|Mary Pruitt and Jesse Pai work with a client in LSBE.|
|Hope Hollasch (standing) assists an individual with his taxes during a VITA meeting.|
Jesse Pai, a junior accounting major, is working through his first semester with the VITA program. The VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program, which started in the late 1970s, has become an important resource for many. "It's really nice to be able to help people in the community. I was surprised by how much other places can charge to file taxes. It's something we all have to get done, and VITA is a great opportunity for people who do not have the resources to complete their taxes," Jesse said.
According to Charles Reichert, head of the program, "Many of the clients we have are repeat clients and new clients often hear about us through word of mouth. The site for our program is listed by the IRS and the MN Department of Revenue."
The individuals who run the program are primarily composed of UMD Accounting major students. There are about 60 students that participate each year. Each student is responsible for participating in five or six sessions or shifts within the duration of the program; typically there are four or five students that sign up per meeting.
"Students gain experience applying classroom tax knowledge to the real world. It is also important that students have encounters with clients and they also get the satisfaction from helping someone out," said Reichert. "Students sign up for VITA as a 3000 level accounting class, and they earn two credits and complete a requirement for their major."
Hope Hollasch, a junior accounting major, is completing her second year with the VITA program. She explains that the program runs on a first come, first serve basis. Hope says that participating in VITA is a "constant learning experience where you can learn to work with different people and develop communication skills."
"The hardest part about participating in this program is when you come across something unfamiliar. This experience has taught me to figure out problems in person when something unpredictable comes up, because the training can only take you so far" said Jesse.
The students in the program practice filing taxes with hypothetical examples for three weeks before they do them for real clients. There is a manual book available for the students to reference at anytime but are always encouraged to ask questions. After students complete the taxes, it is then processed to a reviewer that checks the accuracy of their work.
Mary Pruitt, a senior accounting major, is also completing her second year with VITA. Mary said, "I like that this opportunity allows me to apply classroom knowledge. The professor explains these skills and concepts in class, but it is a new learning experience when you are actually participating and applying these skills in real life."
Mary and Hope both agree that there are times when they are able to explain the process of filing taxes, and sometimes it doesn't work. "As a student, I am still learning," said Hope.
The UMD volunteers with the VITA program will be available through April 9. For more information about the VITA program and its guidelines visit UMD's VITA webpage OR the Duluth Public Library website.
The VITA program has two meeting places for its clients, both at the Duluth Public Library and in the Labovitz School of Business and Economics (LSBE) building at UMD.
The UMD Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program provides tax return preparation services for low and moderate-income residents of the Duluth-Superior area. In 2015, the VITA program prepared returns for over 950 low-income clients.
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