Filing tax forms is few people’s favorite annual task. Making that monumental but essential chore easier for thousands of New Yorkers for over two decades has been Baruch’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program. Thanks to the student-led organization, New Yorkers—primarily low-income and immigrant residents—can have their tax returns prepared at no cost. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from Feb. 4 through Apr. 15, IRS-trained and -certified student volunteers offer the no-appointment-necessary service at locations in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. E-filing and interpreters for Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Russian, and Korean are special services offered at designated locations. In 2010 Baruch’s volunteers prepared more than 6,600 returns for clients.
“I can personally relate to many of the clients who use our service,” says Dennis Wang (’11), three-year veteran of the program and this year’s student coordinator. “My parents were immigrants to the United States and knew little English, so they both worked for little money. Asking them to pay $75 or more for an accountant was not feasible, but filing their taxes was the only way to get our refund. VITA would have been a great service for my family.”
VITA is a win-win proposition. Not only do New Yorkers benefit, but the program gives students the opportunity to develop leadership skills, enhance their resume, earn community service credits, make friends, and build networks. Most student volunteers are majoring in finance or accountancy.
One thousand four hundred students applied to participate in VITA in 2011; approximately 250 were selected. Among the VITA “freshmen” is Michael McDonagh (’12), who is pursuing the five-year combined bachelor’s-master’s degree in accountancy. McDonagh was attracted to VITA as “a great way to get hands-on experience and to give back to the community.” He praises the training but recalls with amusement the jitters he felt with his first client. “It was a little nerve-racking,” says the Sigma Alpha Delta student. “It wasn’t the classroom; I was dealing with real money, a real transaction.” What calmed Michael down? The grateful VITA client, who expressed complete faith in McDonagh’s ability to get the job done. In fact, McDonagh enjoys VITA so much that he plans to volunteer with the program for two more tax seasons.
VITA sponsors include the Zicklin School of Business, UHY Advisors Tax & Business Consultants, the Internal Revenue Service, Baruch’s Starr Career Development Center, and the on-campus student organizations Beta Alpha Psi, Ascend, the Accounting Society, Zicklin Tax Society, and Golden Key International Honour Society.