Approximately 120 student volunteers will file hundreds of free returns for Pomona Valley residents at Cal Poly Pomona’s 2016 Tax Day.
The March 5 event serves families with an adjusted gross income of $54,000 or less.
The Cal Poly Pomona Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program has partnered with the Board of Equalization to provide complimentary electronic or traditional filing, as well as a financial fair with more than 20 agencies and companies offering discount and assistance to working families and the elderly.
“I tell my students teaching taxes is like teaching people to drive,” says Yan-Shu Zhao, a certified public accountant and professor of the two-unit VITA class. “Doing VITA actually puts them in the driver’s seat, and they get to practice the knowledge they learn in class.”
Student volunteers undergo training in the months leading up to Tax Day and are required to pass a four-part exam created by the IRS before being allowed to work with the public.
Zhao says each taxpayer is assigned two students with one preparing and the other reviewing. All work is performed under the direction of the accounting faculty or the Board of Equalization.
This is Zhao’s second year at the helm of the longstanding VITA program. She wants to focus on increasing efficiency and revamped pre-event logistics in an effort to do so.
“We’re expecting to do more than 150 returns so there’s obviously a need in the community,” says Jenny Ha, a junior accounting student and VITA volunteer. “Many of the individuals aren’t familiar with taxes so it feels nice to understand a complex activity and explain it to people.”
Ha is still debating on a career in tax or audit post-graduation and is using the opportunity to see if the preparation side of the profession should be her preferred track.
The VITA program began holding Saturday events at three Pomona locations in February and will continue through April 9. Ha says she is finding that working with individuals can be fulfilling.
“With tax, you basically get to help people save money,” she says. “The skills are transferrable with VITA because I’m actually preparing returns.”
VITA is sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service, California Franchise Tax Board, the Cal Poly Pomona accounting department and funded by a grant from the Inland Empire United Way.