Many people don't understand how to do their taxes, let alone how to minimize them. That’s why student volunteers from Cal Poly Humboldt’s School of Business are providing free face-to-face tax filing services — including on-the-spot e-filing — to eligible individuals throughout the campus and community.
The tax prep clinics are scheduled every Wednesday from Feb. 8 through April 13 from 5:50-8:30 p.m. in Siemens Hall 119.
Taxpayers — including students and underserved members of the community — have the opportunity to get tax help, while students gain hands-on, career-related experience.
“We're using professional tax software and working on real peoples' tax returns,” says Forrest Larson, student and volunteer. “This allows us to gain experience and confidence that will be vital when entering the accounting industry.”
For many, the tax code can be intimidating, explains Larson.
The clinic “provides an easy, low stress way for individuals to begin to understand the implications of their taxes,” Larson says. “While we don't provide tax advice, I do think that sitting down for our entry interview is a useful way to familiarize people with their taxes.”
Despite the demands of balancing school and work, the opportunity to volunteer at the clinic is meaningful for student Francky Mirafuentes. “I myself grew up in an underserved community, especially with my mom not knowing English,” says Mirafuentes, who is providing tax services in Spanish.
Mirafuentes' goal is to help break the language barrier that members of the Latino community often face.
“My mother always told me never to forget where I came from and to use the education I receive to help the community,” Mirafuentes adds.
Back after a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, the clinic is part of the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The program is a national “initiative designed to support free tax preparation service for the underserved,” according to the IRS. “This service helps low- to moderate-income individuals, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speakers file their taxes each year.”
Student volunteers offer the tax filing services in five different languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Ukrainian, German, and English. Individuals can select their preferred language when booking an appointment online.
VITA programs have been available nationwide for more than 50 years, and on-campus for more than a decade — giving students hands-on experience.
The services are available by appointment only. To qualify, individuals must earn $60,000 or less per year, and have a basic income tax return. Basic returns include an IRS Form 1040 with limited complexity (such as no pass-through business income, itemized deductions, capital gains, or crypto currency trading activity).
The services are free. “All you have to do is bring your documentation and we’ll do the rest,” says Josh Zender, associate professor at the School of Business.
On average, individuals pay approximately $320 for professional basic income tax prep services, according to the National Society of Accountants.
While VITA clinics can curb these fees by preparing the return for free for the taxpayer, participants are assured that certified preparers handle their taxes.
To participate in the program, student volunteers must be IRS-certified. All 13 current volunteers must pass a series of tests that focus on quality standards, ethics, and tax codes.
The face-to-face services are beneficial because it offers “a real time interaction with the tax preparer,” Zender notes. “This brings humanity to a process that’s otherwise fairly technical and impersonal.”
For some taxpayers, face-to-face services are a necessity. “While some people may lack internet service in certain rural parts of Humboldt County, others may encounter hurdles using self-service tax software; thereby, creating demand for in-person tax preparation support.”
He encourages anyone interested to visit the program’s website for appointments, eligibility requirements, frequently asked questions and documents to fill out before appointments.
The VITA clinic is a win/win for both the taxpayer and the student, says Zender.
While taxpayers get access to free, certified services — students gain first-hand work experience and marketable employment skills.
Overall, he adds, a lot of satisfaction is gained from students by simply serving the public and engaging with the community.
For more information about the University’s VITA clinic, including eligibility requirements and appointments, visit https://tinyurl.com/HumboldtVITA or sites.google.com/humboldt.edu/vita/home.
Additional free VITA tax filing services are available at different sites throughout Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, including at College of the Redwoods, and the Humboldt Senior Resource Center in Eureka.