Stories and Articles
SDSU Students Offer Income Tax Assistance to Local
Refugees and Underserved Communities
For nearly 40 years, SDSU accounting students have offered complimentary state and federal income tax assistance to California residents through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The students in the program have been trained by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to prepare federal and California state tax returns.
Here's how it works: SDSU students enrolled in Accounting 409 earn course credit by volunteering in the VITA program. This offers community members access to pro bono tax preparation services while offering the students real world experience in a controlled environment where faculty and graduate students are on hand to assist and review all completed returns.
For the past four decades, all students participating in the VITA program did their volunteer work at a designated location on the SDSU campus.
A Chance Encounter Lends More Opportunities
But students whose schedule did not fit with the SDSU VITA clinics needed a different option. So, two years ago SDSU VITA expanded its reach by working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to offer tax preparation services to recent immigrants and low-income residents who visited the IRC centers in East San Diego and El Cajon. While the SDSU VITA sessions are open one or two days a week, the IRC runs their tax clinics seven days a week.
The idea to work with the IRC came about due to an unusual set of circumstances. In the fall of 2015, SDSU accounting professors, Dr. Steve Gill and Dr. Damon Fleming (also the director of the Charles W. Lamden School of Accountancy) attended a meeting for VITA site coordinators hosted by the IRS. Also at the meeting was a former student of Gill’s who, coincidentally, happened to be the coordinator for the IRC’s VITA program.
Fast forward to the spring semester of 2018. “This year, we had a lot more students than usual request a seat in the Accounting 409 class, so we had to think outside the box to allow for more people to participate in the VITA program,” said Douglas Kelley (’13, accounting) who worked in the VITA program as an SDSU student and now runs the program as an SDSU accounting lecturer. “That’s what prompted us to approach the IRC. We worked out a scenario where four of our Accounting 409 students could earn course credit while they helped low income residents and people who are new to the U.S. file their taxes.”
Giving Back Reaps Rewards
SDSU senior, Johana Rodriguez is one of those students. “Originally, I took Accounting 409 because it worked into my schedule but I am glad I took part in the IRC VITA program,” she said. “While some of the language barriers could be a challenge, my Spanish-speaking skills were helpful, since we had some clients that
spoke only Spanish. But it was so rewarding to hear some of our clients tell us how thankful they were for our help and for the services they received.”
In addition to the four students who are getting course credit, four other students volunteer on their own. SDSU accounting senior, Alejandro Preciado initially volunteered at the IRC VITA program because his sister recommended that he take part in the program.
“She said volunteering with the VITA program offered helpful experience and insight in preparing taxes, but it has offered me so much more than that,” he said. “Many clients have unique situations and I see a new situation every day. I enjoy applying my classroom experience to real life scenarios so that I can share what I’ve learned with the clients so that they have a better understanding of their tax return.”
Phu Vu, a junior finance major, echoed Preciado’s sentiments. “It has been very rewarding to be able to educate clients about the U.S. personal income tax system and knowing that clients that came into the IRC offices with no knowledge leave here with a greater understanding of how our tax system works” said Vu. “When they come in for our services, they are so patient, kind-hearted and appreciative of any help and I am grateful for having the opportunity to volunteer my time.”