Students help students file taxes

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program will expand this year.

Cali Owings

When sophomore Derek Lunde walked into a student group meeting this year, he saw someone he recognized and thought, “Hey, I did your taxes.”

For Lunde, who prepared tax returns for students as a part of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Volunteer Tax Assistance Program last year, it was not an uncommon or uncomfortable phenomenon.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program is an IRS initiative to help low- to moderate-income individuals prepare their taxes. Different community organizations sponsor the program and train volunteers. The Minnesota Student Association began utilizing the program for students in 2008.

More students will have the opportunity to get help filing their taxes this year because MSA is expanding the program. At the beginning of the year, MSA increased the budget for VTAP by $2,500, to $4,650.

Nick Freese, a VTAP director, said they were hoping to double the number of volunteers this year as well. Last year, 25 volunteers prepared 206 returns.

To accommodate the changes, they will not be preparing returns in the MSA office again this year.

“We were working at maximum capacity for most of the tax season,” Freese said.

Freese and fellow program director Thomas Pranica are holding information sessions and interviews this month to find volunteers.

The majority of volunteers are accounting and finance majors, but other volunteers come from a variety of business departments, Freese said.

Matt Wilson, a first-year student studying math and finance, has been doing his own taxes since he got his first job at 15. He will be one of the volunteers preparing tax returns for students starting this February.

Wilson said he doesnâÄôt anticipate any complicated tax returns because students typically donâÄôt make that much money.

While Wilson has four years of experience, he and the other volunteers will have to complete IRS training and take a certification test.

Freese said they will be responsible for most of the material on their own, but there will also be training sessions in November and December. The certification test in January typically consists of concept-related questions and practice problems.

For Laura Grosdidier, a first-year nonprofit management major, it will be her first experience filing taxes because she didnâÄôt have a job in high school.

Grosdidier and Wilson were recruited by Lunde, who they know from the Student Accounting and Finance Association.

Lunde, who will be a site coordinator this year and will oversee the program, said he was looking for people who would be fun to work with.

VTAP provides a unique volunteer opportunity for students interested in accounting and finance.

Students studying accounting and finance typically have a lot of job and internship opportunities, SAFA adviser Paul Gutterman said, but less relevant volunteer experience. Gutterman said students typically do basic accounting for charity events, like a 5-K run.

Beta Alpha Psi, the honors society for juniors and seniors in SAFA, helped a small Minneapolis nonprofit with tax returns and bookkeeping as part of a national competition last year.

Gutterman said he was not aware of many other volunteer opportunities for accounting and finance students.

“I think the program is a great opportunity for accounting majors to get more experience with taxes,” he said, adding that he encourages students in his classes to get involved with the program.

VTAP will begin preparing tax returns in February and continue until April 15, 2011.