Vital tax relief from VITA
Published: Monday, February 25, 2008
Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2009 01:02
April 17 this year may be spring break for some, but for most Americans, it is "Hell Week." April 17 marks the deadline for filing taxes, and in the weeks leading up to that fateful day, many will find themselves swamped in receipts and forms that have messily accumulated.
For those who have little or no time, money or knowledge of the bureaucratic forms that lead to the anticipation of rewarding returns, there is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA).
"It's a great cause," says Baruch sophomore and VITA volunteer Anton Gringut, adding that "about half of the people whose taxes we file are Baruch students and the other half are from the general community."
The service, available weekdays in the lobby of the library building, prepares 1040, 1040 EZ and 1040 NR forms. VITA will only sift through related New York State taxes, so if, for example, you have spent part of the year working in another state, those returns will be outside the scope of VITA.
VITA began in 1969 and was funded by the IRS, for people with low to moderate incomes that could not otherwise afford a tax service. VITA also helps individuals and families discover that they are entitled to a refund. According to the VITA website, in 2007, a family with two children could have received as much as $4,716 in refunds and between 15 to 20 percent of families fail to claim their refunds.
The Baruch branch of VITA started in the early 1990s and each tax season, for which training starts in January and lasts for over two full weekend days, brings in between 150 and 300 tax applicants.
VITA is also a volunteer opportunity for students. The three-hour minimum for volunteers makes the program accessible to busy Baruch students. Besides Baruch, there are four other New York City VITA sites. Although less than 13 percent of sites have more than 16 volunteers, Baruch has surpassed that number by at least twentyfold since 1998.
Although their focus is to help lower income individuals and families, VITA does not turn away students who request to have their forms filed. "We screen people to determine their level of income, but we don't turn away students or others who can benefit from our services," said Al Miranda, a senior and volunteer trainee.
Describing a regular afternoon at VITA, Gringut said the average volunteer will fill out two tax forms. The forms are double-checked by another volunteer to make sure that mistakes are avoided. "It's pretty relaxed and everyone in VITA gets along well. The supervisors are flexible with our volunteer hours, so it works for the volunteers as well," Gringut added.
When asked if VITA would have a busy season this year, Gringut sighed, saying, "It's going to be busy. The more people that find out about VITA, the more that end up coming to have their taxes filed." VITA is sure to stay at Baruch, saving taxpayers one tax form at a time.