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VITA tax program aids community with free tax filing

ONU's students are offering tax services to the Hardin and surrounding counties as part of the VITA tax program. (photo/debtfighters.com).

ONU's students are offering tax services to the Hardin and surrounding counties as part of the VITA tax program. (photo/debtfighters.com).

With April 15 looming ahead, some students are participating in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program to provide free tax help to those of the Hardin and surrounding counties. The program, open to those with low to moderate incomes (usually $54,000 and below), is overseen by Professor Dexter Woods. Several business and law students will be assisting with the free electronic filing (e-filing) in room 140 of the Dicke Business College on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5-9 p.m. until April 5.

As part of the program, ONU students receive training and become IRS-certified to help prepare basic and intermediate tax returns and identify special credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit and Credit for the Elderly.

Taxpayers interested in these services should bring proof of identification, tax information received for the 2015 filing year (including Forms W-2, Forms 1099, any Affordable Health Care Statements and all other items marked “Important Tax Return Document/Information Enclosed”), and copies of last year’s federal and state tax returns, if available.

VITA is a federal program that was started by the IRS to provide tax help to lower-income individuals, those with disabilities, the elderly, and those with limited English abilities.

At ONU, the initiative used to be run through the law program, but due to scheduling issues, it has since been transferred over to business. For the past six years, the tax program has been incorporated into tax class, and serves as a bridge for those of Beta Alpha Psi (the accounting and finance honorary fraternity) to get professional hours.

Woods sees the opportunity as more than a way to help those in need of tax aid, or the student helpers who are receiving real experience and IRS certification. Volunteers actually have the opportunity to exercise their entrepreneurial spirit, think on their feet and give back to the community.

If not for the program, said Woods, customers would have to pay for professional returns they cannot afford. With students helping save these customers money, even by staying late as one volunteer did, the community is very appreciative. 

Last year Accounting major and VITA volunteer Alexandra Turnea said she really enjoyed her part in the program. The professional experience allowed her to apply knowledge she didn't think she had into something that people depend on and benefit from.

“Everyone who helps a client is doing a real service to the community. Taxes are stressful for everyone and it's a part of life, by providing this service we are truly helping those in need,” Turnea said.

In addition to filing, the service also works as a way to get some money back into the hands of taxpayers. This money can then be contributed to the local economy. Over the past couple of years, Woods said the program has gotten their over 150 clients more than $100,000 back. 

To make an appointment or learn more, contact site coordinator Dexter Woods at Ohio Northern University at 419-772-2075.

Originally published March 8, 2015. Updated Feb. 18, 2016.

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