University Students Prepare Taxes for Free

MGN Online

RENO, Nev. - As of Friday, the IRS officially began accepting tax returns. But for many in our community, paying someone to prepare their taxes is a cost they just can't afford.

But at the Community Services Agency or CSA on E. 8th Street in Reno, a group of volunteers and University of Nevada, Reno students spend three days out of the week preparing free tax returns for low to middle income families.

Inside the building, Denna Amie, waits as her taxes are reviewed. Sitting next to her is her pre-teen son. Amie says as a single mother on a limited budget, she is constantly looking for ways to save money.

Which is why for the past few tax seasons, she has been coming to the CSA to have her taxes prepared for free through the IRS' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, or VITA.

"They do a really good job," she said. "I have gone to other places and paid for it and I didn't get the service or the efficiency that these guys have done."

Reviewing her 2013 taxes is Colby Cross, a senior UNR who is studying Accounting. He is just one of 100 students who volunteered their time this tax season to partake in the program. Last year, Cross prepared the taxes. This year he is working in quality review.

"In class you learn the theory behind taxes and how all of it works," Cross said. "Here you actually get to apply that and learn how to do the return."

To volunteer, the students must pass two exams conducted by the IRS and be certified to prepare taxes. But once they pass the exams, the students can start earning college credit.

"They actually put in more time volunteering than I think someone them would do studying for a test," Richard Mason, an Associate Professor of Accounting at Nevada said. Mason has been supervising the program for the past six years.

"[The students] are able to do half their course work through working here."

Volunteering for the VITA program also makes the students more attractive to employers.

"They like to see that I have real experience," Cross said. "They like to see that I've done taxes because that's a part of what I will be doing."

The students are constantly supervised and each return is checked three times before being filed.

The volunteers prepare taxes for people who make less than $55,000 per year. They are available Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. Clients can visit the office on a walk-in basis, but are encouraged to call (775) 786-6023 for appointments.