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VITA students work with customers at Fredonia’s Technology Incubator.

He is back to face-to-face consulting for SUNY Fredonia accounting students who prepare federal and state tax returns for local residents through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Even with remote sessions held to comply with coronavirus pandemic restrictions a year ago, the program – traditionally made up of juniors and seniors majoring in accounting or public accounting – still generated impressive numbers in 2021. The students compiled 209 state and federal returns that resulted in state and federal refunds totaling more than $440,000 for local taxpayers.

In-person consultations are held at Fredonia Technology Incubator, 214 Central Ave., Dunkirk, Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The sessions are facilitated by 11 student interns, four site coordinators and seven volunteer tax preparers.

“During this time, our tax preparers will work directly with taxpayers to complete their tax returns in a face-to-face consultation, while site coordinators are on hand to answer any questions and verify compliance. accuracy of preparers’ work before submitting them to the IRS,” said Christopher Shepp, a senior public accountant and business administration: finance major from Buffalo.

Not only is the program, now in its 42nd year at Fredonia, generating tangible benefits – rebate checks – for taxpayers, but students also benefit from the approximately 80-120 hours of service each provides over the two months. where the service is offered.

“By working on real-world tax returns, students gain confidence in their understanding of the tax process and rules, which makes taxation a much less daunting topic. Working face-to-face with clients allows students to gain experience and understand what it is like to work with the public in professional services,” said Mr. Shepp, a site coordinator.

The confidence to engage in conversations about sensitive financial matters, as well as the confidence to answer common questions about federal and state tax codes, are also gained by students. Coordinators can also strengthen their soft skills in research, problem solving and professional services by solving the most difficult tax problems and less common documents that taxpayers bring to their counseling session.

The opportunity to gain leadership skills and confidence in a leadership role attracted Portia McCrimmon, a public accounting major from Jamestown, to the program as a site coordinator.

“The VITA program provides hands-on experience in the field of tax accounting,” added Ms. McCrimmon. “We work with real people and sensitive information rather than reading a manual. I like to see how the principles we learn in class correspond to the situations we encounter at VITA.

A penchant for tax work and earned internship credits first drew Zachariah Pawlicki to the VITA program, and it kept him on board for another two years.

“Given I want to get into custom tax stuff, I would say it’s been a great experience for me to review, prepare and approve tax returns. Working with taxes is a great way to understand what’s really going on ‘under the hood of the tax machine,’” said Mr. Pawlicki, a Rochester Business Administration junior and another site coordinator.

Learning to distinguish between expenses that qualify as deductions and those that don’t is another skill Pawlicki learned.

Pawlicki’s career aspirations include running his own tax firm serving artists and learning tax codes in other countries to expand the reach of his business.

Joshua Paris, who sometimes doubles as a site coordinator and an intern preparing tax returns, expects the experience to serve him well in his career. “I’m gaining direct experience working with clients and preparing their tax returns, which is directly relevant to my future career as I plan to become a CPA and work at a company doing exactly that job,” said Mr. Paris, Senior Public Accounting and Business Administration: major in finance, with a minor in economics, from Buffalo.

“I’m gaining direct experience working with clients and preparing their tax returns, which is directly relevant to my future career as I plan to become a CPA and work at a company doing exactly that job.” – senior Josué Paris

Paris, who joined the program to gain real-world tax preparation experience and also help taxpayers unable to hire someone to prepare their taxes, plans to join a CPA firm and work on her own. CPA certificate.

Students report having great experiences with VITA, Shepp noted, and many return in subsequent years because they enjoyed the experience so much. They left these courses with much more confidence in their knowledge and abilities, he added.

Likewise, most customers were extremely grateful to receive help. Even though the Fredonia VITA site isn’t the only game in town, many keep coming back year after year, Shepp reports.

“There are several different VITA locations in the area, many with more experienced volunteers and retired accountants who prepare taxes, but our schedule fills up quickly each year,” according to Shepp. “Our customers are eager to work with us; some even commented that although they don’t have to file taxes at all because of their status, they come to our site every year because they enjoy talking with the students,” he said. he declares.

This friendly and positive atmosphere that students provide each year has allowed the Fredonia site to thrive and attract many satisfied ratepayers.

“It’s been a very positive experience on both sides of the table.” Shepp said.

Students also benefit from the development of community bonds. “By enabling students to use the skills they have learned in a positive way, the VITA program helps students start a model of professional community service that will help them succeed in their careers,” Shepp said.

In-person appointments require proof of vaccination status and can be made by calling 211 and requesting an appointment with VITA. Services are still available for those who are not comfortable disclosing their vaccination status remotely. 211 operators will tell these customers who to contact to schedule a document drop-off time. Appointments are required to receive tax services. Walk-ins are not available this year.

VITA service through SUNY Fredonia will be offered through April 9.