As tax season looms, many Americans are unfamiliar with the tax filing process and often seek help from others. Despite the IRS reporting that over 70% of taxpayers are eligible to file their taxes for free, only a quarter of them take advantage of this opportunity. However, a team of high school students aims to alter this trend.
For the past two decades, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, commonly referred to as VITA, has been aiding families in filing their taxes at no cost. This initiative is a collaboration between the Catholic Charities of the Albany Catholic Diocese and United Way of the Greater Capital Region. According to Peter Gannon, CEO of United Way Greater Capital Region, when they say “free”, they truly mean it – taxpayers receive free assistance with both their federal and state returns, and are able to retain all of the funds that they are entitled to. This enables families to allocate their hard-earned money towards their loved ones.
These students have been successfully filing close to 50 tax returns per week, and they deserve recognition for their efforts
By participating in their accounting class, these 16-year-olds acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to file taxes, and subsequently undergo a certification test. Wheland, who is an advanced certified tax filer, is qualified to handle even the most complex tax returns. As Wheland explains, I’ve been on the business track since freshman year, which requires me to complete five business courses in order to graduate. This accounting class is one of the compulsory courses, but the VITA program is particularly intriguing.
In the previous year, over 4,000 individuals residing in the Capital Region benefited from this complimentary program, receiving refunds exceeding $7.5 million and saving families almost $1.3 million in tax preparation fees. Additionally, as the student tax preparers explain, “It also undergoes a quality review before being submitted to the IRS, which provides us with greater confidence in our work.”
Consequently, families in greatest need are able to obtain greater value from their tax return checks. In addition to academic benefits, these students have acquired a valuable skillset that will extend far beyond the confines of the classroom. In many cases, we question the practicality of what we learn in class and its applicability in real-world situations, but this is an example of something that is incredibly tangible and pertinent.
The students can be found at Catholic Central in Latham every Wednesday, from 8:30 a.m. until noon. The United Way has established VITA program locations throughout the entire state, and appointments can be scheduled by dialing 211 or contacting the respective sites directly.