Athens News Matters: Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
A group of UGA professors and students is trying to help demystify tax filing for Athens residents through a national program called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA. The program offers free tax filing for residents with low to moderate incomes, disabled persons and even some for whom English is not their native language.
If I’m completely honest, I enjoy the drama of taxes. Do I owe Uncle Sam…or does he owe me? Will I get my paperwork done by the IRS filing deadline? I’m kind of a tax nerd, and Dr. Lance Palmer, a professor at the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, understands me.
Palmer teaches income tax planning courses, but every spring, he and the students in his service learning course, 'Financial Planning in the Community,' spend a few days a week preparing taxes for people in the community in partnership with the national VITA program. Palmer says that in addition to helping the community, his students get real-world experience they can apply after graduation.
When I stopped by the Georgia United Credit Union location on Gaines School Road where VITA appointments are held, the lobby was full. Every office and teller window were in use as conference space for tax preparation.
The students work in pairs to go through tax paperwork and file refunds. Chase Adam and William Dawson, both majoring in financial planning and students of Dr. Palmer’s, agreed that while taxes might not be exactly what they want to do when they leave UGA, the experience has been a positive one.
New criteria have been added to help students improve their communication skills. Erin Bruce, a Double Dawgs master’s student in financial planning, coaches students working with tax clients. She is recording videos of the students working with clients that the students can later review to critique themselves on things like eye contact, body language and building trust with clients.
After the students prepare a client’s taxes, a graduate assistant reviews each form and finalizes the process. And all the while, Dr. Palmer is making rounds to make sure everyone is getting along.