Allison Bone

(Photo by Russell Bailey)

February 22, 2021

SIU accounting students offering free tax preparation services

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Free income tax preparation services will soon be available for many people, thanks to a group of specially trained Southern Illinois University Carbondale students.

Beta Alpha Psi, a College of Business and Analytics honors accounting student organization, is sponsoring the popular, free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in 2021 for low- and moderate-income community members.

“Being a participant in VITA allows students to gain beneficial knowledge and hands-on experience as well as offering valuable tax assistance to the community,” said Allison Bone, a master of accountancy student from Lincoln, Illinois, who is serving as the 2021 VITA program coordinator.

“VITA is often the first experience students have preparing tax returns outside of classroom projects, and preparing and reviewing the returns allows us to enhance the knowledge we take into our future careers. The community members are great to work with as they understand we are still learning, and they are very appreciative of getting their taxes done for free. Combining the exposure of practical experience and being engaged with the community allows for a significant experience students can build on, one that can serve us well into the future.”

Salukis have been providing this valuable community service for more than 25 years, helping as many as 200 or more people annually.

Begins March 6

Free tax preparation assistance will be offered from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday from March 6 through April 3 in the computer lab on the lower level of Rehn Hall, 1025 Lincoln Drive.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, state and campus safety precautions will be adhered to. Protocols include a limit of 50 people in the tax clinic at any given time and the requirement that all present wear masks.

“We are happy we get to provide this valuable service again and want to make sure we keep the students and the community safe,” said Benna Williams, a School of Accountancy lecturer and former tax practitioner who serves as the Beta Alpha Psi adviser.

Williams said providing the service is a great way for the SIU students to give back to the community while gaining valuable practical experience.

Students are well-trained for work

Bone participated in advanced training in preparation for her leadership role. She will head a team of about two dozen accounting students who will donate their time and energy to prepare tax returns for community members and students who meet the qualifications. Each of the tax preparers is an IRS-certified volunteer who has completed mandatory ethics and basic tax examination courses.

Bone will review returns and assist with questions as will Williams and other SIU faculty members.

Who qualifies

The services are available to any U.S. citizen whether single or married, as long as their income does not exceed $57,000 and they take the standard federal deduction.

The students will prepare tax returns that involve:

  • Wages/salaries.
  • Interest income.
  • Dividends received.
  • State tax refunds.
  • Unemployment benefits.
  • IRA distributions.
  • Pension income.
  • Social Security benefits.
  • Simple capital gains or losses.
  • Self-employment income.
  • Gambling winnings.
  • Education credits.
  • Earned income credit.
  • Child tax credit.
  • Limited itemized deductions.

Unfortunately, they will be unable to prepare tax returns for people who are not U.S. citizens or tax returns that involve:

  • Schedule C with losses.
  • Complicated capital gains and losses (Schedule D).
  • Nondeductible IRA (Form 8606).
  • Minor’s investment income (Form 8615).
  • Determination of worker status for purposes of federal employment taxes and income tax withholding (Form SS-8).
  • Premium tax credits (Parts 4 and 5 of Form 8962).
  • Foreign returns.

What to bring

In order to take advantage of the free tax preparation, people should bring all of the necessary documentation. That includes legal identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, and Social Security cards and birth dates (for spouse and dependents, if applicable, too).

In addition, bring tax documents including: all official wage, earning, interest and dividend statements and copies of last year’s state and federal tax returns, if available. Those claiming a child care credit will also need to bring the day care provider’s tax identification number (either Social Security number or business employer identification number) and amount paid for child care. Bring a blank check or other proof of bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit if you anticipate receiving a tax refund.

Fast work and filing included

VITA services are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. However, people may be asked to return later or the following week if necessary to ensure public safety or to allow sufficient time for the tax preparation.

Note that when married couples are filing a joint return, both must be present to sign the required forms. Most returns are completed in about an hour or less. Free e-filing is included with the tax preparation.

For more information, email or call 618-453-1407.