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Tobin volunteers prepare for a taxing spring

Monday, February 5, 2018

For the eighth consecutive year, Peter J. Tobin College of Business accounting students will participate in the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers free tax assistance to low-income, disabled and limited English-speaking taxpayers.

This year, 61 students – the most since Tobin began offering free tax services more than a decade ago -- -- will do their work in the new Tobin College building for the first time.

The student volunteers who passed the IRS’s “Link & Learn Taxes” certification test underwent a training program on Jan. 21 to prepare for the season, which could bring as many as 2,000 requests for tax assistance, both in person and online. The successful students are expected to volunteer their services for at least four hours per week from the end of January through April 15. They can process returns in person, or in the Virtual VITA Lab in Tobin Room 126.

“Preparing tax returns adds significant experiential service learning for our students and preparing tax returns for clients who cannot afford professional services is consistent with St. John’s University’s Vincentian mission of service to the poor,” said Nina T. Dorata, C.P.A., M.B.A., Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Accounting. “The Tobin Department of Accountancy is proud to partner with the Food Bank For New York City once again to lend these services to community members who need it most, including St. John’s veteran students.”

To qualify, potential clients of the service must provide items such as proof of identification, wage and earning statements, and banking information. (A full list of necessary documentation is available at (https://www.irs.gov/individuals/checklist-for-free-tax-return-preparation). VITA clients typically do not earn more than $54,000 per year to qualify for VITA services, according to IRS requirements. Most VITA clients rely on the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit to fund ordinary living expenses.

Free tax assistance at this time of year has a long history at Tobin. It started in 2007 with three students preparing tax returns for a career outreach program in Richmond Hill, Queens, as an Academic Service Learning project. The following year, three other students prepared tax returns at St. John’s Bread & Life ministry in Brooklyn. So many students expressed interest after that season that the College decided to become part of VITA in 2009, when it partnered with the Food Bank For New York City.

Participation has grown each year, as have the rewards to the clients. In the last tax year, 2016-17, 60 students prepared 1,854 federal and state income tax returns, generating nearly $2,364,983 in income tax refunds for an average refund of $1,275.61.

Another 428 returns yielded $738,777, or an average of $1,726.11, in Earned Income Tax Credits. Through the 2016-2017 tax season, St. John’s student volunteers prepared income tax returns for over 10,000 clients yielding $15 million in income tax refunds. Through four years of operations, the St. John’s Virtual VITA site, together with Food Bank For New York City, serviced nearly 13,000 clients who obtained approximately $15 million in income tax refunds.