Brand photo of Ohio State students

Confusion, uncertainty and stress abound during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The same can be said for this tax season.  

Accounting students sought to mitigate some filing anxiety for others during an abbreviated version of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at the Godman Guild in Weiland Park.  

VITA is a national program sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service that provides tax preparation assistance to qualifying taxpayers from certified volunteers. To qualify for assistance, individuals must have an annual household income not exceeding $54,000.  

Stephanie Lewis first got involved with the program in 2013, when she took over from retired faculty member Bill Raabe, who established Ohio State’s branch of VITA in 2004.  

The department typically recruits about 35 to 60 MAcc and Beta Alpha Psi students to assist with tax preparation, with MAcc students acting as site managers.  

“I like seeing them be able to use what they learned in class in real-world situations,” said Lewis, a senior lecturer at Fisher and the undergraduate accounting coordinator. 

MAcc student Ty Bender (BSBA ’19) has participated in VITA since 2017 and served as a site manager this year. He sees the program as both a technical challenge and as a way to demonstrate his commitment to social responsibility.  

“One of my favorite parts of participating in VITA the last three years has been the opportunity to learn and teach others about the U.S. personal income tax system,” he said. 

However, Bender didn’t become a tax expert overnight. Through coursework, IRS preparation materials and guidance from Lewis, he gradually became comfortable reading and working with basic provisions of the U.S. tax code.   

“The environment Professor Lewis and the volunteers create is one where curiosity is appreciated and discussion is encouraged,” Bender said. “It’s very conducive to learning for both the students and the people getting their tax returns prepared.”  

Through VITA, taxpayers can discover credits they may not have known about otherwise, Bender explained. Clients also save money by not using a paid tax service.  

“It can really make a difference to a lot of people,” he said.  

Ms. Dixon, a VITA client who has been using the service for more than 10 years, explained how helpful and convenient the program has been for her. Because her tax return is more complicated than many others, she spends several hours each year with the Ohio State VITA team. 

Additionally, after undergoing multiple surgeries, it’s difficult for Dixon to walk. Not only is VITA free, but it’s also near her home.  

“If it wasn’t for the service, I would be paying a whole lot of money and would probably be very frustrated,” she said.  

The 2020 VITA program was affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, but volunteers completed about half of the filing season before closing their sites.  

Bender, however, saw a silver lining in the disruption. 

“Especially in light of the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus, tax returns are a welcome bump in cash for many people,” he said.