few questions about deductions, have their identification information copied, and fill out an intake form. After their information is gathered, the students take over."

Combined, clients save upwards of $100,000 that they would normally spend at commercial tax preparation vendors. Most of the savings are attributed to the volunteer services of University accounting students.

"The IRS tax code can be complicated, and we can help," John Miller, a junior accounting student at the University, said. "Each student is trained and certified by the IRS and guides the tax payer through the filing process, from start to finish."

Miller is among more than 70 University students taking Mason's federal income tax course and volunteering for the VITA program. Participating students are typically juniors or seniors studying accounting and are trained to understand complicated tax codes. On average, 10 of the 70 students are in the Community Services Agency at a time to intake clients and begin tax filing.

Maurine Erickson, a Reno citizen, returned for the VITA program this year after a satisfying experience last year.

"They are really nice people and very friendly," Erickson said. "They don't make mistakes, it's free and it's worth my time. If the students don't know something, they look it up or ask a supervisor. They are very thorough and double check their work."

In case students need help with tax code or have questions during post-filing quality reviews, Mason is there to answer questions. Mason is in his sixth year of supervising students throughout the program.

"It is great practical experience for the students and they get the best of three worlds," Mason said. "They get great volunteer experience, an engaging course of application, and the students are doing good for people who need assistance. Overall, the students really like it."

The tax program takes place every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 6 to 8:30 p.m., and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Community Services Agency, located at 1094 E. Eighth St. Services are offered until 9 p.m., April 15. Appointments are encouraged and can be made by calling 775-786-6023.

VITA is sponsored by United Way and funded by the Internal Revenue Service. A similar tax service is being offered for students, faculty and staff at the Joe Crowley Student Union on the University's campus. This program is being put on by Beta Alpha Psi, an accounting fraternity. For more information, email renotaxprep@zoho.com.


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