UWF students assist with tax preparation for families in Pensacola
University of West Florida College of Business students are providing tax preparation services free of charge to low- to moderate-income individuals and families at two Pensacola locations through SaveFirst, an initiative of Impact America. This marks the second year that Impact America will offer its services in the state of Florida, and the first year in Pensacola.
Individuals and families who earned $64,000 or less in 2016 can visit the student-run tax clinics at C.A. Weis Elementary School or Pensacola State College for a one-hour appointment. More than 30 junior and senior accounting students taught by Dr. Barbara White, assistant professor in the UWF Department of Accounting and Finance, are serving as tax preparers, helping to complete clients’ tax returns and ensuring eligible filers receive the earned income tax credit. To participate, UWF student volunteers completed SaveFirst training that includes IRS certification to prepare tax returns.
“Often families are not aware of all of their options for tax filing, and many with low- to moderate-income levels see predatory preparers who have no license or certification,” said Kim Harris, Florida state director for Impact America. “At our Pensacola sites, UWF students are trained and certified to prepare tax returns, and they are giving their time and talent to ensure help is provided to individuals and families who need it.”
Harris said the average cost of tax preparation services from commercial providers is $400.
“Through SaveFirst, the students are offering services that are both reliable and cost efficient, ensuring that those who need it most are able to keep the full amount of any refund they are due to receive,” she said.
White, who previously taught college students participating in a SaveFirst program in Alabama, where Impact America originated, said she is excited to help bring the program to Northwest Florida and give UWF students the opportunity to participate.
“Participating in SaveFirst enables students to sharpen their skills and feel good about the way they are helping their fellow man,” she said. “Often it inspires them to continue to be involved in service to their communities once they leave the walls of their university. Accounting firms and other employers also value the students’ having real life experience with clients, in a professional setting. It’s a win-win situation.”
Lauren Davis, a senior accounting major who already earned a bachelor’s degree in finance, is a student volunteer who has completed the IRS advanced-level certification.
“I am extremely grateful to be able to provide excellent quality assistance to families in our community, some of whom may be relying on their tax refund as the biggest paycheck they’ll receive all year,” she said. “They deserve their entire refund, rather than having a large percentage of it taken to pay predatory pop-up tax preparers, whom we learned in class have an 89 percent error rate for their prepared tax returns.”
Thanks to the service learning component, White’s class has been designated a Carnegie Service Learning Class, which qualifies for grant funding. Because the course helps students learn to communicate in a professional manner, both orally and in writing, it also meets criteria for funding through the UWF Quality Enhancement Plan, which serves to improve student learning and the learning environment. The plan is evaluated on a five-year basis and is considered part of the accreditation process.
SaveFirst locations in Pensacola are open Jan. 24 through March 4, 2017, according to the following schedule:
C.A. Weis Elementary School, 2701 N. Q St., Pensacola, FL, 32505
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Pensacola State College, 1000 College Blvd., Bldg. 98, Pensacola, FL 32504
Wednesdays, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Fridays, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Both locations are official Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or VITA sites supported by the United Way of Escambia County.
“Partnerships are at the core of what we do with SaveFirst, and we are appreciative of the United Way welcoming us to Pensacola and helping us to increase capacity at these sites,” Harris said.
Appointments are scheduled on an hourly basis and include a quality review. To schedule an appointment, call 1.844.4.TAX.FLA (1.844.482.9352). Tax filers should bring the following documents to their appointment:
1. Social security cards for each member of the household, including children
2. All W-2s
3. All 1098 and 1099 Forms, if received
4. Photo identification
5. Tax return from last year (preferred but not mandatory)
6. Bank account number and routing number, if electronically deposited refunds are preferred
7. A list of who in the household had health insurance and for what months of 2016, as well as any insurance-related tax forms that may have been received
8. Any other documents listing sources of income for the year
9. Anything else received from the IRS