KOKOMO, Ind. – Low income families in north central Indiana benefit when Indiana University Kokomo students learn about tax preparation.
Students in Olga Korne’s spring semester advanced income taxation class earned Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) certification, and are required to provide at least eight hours of service each through the United Way of Howard and Tipton Counties’s free tax preparation program.
“They’ve learned the theory, now they’re putting it in practice preparing tax returns for people,” said Korne, lecturer in accounting. While she’s had students volunteer with the program in previous years, this is the first time she has required it as part of the class grade.
“It provides a great opportunity for experiential learning and community service at the same time.” She said. “Community service is a great thing for students to put on their résumés. Employers want people who serve their community.”
She noted that all 12 students passed the certification on their first try.
In addition to his class requirements, senior Peter Davis is an intern with the program, putting in additional hours not only preparing taxes, but assisting clients as they bring their documents in and helping with other tasks as needed.
“We’re providing a service to people who can’t necessarily understand how to do it themselves, or afford to pay someone to do their taxes,” said Davis, from Russiaville. “We’re able to bring back a lot of money for people.”
It takes about five to 10 minutes to file a basic return for someone, he said, and about 20 to 30 minutes for more advanced tax returns.
Korne said the average amount of time required to prepare for the test is about 20 hours.
Jeff Grismore, Peru, said their income tax class during the fall semester prepared them for the VITA certification test, and it took him about four hours to prepare to pass it. Each student had to complete online modules before taking the test.
“If you did well in the class, you had a head start on preparation,” he said, noting that he used his textbook frequently as he studied. “It took quite a few hours to get the certification. A lot of the topics on the test were topics we had covered in class.”
Korne noted that the United Way offers the free service to people who live in Cass, Howard, Miami, and Tipton counties whose income is less than $60,000 per year. Offered in partnership with the Internal Revenue Service, the program is designed to ensure that residents receive all the tax credits and deductions for which they are eligible.
According to the United Way, volunteers filed more than 1,900 tax returns in 2018, saving clients $294,000 in fees, and bringing in about $1.5 million in refunds.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.