Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) at Sacred Heart University allows students to assist low to moderate taxpayers in preparing their Federal and Connecticut income tax returns. Students have the opportunity to take this course for credit or as a volunteer.
In late fall, an Internal Revenue Service representative comes to campus to explain the program from the IRS' perspective. Prior to Christmas break, students are given the Service's Tax textbook. Over the break, they are to complete the text as well as the corresponding examination. Upon return from the break, the exam is submitted to the Professor for grading. After attaining a passing score in a final evaluation, volunteers will receive official certification from the IRS, and will subsequently be eligible to file tax returns under the VITA name. Each Wednesday evening from the end of January to April 15th, the students meet at the North End Branch of the Bridgeport Public Library between the hours of 5PM – 7:30PM.
Volunteers learn basic tax preparation techniques and technology, enabling them to handle most returns competently, or at least know how to find an answer. Minimum required training topics include filing status, dependents, income, adjustments to income, tax computations, the earned income credit (EIC) and the child tax credit. (Complex returns are not prepared at VITA sites, although many would argue that the EIC is one of the most complex tax provisions.) Volunteers do not sign returns and are protected from legal liability by the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997.
How the Program Works
The program is run similar to a Certified Public Accountant's office. Taxpayers call the library for appointments either for our 5PM or 6PM seating. Students are assigned in teams of two. They are introduced to their "clients" by the attending Professor and begin the interview process. Once the returns are completed, they are reviewed by the Professor as well as an MBA student who serves as the site coordinator, for accuracy. The students prepare the final return for review with their clients and explain their findings as well as filing instructions. At the end of the evening, each student presents the issues they encountered to the rest of the class for discussion.
At the end of the filing season, students taking a for-credit VITA program course often write a lengthy, required reflection paper that identifies the benefits of their VITA experience, which include an improved understanding of tax law, technology, interviewing procedures and problem-solving skills.