Wow! Seven years has gone by quickly. The Department of Accountancy started offering a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in partnership with the Boise Public Library! in Spring 2013. That first year, 16 student tax preparers helped 63 clients file their federal and state tax returns. This spring, 14 Boise State students (including one dedicated greeter), five University of Idaho Law students, three community volunteers, and Kathy Hurley, a lecturer for the Department, personally helped 397 clients file 403 federal returns plus an equal number of state returns for seven different states. In addition, our site was credited with an additional 694 people preparing their own returns, which means we helped more than 1,000 members of the community file their tax returns.
In addition to the Library VITA site, Hurley coordinates with the Boise School District (BSD) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to have a Refugee Tax Day, which focuses on members of our community who are still learning English. BSD and the IRC provide interpreters and space; Beta Alpha Psi provides additional greeters, and the VITA program provides the tax preparers. This year we held sessions at Whitney Elementary School, Taft Elementary School, and IRC headquarters on February 17. We helped over 20 families complete their returns—a fourfold increase from prior years—and at least four more families from a citizenship class later sought our assistance at the library. And we were reminded how essential free and honest tax assistance is to our refugee population: Hurley and Patrick Musgrove, an Accountancy student, joined the Idaho Tax Commission’s fraud investigator at sessions put on by the Boise Police Department for the refugee community to help them avoid predatory tax preparers.
As much as I’ve learned in the classroom, nothing can quite compare to actually working the field. My time with VITA provided me the excellent opportunity to gain hands-on experience working with members of the community, answering their questions and asking my own, as we worked together to fully capture their financial picture. —Michelle Wilson, Master of Accountancy Taxation
VITA provides a much-needed service to our community and real-life experience for our students. As one student summed up after talking about learning more about applying tax law: “One of the best things I learned was to slow down and really get to know those I interacted with. Everyone has a different story and something new they can teach you.” Another commented, “Our clients are some of the most patient and easy-going people I have ever worked with one-on-one. I was humbled by the interactions and stories I heard from clients and was grateful that I could help them.” And finally: “The classroom can’t quite match the hands-on experience of physically preparing someone’s return—of having them talk to you, watch what you’re doing, and ask you questions.” This interaction between client and student, as they learn from and help one another, is what makes VITA such a great, and vital, program.