WILMINGTON — Wilmington College students accomplished what seemed impossible this time last year by filing a whopping 205 tax returns — a 37 percent increase over the record number in 2018 — in the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA).
A combination of 18 greeters and IRS-certified, student tax preparers offered tax preparation assistance to persons of low and moderate income, as well as taxpayers with disabilities, limited English-speaking skills or other extenuating circumstances.
Their “Herculean efforts” eclipsed last year’s total of 150 returns, which itself was an impressive record number when compared to 2017’s 82 returns. The site opened in late January and ran through April 11. They worked with clients most Tuesday and Thursday evenings and select Saturday mornings.
What makes this year’s accomplishment so remarkable is nine of last year’s 12 student volunteers graduated, so the VITA site was going into this tax season with largely unproven talent.
“Our students really stepped up to the plate — I’m so proud of them,” said Allen Beatty, CPA, assistant professor of accounting and an IRS Enrolled Agent/site manager. The students filed 201 returns for tax year 2018 and four other returns for a delinquent taxpayer dating back to 2014.
“Our IRS representative said, ‘Your students rock!’” he added, noting the College’s VITA service saved taxpayers at least $35,000 in preparation fees.
He lauded his students for performing a valuable service for the community while gaining hands-on learning experience.
“I can’t express enough the gratitude I have for these students,” he said, noting the IRS awarded WC’s site another 100 percent rating, “Our students do it purely for learning and providing service to our community.”
Beatty also cited the leadership of student site coordinator Shelbi Long and Kaitlyn Martin, the latter of whom is a certified reviewer.
He said adding several students whose task as greeters streamlined the process so the student preparers were able to focus solely on clients’ tax returns. Indeed, they helped make filing 205 returns possible without adding additional hours of operation. Beatty said the VITA site has become a signature, experiential education component at WC, which constitutes an especially impressive bullet point on resumes.
“This is an exemplary hands-on learning opportunity that many students will take advantage of, so I’m confident others will follow in their footsteps,” he said, noting the students’ experience far exceeds simply the numbers placed on tax returns.
“They have learned so much — not just in preparation, but in many other ways,” he said. “Our students also have learned to be compassionate with persons with various disabilities, those returning to society after incarceration, taxpayers who are anxious about obtaining refunds and those who are distraught upon learning they owe.”