Want your taxes done for free? Mitchell Tech might take care of it for you
Students figuring taxes for area residents free of charge
MITCHELL — Many people dread tax season, especially if they have to prepare the forms themselves.
Luckily, certain qualifying residents may be able to have their taxes done free of charge. Students and staff at Mitchell Technical College are currently booking appointments now through the end tax season for tax preparation as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program.
The program, now in its second year at Mitchell Tech, proved popular in its first go-around last year and continues to draw in clients.
“We’ve already done more this year than we did last year as a whole,” Annika Russell-Manke, an instructor at Mitchell Tech, told the Mitchell Republic.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, also known as VITA, offers free tax help to people who make under $60,000 as well as taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. The program was established over 50 years ago and is managed by the Internal Revenue Service, with sites operated nationwide by IRS partners and staffed by volunteers who want to make a difference in their communities and earn experience in the field.
The program at Mitchell Tech has five second-year accounting students who have taken and passed tax law training that meets or exceeds IRS standards. They take appointments for one-on-one sessions with clients and help them navigate their way through the often complicated world of tax forms and laws.
The group can complete roughly 20 returns an evening, with each student completing four returns. Students handle a basic tax filing that is rechecked by both fellow program students and instructors.
Russell-Manke said appointments have been streaming in and the group is already close to a full booking for next week, but there are plenty of openings coming up for March for those who may be interested in taking advantage of the program.
The program gives students a chance to gain real world experience in tax preparation and accounting, which in turn can lead to jobs working with books at businesses or as a springboard to becoming a certified public accountant. It also gives students a chance to work on their interpersonal skills by engaging with clients who may not have the most experience in filing taxes.
The program benefits the students who gain experience and skills, the clients who get their taxes prepared free of charge and the accounting industry, which often finds new professionals among the ranks of students working with the VITA program.
“Basic tax filing is what probably 80% of people file, and it gives (the students) some real-life experience, and they can take that on to work. And it allows them to work on their communications,” Russell-Manke said. “We had some good reports last year with students who had done this program and then went to work with a CPA firm. They were impressed with their knowledge, so we know it’s beneficial to the industry, too.”
Tax laws change frequently, and some clients may not be aware of some of the methods they can use to have a better chance at securing a refund. Some people have taken on jobs with outfits like DoorDash to earn some extra income, but they may not be aware that they can deduct their mileage on their taxes.
“That’s one of the things our kids look at,” Russell-Manke said.
An appreciation for numbers goes a long way in turning program participation into success. Eli Kortan, of Alexandria, is one of the students taking part in the program this year. He said he has always had an affinity for working with numbers, dating back to childhood.
“I like working with numbers, it’s just been in my life,” Kortan said. “My parents were math teachers, so math is ingrained in me.”
Like most subjects, accounting and tax preparation requires a good deal of study and understanding of ever-changing tax codes. Kortan said it is nice to be able to break out of that study routine and apply what he has learned in a practical way, in this case helping others with their legal obligation of filing taxes.
“I really enjoy not just working on textbooks and stuff and being able to apply it in real life,” Kortan said. “It feels tangible and real because we try to apply it in so many real life situations. And I enjoy talking to people and helping them out.”
And with strong interest from the public at large, it appears that clients like having the students help them out. Russell-Manke said the success of the program means they are likely to continue offering it for years to come, both for the benefit of the students and those who need a little help with their tax filing.
“This is something we plan to continue to do. It’s a great part of the kids’ curriculum. They take things they learn and put it into actual practice instead of just talking about it or using scenarios that don’t feel real,” Russell-Manke said. “And it’s great for the community.”
Appointments are available from 4 to 8 p.m. each Tuesday through tax season with the exception of March 14. Those making appointments should remember to bring pertinent tax and financial documents.
- Proof of identification (photo identification) or Social Security card for you, your spouse and dependents.
- Wage and earning statements (Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, 1099-Misc) from all employers
- An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number assignment letter may be substituted for you, your spouse and your dependents if you do not have a Social Security number.
- Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents.
- Interest and dividend statements from banks (Forms 1099).
- Health insurance Exemption Certificate, if received.
- Proof of bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit, such as a blank check.
- To file taxes electronically on a married-filing-joint tax return, both spouses must be present to sign required forms.
- Total paid for daycare provider and the daycare provider’s tax identifying number such as their Social Security number or business Employer Identification Number.
Appointments can be made by calling 605-995-7120 or by clicking here.