VITA tax program aims to service community


Jocelyn Macedo

Award ceremony for all volunteers on April 15, 2023. Photo credit: Grace Wong.

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All Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteers received their 2022-2023 awards. The VITA program has four weeks of training and 11 weeks on-site presenting their tax knowledge.

Volunteers helped the community to fill out their tax returns until April 15, 2023.

The VITA program is an important experience for many of Cal State LA’s accounting students. The program is run by Professor John Cooper, in partnership with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the California Franchise Tax Board.

Cal State LA accounting students have developed exceptional accounting knowledge from their classes. Every year the VITA program recruits all primary business students to take advantage of this program. Cooper and Professor Patrick Borja have an accounting background and specialize in taxation.

Cooper said he enjoys working with student volunteers and that it is an excellent opportunity for students to learn about their future careers as professional accountants.

Two volunteers, Saul Alarcon and Tanya Cun, spoke about their experience at the recent award ceremony. They’re thrilled to join the program to learn about the tax rules and regulations and to work with people too. Both of them are accounting students, so they said it is beneficial for them to get familiar with the IRS tax forms and calculate taxes.

According to Borja, the VITA program started in 1983 and was a manual to process and fill out tax returns for taxpayers. Now, students use the computer with the IRS tax program, and it is much easier to find the tax resource and verify tax information.

“This is a great opportunity for them to get a glimpse of what being a professional is,” Cooper said.

VITA also benefits the community. Every resident must report their income by filing an income tax return. The program assists low-income and minority residents who cannot afford to spend money to pay someone to prepare and file their tax returns. VITA provides this for free.

The VITA training courses included three significant categories: greeter, tax preparation, and quality review. The setting is like an accounting firm, where a small business does the tax preparation for clients from the front desk reception to the manager.

The front-line greeter welcomes the clients, ensures the taxpayers bring the required documents, and explains the process and what to expect. The second part of the training is that tax preparers will interview the taxpayer while filing the tax return, ask questions, and work on IRS software. The third part is the quality reviewer, who reviews tax returns for accuracy, advises the taxpayers that they are responsible for the information on the tax return, and explains the refund and credit amounts.

Interpreter aid taxpayers by working alongside the taxpayers and tax preparers — VITA has volunteers that speak at least five different languages.

Cooper shared that his teaching method for guiding students’ with success is all about preparation. Understanding the student’s needs and knowledge level will bring the students to success.

Tax law changes yearly and some taxpayers need help understanding the tax rules. VITA volunteers learn to be patient in explaining to the client the difference between the prior year and current year, and to compare their income and deductions so they will understand it.

This year, the VITA program operated from five locations to serve our community, and 72 volunteers are involved. In addition to the Cal State LA campus site, the other locations were Arroyo Seco Library, El Sereno Library, Lincoln Heights Library, and Young & Healthy. The free tax preparation program started at the end of January and ran through April 15. The VITA program is expected to complete over 1,500 tax returns this season.

VITA volunteer recruitment starts in the fall semester. Training begins in December and runs through all of January, each year. The VITA volunteers must pass the volunteer assistor’s test exams before the tax season begins.

For anyone interested in the program, contact Cooper at [email protected] for next year’s VITA program.