Fairfield University Dolan School of Business students to volunteer at free tax return preparation offices throughout Greater Bridgeport

Fairfield University Dolan School of Business students to volunteer at free tax return preparation offices throughout Greater Bridgeport

Image: DSB Individuals and families with low to moderate incomes may be eligible to have their tax returns prepared for free as part of a program being staffed by students and faculty from Fairfield University's Charles F. Dolan School of Business.

Taxpayers with annual household incomes of up to $60,000 can take part in the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a collaboration with the Connecticut Association for Human Services, the United Way, and local community coalitions.

There are VITA offices in the Greater Bridgeport area, Stamford, Norwalk, and additional locations in Connecticut. (For locations, hours and contact information, please visit their website ). The phone number people can call to learn about VITA sites is 211.

Dolan School of Business students volunteering at VITA sites are mostly accounting majors enrolled in the elective course, 'Individual Taxation: Socioeconomic Applications,' which includes a service-learning component. “The Accounting Department is offering this service learning course dedicated to the VITA service, and students taking the course volunteer at VITA sites in the area,” said Ahmed M. Ebrahim, CPA, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting.

They will be busy. Last year, a Dolan School group assisted a VITA office at the BICC Al–Manar Center, 525 Clinton Avenue, in Bridgeport, where more than 350 tax returns were prepared. The office helped to generate over $1,000,000 of federal and state refunds during the tax season of 2013. This year, five students and Dr. Ebrahim will volunteer at that site, Fridays and Saturdays, from 3 to 6 p.m., until mid-April.

While students gain I.R.S. tax prep experience to make them career ready, taxpayers save an average of $150 by visiting a VITA site and not having to pay a tax preparer. All volunteers in VITA sites have to complete both a technical and professional conduct certification process under the I.R.S. supervision. By providing a tax service that most lower-income families cannot afford, VITA volunteers are often able to provide families and individuals with information on federal and state income tax credits they might otherwise not claim, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). These are tax benefits that can help people make ends meet.  According to Connecticut Association for Human Services, the Earned Income Tax Credit is widely regarded as the single most effective poverty-reduction program for working families in the United States. (Roughly $52,000 is the income limit to qualify for the EITC, and $6,044 is the maximum EITC families can get this year.)

Seeing an opportunity to serve the community, accounting students will staff VITA offices between classes and on the weekends. Dolan School graduate Angela Gallagher, B.S. '9, M.S. '12, said VITA clients work very hard for not a lot of money. “To then have to pay someone to submit his or her taxes has to be a financial burden,” she said. “I think these individuals recognize that the VITA program is there to help them in a small but big way, so they know that their challenges are recognized and this must give them some little hope in a tough situation.”

VITA services offered include electronic filing (federal and state); direct deposit refunds; and retired and self-employed income tax return preparation. Volunteers also help advise clients on benefits screening, financial education and how to turn refunds into long-term financial security.

Posted On: 01-27-2014 11:01 AM

Volume: 46 Number: 161