By Sara Tuman
ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — St. Bonaventure University accounting students volunteered 2,000 hours of their time to help local taxpayers earn $700,000 in tax refunds this year.
A group of 50 volunteer tax preparers, most of them St. Bonaventure students, worked from Jan. 26 through April 3 to generate an impressive 450 tax returns for working families in Cattaraugus County.
The Bonaventure Accounting Association formed the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in 2004. Since then, VITA has helped low- and moderate-income workers earn more than $4.8 million in tax refunds, often through federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits. In the nine years since the St. Bonaventure VITA program began, tax preparers have contributed a cumulative total of 15,000 hours to prepare more than 3,100 tax returns.
After losing their previous Olean Center Mall site, where they had offered free income tax preparation and e-filing for the prior four years, the St. Bonaventure VITA team moved to a smaller office space provided by the United Way, one of VITA’s community partners. Dr. Susan Anders, professor of accounting and VITA adviser, hopes to have a larger workspace for next year in order to serve more clients per hour and produce more tax returns. Despite this small setback, however, Anders was happy with this year’s turnout.
“The student tax preparers did an outstanding job,” said Anders. “I was particularly impressed by the seniors who really took the first-year juniors under their supervision and made sure the juniors had a good experience. Many of the seniors hung in until the bitter end, even though they did not have to.”
Many colleges only dedicate a couple of weekends to VITA, Anders said, but St. Bonaventure spends 10 weeks, acting as a commercial tax preparation firm. VITA tax preparers must attend training and pass rigorous IRS exams, she said. All St. Bonaventure tax preparers were certified at the advanced level by the Internal Revenue Service in 2012. More than half of the tax preparers were also certified on additional specialized subjects.
The university joins forces each year with the United Way of Cattaraugus County and the Department of Social Services to make VITA a vital asset to the local economy. Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) at St. Bonaventure assist in the marketing of the tax-preparation program. The Department of Social Services provides resources to the students, and St. Bonaventure provides the manpower and accounting knowledge.
About the University: Inspired for more than 150 years by the Franciscan values of individual dignity, community inclusiveness, and service, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them.