A man and woman are seated in front of a computer. She is holding a sign that reads April 15.

Dillon Banach, a senior accounting major from Scheller, Illinois, and Ananna Ghosh, a Master of Accounting student from Dhaka, Bangladesh, are the 2023 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program coordinators. They are leading a team of about two dozen student volunteers offering free income tax preparation services for low- and moderate-income community members. (Photo by Russell Bailey)

February 02, 2024

SIU accounting students to provide free income tax prep services

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinoisans can soon receive free income tax preparation services at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, courtesy of a group of specially trained 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 for low- and moderate-income community members again.

Dillon Banach, a senior accounting major from Scheller, Illinois, and Ananna Ghosh, a Master of Accounting student from Dhaka, Bangladesh, are the 2023 VITA program coordinators.

“VITA is more than a program,” Ghosh said. “It’s a community service cornerstone, a practice classroom, a career steppingstone and an all-in-one transformative experience.

“As our students volunteer their time and skills to assist the community with tax preparation, they are granted the opportunity to expand their tax preparation and interpersonal skills,” Banach added. “It’s one thing to perform tax simulations in class, but another to face real-world challenges that come with actual tax preparation. VITA allows SIU students to connect with the community while providing a vital service.”

The program begins March 2 and will be offered again on these Saturdays: March 9, March 30 and April 6. Students will offer the free tax preparation services from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the computer lab on the lower level of Rehn Hall, 1025 Lincoln Drive.

In addition, there will be a special session from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 17 specifically to provide tax preparation for SIU students.

Student volunteers prepare extensively

SIU student volunteers have offered the free tax preparation for about a quarter of a century, and they train extensively, according to Benna Williams, the School of Accountancy program coordinator, associate lecturer, CPA and former tax practitioner who serves as the Beta Alpha Psi adviser.

Ghosh and Banach also participated in advanced training to prepare for their leadership roles in the VITA program. Their team comprises about two dozen accounting students. Each student tax preparer is an IRS-certified volunteer who has completed mandatory ethics and tax examination courses. All donate their time and energy to prepare tax returns at no cost for the community members and students who meet the qualifications.

The students save community members hundreds of dollars and/or many hours of labor and do such an outstanding job, that many people return year after year to gratefully take advantage of the program, Williams said.

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

Who qualifies?

The free tax preparation services are available to any U.S. citizen, whether single or married, as long as their income doesn’t exceed $64,000, and they take the standard federal deduction.

The SIU VITA volunteers 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.

The VITA students can file only domestic returns. However, SIU international students and employees may submit their information to getyourrefund.org/Franklin, another VITA site with international certifications, to get their returns completed for free, Williams noted.  

The services at SIU are also unavailable for people whose returns 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

To take advantage of the free tax preparation, community members should bring all of the necessary documents. That includes legal identification, such as a driver’s license, passport or state ID, along with Social Security cards and birth dates (for spouse and dependents as well, if applicable).

In addition, bring all necessary tax documents, including all official wage, earning, interest and dividend statements and copies of the previous year’s state and federal tax returns, if available. Those claiming child care credits will need to bring the day care provider’s tax identification number (either Social Security number or business employer identification number) and the amount paid for child care. Participants should also bring Letter 6419, which provides information about any Advance Child Tax Credit payments they may have received, if applicable.

Failure to provide all the necessary information could result in the VITA students being unable to complete and file the return on-site and/or the payment of any income tax refund being delayed or hindered, Williams said. In addition, bring a blank check or other proof of bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit if you anticipate receiving a refund.

E-filing is included.

Service is fast

The VITA services are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Those who arrive late in the morning or at exceptionally busy times may be asked to return later or the following week if necessary to allow sufficient time for their tax preparation.

Note that when married couples are filing a joint return, both must be present to sign the required forms.

For more information, email vita@business.siu.edu or call 618-453-2289.