College students to offer tax assistance

For the eighth consecutive year, Monmouth College is offering computerized tax preparation and e-filing at no cost to the taxpayer. This service is provided in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program under its Stakeholder Partnership, Education and Communication (SPEC) Division.

New this year is the addition of a third site, the Galesburg Public Library.

"We have always had Galesburg taxpayers driving over to Monmouth to use our service," said accounting professor Judy Peterson, coordinator of the college's program. "Now we're coming to them!"

VITA has a two-fold purpose: service and education for the community, and citizenship and education for the students. The service is aimed at low- to middle-income taxpayers (generally with income less than $40,000) who cannot afford professional assistance and need assistance in the preparation of their returns. All ages of taxpayers are served, from students through retirees. Everyone who comes to the site is strongly encouraged to e-file. Taxpayers can expect quicker response to their filings, and the IRS can reduce its processing costs.

The 19 students enrolled in the program will be completing IRS certification requirements in January after attending workshops to study new tax laws and to orient them to the commercial software and internal control processes used. Upper-level accounting students Erin Luder of Burlington, Iowa, and Kelly Compton of Oneida accompanied Peterson for training at the Internal Revenue Service in Springfield in December and will be assisting her in the coordination of the program.

"This time of the year is very exciting for the students," said Peterson. "They are able to apply the knowledge they have learned in class and take it to a new level. They learn so much from the taxpayers. And they just love associating with the taxpayers - everyone is so friendly."

Last year the VITA program prepared or assisted with 333 federal and 328 state returns. This represented a 24 percent increase over the previous year. E-filed returns increased by 49 percent over 2005. Since the computerized service began in 2000, the program has experienced an increase of more than 250 percent for returns prepared/assisted and an increase of nearly 600 percent for e-filed returns. On a scale of 1 to 5, taxpayers rated their overall satisfaction as 4.93, and 100 percent

of the taxpayers said they would use VITA's services again and also recommend a friend.

"We are certainly pleased with the success of this program and the value to both the students and the surrounding communities," said Peterson.

Tax preparation is on a first-come, first-served basis. There are three locations:

* Monmouth College (Room 308 of McMichael Academic - one building east of the college's main building, Wallace Hall). VITA will be available Feb. 1, 5, 7 and 8 from 4 to 7 p.m. After that, the Thursday session will be dropped, and VITA will be available each Monday and Wednesday evening.

* Warren County Public Library (60 Public Square, Monmouth).

Beginning Feb. 3, sessions will be held each Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m.

* Galesburg Public Library (40 E. Simmons St.). Beginning Feb. 3, sessions will be held each Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.

"If you have a disability that prevents you from climbing stairs, please visit the library locations, which are wheelchair accessible," advised Peterson.

VITA will not be in session during the college's spring and Easter breaks: March 10, 12, 14, and 17 and April 7 and 9. The final day of service will be April 16 on the college campus.

Peterson said that individuals should bring the following to a VITA session:

* Social Security cards for each person listed on the return (includes taxpayer, spouse and all dependents). THIS IS REQUIRED! The only alternative would be a letter from the Social Security Administration indicating the number; or if you e-filed with VITA last year, your last year's return containing form 8453 (signature document) and no problems with the Social Security numbers.

* All documentation of income such as W-2 and 1099 forms.

* Last year's returns. This is necessary if the taxpayer itemized last year and now has a state refund to be added back to income.

* Voided check (no deposit slips) if the taxpayer wishes direct deposit of the refund. If the direct deposit is to a savings account, a document that indicates the number. This is also a must. The account must be in the taxpayer's name.

* All information related to deductions such as medical, real estate taxes, mortgage interest, and charitable expenditures if the taxpayer wishes to itemize.

* Social Security number or tax identification number of all daycare providers if the dependent care credit is desired.

* Tax-free child care benefits provided through an employer.

* Divorced couples: If the non-custodial parent is taking the dependent exemption, VITA needs Form 8332 signed by the custodial parent or a copy of the applicable page of the divorce agreement (these must be filed with the return, whether e-filed or not).

* Information on contributions to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).

* For stock transactions, VITA needs the purchase date and cost basis as well as the sale date and sale price (note that VITA will not prepare a complex Schedule D).

Other items taxpayers need to know or be aware of when they come to the VITA site include: both spouses must be present if they are going to e-file a joint return; are you being claimed as a dependent on someone else's return?; who is claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for a child if parents are not filing jointly?

VITA will not be able to assist taxpayers with the following: small business - Schedules C and F (however, we can do a Schedule C-EZ for non-employee income); rental property (Schedule E); a complex Schedule D (capital gains/losses); a form 8606 (nondeductible IRAs); a form 8615 (minor's investment income); military and international (nonresident) returns; and multiple states.

For questions regarding this service, contact Peterson at 309-457-2365 or visit the VITA Web site at: http://department.monm.edu/accounting/vita.htm.

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