UC Santa Barbara’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program resumed for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic, providing community members with free tax-filing services.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program holds its services on Fridays in the Psychology East building in room 1805 from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and Saturdays in Phelps Hall room 1513 from 12:30 – 3:30. The group is funded by the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which provides a free tax-filing certification program for VITA program volunteers across the country.
“When you’re filing taxes on TurboTax, you’re just inputting the numbers … When we’re filing their taxes, we want them to understand what we’re doing,” VITA President and third-year economics and accounting major Pawnit Kaur said. “You just want your first time filing taxes to be a knowledgeable experience. I feel we kind of help bridge that gap.”
According to Kaur and second-year economics and accounting major Eumin Lee, the VITA vice president of external affairs, the experience is meaningful both for potential clients and those running the clinic.
“It means a good experience for both the clients and the volunteers, both learning but also just helping each other,” Lee said. “It’s a good experience for our clients to get free taxes. Volunteers also get great in-person experience, [the volunteering] looks good on the resume — overall it’s just a good program.”
Clients are welcome to schedule an appointment on the VITA website or drop in, Kaur said, and should bring in a physical or photocopied version of their social security number, their W-2 income form and their 1098-T form — a tuition statement from UCSB. VITA will also survey clients to ensure that they have the proper forms.
“That’s the first process when [clients] come in: whether they want to schedule an appointment or drop in, we do an interview process to make sure they know all the forms that they may need before we prepare the return,” Kaur said.
Kaur and Lee also noted simple mistakes to avoid, especially in more complex financial situations.
“Be prepared. Look at all the information on the website; we can’t really prepare the returns if we don’t have all your forms and all the information,” Lee said.
If students are trading stocks on RobinHood or other online applications, they should send tax documents for the return-filing process, according to Lee.
“People forget what forms they need. If you’re trading stocks, most of the time, whatever institution you’re going through is going to have some sort of form that they give you … [clients] don’t realize what kind of forms they need to be gathering,” Kaur said.
“We can kind of uncover whether you need more documents because we’ve also noticed a lot of grad students forget their fellowship documents, or how much money they’re getting from grants,” she continued.
Kaur, who spearheaded VITA’s return this year, said that she participated in the program in high school and wanted to bring it back to UCSB.
“I really liked making a difference back when I did the program, [for] about three years throughout high school, so I knew bringing it back on campus would be really good for the community,” she said. “Being able to kind of train and lead people is a really interesting experience.”
So far, VITA has been open for two weeks and completed 25 successful tax returns, none of which have been sent back by the IRS. Lee said that the program promotes accessibility and comfort for students who might be filing taxes for the first time.
“Proximity, just being on campus is really good. Also, everyone there is mostly affiliated with UCSB — I mean, everyone, like volunteers, board members and most of the clients are from UCSB so it’s a more familiar experience, and a lot better of a start into taxes,” he said.
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Feb. 23, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.