MILLIGAN COLLEGE — The deadline to file income tax returns is a little more than a month away.
But as one begins to get all of the necessary paperwork together, filing a tax return isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
For the fourth year in a row, Milligan College is offering free income tax preparation through April 16 — one day before the April 17 deadline.
The preparations are performed by IRS-certified volunteers mostly comprised of Milligan students who have gone through a three-week certification process.
“It teaches them practical uses of their skills that they have been trained on, from bookkeeping to management to actual tax (work). They’re also discovering that outreach can be done using a skill they have that’s in high demand,” said Dr. Harold Branstrator, assistant professor of business administration at Milligan.
Branstrator, who iniated the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program at Milligan, supervises the students as they work with the public to prepare tax returns. VITA is an IRS-sponsored and recommended program that uses highly-trained volunteers to offer free preparation and filing for those who earn an annual income of $50,000 or less, have a physical disability, are a non-English speaking citizen or a citizen over the age of 55.
VITA preparers can inform taxpayers about special tax credits for which they may qualify such as earned income tax credit, child tax credit and credit for the elderly or the disabled.
Taxpayers are asked to bring W-2s, income statements and, if available, last year’s return if available to their appointment.
Returns are electronically-filed and directly deposited, usually in fewer than 10 days and sometimes in less than a week.
The VITA program at Milligan has grown significantly in its four years at the school. During the first year, Branstrator did 35 returns. The second year saw 100 returns completed using two volunteers. Year three saw the number of returns increase to 300 with the help of three volunteers.
This year, 28 volunteers are working with the program, and Branstrator’s goal is to complete 500 returns.
Student volunteers receive course credit for their work as well learn skills that are necessary whether or not they pursue a career in the business world.
For most of the students in the program, it’s also a way for them to give back to the community.
“It’s really cool just to be able to go out into the community and we show up to these places and people just come at no cost to anybody,” said senior Chris Fry.
Tracey Woods, a senior majoring in business, said she wanted to get credit while also being able to do mission-type work from the comfort of school.
“It’s something that I’m actually trained to do instead of going somewhere like Africa. This is something that was more practical for me to do,” she said.
Training to prepare tax returns is the kind of skill that could very well benefit these students later in life, according to Branstrator.
“They actually have to train themselves to do something that’s completely foreign to them and be competent at it in order to pass government exams. They’re also understanding these services can easily be switched around to work for someone else and make a sizable chunk of money,” he said.
With Milligan’s emphasis on servant leadership, Bob Mahan, professor of accounting and area chair of the business department, said the school’s participation in the VITA program is the perfect example of the kind of leadership students are trained for.
“We like to push and promote servant leadership and I think this fits in very well with the concept of servant leadership but also Christian education. This is a chance to put your education and, in this case, a professional skill into work to give back to the community,” he said.
This year’s sponsors include the Washington County Mayor’s Office, Washington County schools, Carter County schools, Eastern Eight Community Development, Catholic Charities and the Johnson City Housing Authority.
For more information on the free tax clincs, call 773-6438 or 461-8756.