A faculty member at the Naveen Jindal School of Management has partnered with the Bursar Office at The University of Texas at Dallas to set up a free tax-preparation service for qualified students, many of whom are international and may not have anywhere else to turn. The program is in its second year, having assisted 1,000 students in 2016.
The JSOM-Bursar Office partnership is part of the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, an effort in existence at UT Dallas since 2009. Staff members assist in training student volunteers and serve as volunteers themselves.
“Our international students are very important to the vitality of the University, and President Benson acknowledged that,” said Summer Rangel, an accountant in the Bursar Office and a VITA volunteer. “It’s an honor to serve that community with their immigration tax forms.”
Students seeking tax-preparation assistance are “not an underserved population; they are truly an unserved population,” said Kathy Zolton, accounting senior lecturer and campus VITA coordinator. “If international students work or have internships while they earn their degrees, they may have a large tax liability, and there’s really no good place for them to go. Paid tax-return service providers either do not offer them support, charge them more than they can afford or don’t seem to get it right.”
“I got assistance from VITA last year,” said JSOM business analytics alumnus Manas Sharma, MS 2016, said. “I had such a nice experience that I felt compelled to come back. There were no headaches or hiccups last year. It was all a very smooth process. As complicated as doing these international taxes is, the process was very streamlined. That was something I really appreciated.”
Under Zolton’s guidance, a group of volunteer accounting students at the Jindal School helps not only UT Dallas students but also qualified Dallas-Fort Worth community members to alleviate some of the anxiety associated with preparing and filing their tax returns.
Since 2014, some of Zolton’s graduate students have earned 3 class credit hours during the spring semester for enrolling in Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Practicum (ACCT 6389), a companion course that provides them with an opportunity to expand and apply their tax compliance skills while serving in the volunteer effort.
“The Office of Budget and Finance, through the generous contribution of time and resources from the Bursar’s Office, is proud to once again support a VITA site on campus as a service to our students,” said Kim Laird, associate vice president and controller.
Approximately 200 students from JSOM have undergone a rigorous two-day, 14-hour weekend program to qualify them as IRS-certified volunteers. Started in 1969, VITA is a free tax-preparation program that helps individuals in need prepare and file their taxes electronically. Individuals who earn $54,000 or less, have disabilities or have limited English proficiency are eligible for assistance.
“The IRS spreads out the VITA initiative to communities across the U.S. through various organizations,” Zolton said. “In Dallas-Fort Worth, they’ve chosen United Way, which provides money and support to other organizations to do the work, including Foundation Communities, a nonprofit that serves low-income families, veterans, seniors and people with disabilities.”
UT Dallas volunteers have partnered with Foundation Communities to provide a significant volume of the tax-prep work done by the organization, Zolton said. Students volunteer not only on campus to assist qualified students but also at various community locations to perform tax-return services.
The VITA site operations for the 2017 Tax Season began Feb. 8. Detailed information on the site, including location and hours of operation, may be found at the bursar’s VITA webpage and the askYODA webpage.
— Jimmie R. Markham