UWF students prepare tax returns for local taxpayers
Volunteers at the University of West Florida (UWF) have helped more than 120 taxpayers file federal tax returns for 2011 at no cost. Part of a partnership between the United Way and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program gives students valuable experience while helping low- to moderate-income taxpayers file their returns.
The program provides a 25-hour comprehensive IRS-approved training course that teaches students the basics of filing tax returns, as well as more complex lessons in tax credits and the ever-changing tax law. During their time preparing taxes, the students transfer that classroom knowledge to the real world.
Irina Ziminova, a senior at UWF double-majoring in finance and global economics, has been volunteering with the program since January. She found a sense of accomplishment, helping fellow students and low-income families file their taxes for free.
“Tax refunds make up a significant portion of income for a lot of people, and the volunteers of the VITA program understand that,” said Ziminova. “We make great efforts to apply all deductions and credits that taxpayers are eligible for and make sure that the returns are accurate.”
Ziminova also said it was interesting applying what she learned in the classroom to the real world, as it offered her a peek into what her future career may hold.
“When providing tax help, I was able to utilize my knowledge of stocks and bonds from my finance classes and the marginal tax rate allocation from my economics classes,” said Ziminova.
At UWF, Ziminova and her team have filed refunds totaling more than $110,000. Other members of the team are Charles Bone, the site leader; Sharon Robbins, a volunteer from Trinity Presbyterian Church; and Chris Bledsoe, a United Way volunteer.
Being IRS-certified and having real tax-filing experience as an undergraduate gives students an edge in the job market.
“The volunteers truly help individuals prepare their taxes,” said Tiffany Jurey, coordinator of Career Services at UWF. “The students become more applicable as candidates in the job market.”
The United Way program also has volunteers at Pensacola State College and Families Count in Pensacola, as well as three other locations in the community. This is the second year of the program at UWF.
For assistance with taxes, walk-in service is offered 5 to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the upstairs Commons of the main UWF campus. For more information on free tax assistance, dial 2-1-1 or visit www.united wayescambia.org.