Tax assistance program offered through United Way partnership

Story by Katlyn Mackie, Contributing writer

United Way is involved again with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program after taking several years hiatus.

VITA is a program sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service that has been providing tax assistance to Murray State students and employees, moderate income taxpayers and senior citizens in Murray-Calloway County since 1976.

United Way’s purpose in the program is to assist with reaching out to the community through media to advertise the program, as well as provide access to volunteers for the elderly.

“United Way’s major focus is education, health and wellness and financial literacy,”  said Gerald Washington, director of United Way. “The VITA program feeds very well into one of the focus areas, which is financial literacy.”

The VITA program is run by student volunteers and supervised by Denise O’Shaughnessy, assistant professor of accounting.

The volunteers, which are from Beta Alpha Psi — the accounting honor society — and students in accounting courses, have to complete two training courses and become certified in standards of conduct prior to participating.

Then the volunteers have the choice to take the intake and quality review course, as well as the tax courses after passing the intake review course. Certifications for tax courses are basic, advanced or non-residence.

The volunteers that serve as greeters explain the process, help taxpayers complete the required documentation and introduce the taxpayer to an interviewer who evaluates the client’s documentation and carries out an intake questionnaire.   

Two student volunteers then prepare the return form based on their level of certification, and a reviewer approves the return prior to meeting with the client.

While the volunteers are preparing the taxpayer’s return forms, O’Shaughnessy said financial experts from local banks within the community educate taxpayers on subjects such as their credit score and budgeting.

“The best thing about all of this is the students get exposure to working with actual clients,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It’s really great experience for the students.”

Madison Embry, graduate student from Morgantown, Kentucky, and site coordinator for VITA, said she got involved with the program because she saw how great the program was and how it was an asset to the Murray community.

“It is not necessarily just student involvement for an organization on campus; we are actually helping the community and doing the service to provide the tax returns for people,” Embry said. “It’s not just students or foreign students, it’s also people throughout the community, so being able to give back to Murray when they’ve given so much to me is wonderful.”

The first session was Feb. 17 and 31 returns were completed. A total of 100 returns were completed last year, and O’Shaughnessy said she hopes to exceed that number this year.  

“We try to help people have a better literacy in financial matters, whether it be understanding a budget, how to control debt, how do you plan for the future with funds or how to read a credit report, all those things that are responsible for financial literacy issues,” Washington said.

Those wishing to receive the services VITA provides need to bring a photo ID and social security card; 2016 W-2s, 1099s and other tax records; and copies of completed 2015 tax returns, if available.

The sessions in business building Room 353 at Murray State are at the following times:

  • Noon – 4 p.m. on March 3
  • Noon – 4 p.m. on March 10
  • Noon – 6 p.m. on April 7

Additional sessions for the elderly take place at the Weaks Community Building at the following times:

  • Noon – 4 p.m. on March 31
  • 9 a.m. – Noon on April 1