In 1984, an accounting professor initiated the Volunteers in Income Tax Program (VITA) at University of the Incarnate Word (UIW). The VITA Program prepares tax returns for the low income and elderly of the community for no charge. The United Way of San Antonio and the Internal Revenue Service refers clients with complex tax returns to the UIW VITA site. The university specializes in individual returns, small business returns, amended returns, itemized deductions, and stock sales. As long as the client meets the income restrictions, the university does not refuse to prepare a tax return due to its complexity. Moreover, the university requires 45 hours of community service from our students. The VITA Program assists with that requirement.
A unique feature of UIW’s VITA Program is a mobile service to the retirement community. Our volunteers took computers and printers to our retirement home and prepared returns for those clients too ill to come onto the campus.
A review of the UIW Program revealed that it was responsible, on average, for 23% of the annual income of its tax clients. The UIW program is the longest continuously operating VITA site in the City of San Antonio and has been in operation for over 30 years.
UIW students from two taxation courses participated in service-learning activities for the VITA Program. Additionally, students from a neighboring university volunteer at our site. This year, 42 accounting students volunteered in processing 306 tax returns logging over 2,000 student volunteer hours. The IRS reported no rejections for UIW from e-filing this tax season. The total refund amount for the clients was $412,630 with an average client income of $21,000. The students worked with eleven faculty and community volunteers such as CPAs, tax attorneys, enrolled agents, IRS agents, and former students. Preparation of income tax returns is a stressful process for clients and novice preparers. Our community volunteers act as role models guiding the students though the client intake and interview process. In addition to learning interpersonal skills such as interviewing clients, UIW students gain tax knowledge, computer software expertise, and research proficiency. Our faculty and community volunteers logged approximately 500 hours this tax season.
Our new site on campus provides handicapped access and parking. UIW provides a large, secure classroom, which includes a closet that houses printers, laptop computers and filing cabinets for the tax returns. Clients appreciate that, during tax season, the site does not close for holidays, Spring Break, or inclement weather.