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Accounting Students Prepare Tax Returns for Local Families

Accounting students in the Penn State Smeal College of Business contribute their time and expertise as greeters and tax preparers for the Penn State Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a nationwide, IRS-sponsored program that provides free tax preparation to low income, special needs, and senior citizen taxpayers.
February 5, 2013

Accounting students in the Penn State Smeal College of Business begin work today as greeters and tax preparers for the Penn State Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

VITA is a nationwide, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sponsored program that provides free tax preparation to low income, special needs, and senior citizen taxpayers. Each year many students at Penn State volunteer their time to assist in tax preparation for members of the local community. This year, 38 of the 52 volunteers are Smeal accounting students.

The VITA program at Penn State is led by Cathy Bowen, professor of consumer issues in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, and is a joint venture among the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, the Smeal College of Business, and the Dickinson School of Law. Each college has a student liaison to assist Bowen in recruiting and managing the volunteers.

Sarah Mackey is a junior in the integrated master of accounting program in Smeal, and she is serving as the 2013 liaison for accounting students. “I wanted to be involved in something hands-on,” she said. “This is one way to get some hands-on experience even before you have an internship.”

VITA volunteers begin meeting in the fall to learn the relevant federal tax laws and the TaxWise software used to file electronic returns. All volunteers—including greeters—must pass an ethics course; those who wish to prepare taxes must also pass both basic and intermediate-level certification tests.

The VITA program is a popular way for students in business and law each year to get some hands on practice with taxes as well as a service activity: “The repetition of doing the tax returns really helps gel classroom tax lessons in their minds,” said Bowen.

In addition to IRS support, PwC and KPMG offered financial support to this year’s program that is crucial to the program’s survival.

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