Students offer free tax preparation services


FREE FILING AND SMILING- Construction major Tyler Moreno, 23, files his taxes at one of the free tax preparation workshops on campus. Photo by Natalie Mosqueda

As if attending college is not taxing enough, the feds and the state are taxing students, too.

Some relief has arrived.

Southwestern College students can receive free tax preparation services on campus through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) in partnership with South Bay Community Services. Students and community members of the public with an income of $54,000 or less in 2016 can use VITA until April 17.

Maria E. Martinez-Sanabria, professor of accounting and office information systems,

said the service is open to the community.

“You cannot discriminate,” she said. “It’s available to lower income, the elderly and those who speak different languages.”

Session dates and times are posted on SWC’s website and those interested need to call the 211 free community service number to make an appointment. Martinez-Sanabria said sessions are available on a first-come, first-served basis and generally run two to three hours.

Attendees are encouraged to bring all tax documents, including W2s, 1099s and profit and loss statements. Social Security numbers are also required. Spouses filing as a couple must attend together.

Martinez-Sanabria said she started the program because she saw a need for it at SWC.

“As a student, many decades ago, I was a VITA volunteer at my community college,” she said. “So three years ago I started thinking, why don’t we have that program?”

Student volunteers spend four days training face-to-face with tax preparers and 15 hours online to receive certification from the IRS, said Martinez-Sanabria. Volunteers must pass the certification course. SWC’s VITA program has certified 35 volunteers.

SWC accounting major Nylza Lujan, 26, a first-time volunteer, said participating in VITA was a good chance to help out the community.

“I was interested in taxes and how to prepare them for myself, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn how to do that,” she said.

Tyler Moreno, 23, construction major, said he choose VITA to fill in his tax return for financial reasons.

“I’m in college,” he said. “I’m broke all the time. I pay my own way through school.

It really helps you save $100, so any amount will help. I don’t really know anything about filling out a tax return, so people here guide you through this process.”

Martinez-Sanabria said tax preparation is a life skill and VITA makes learning it affordable.

“Southwestern students should take advantage of this program because it is important to learn about these skills in the future,” she said. “It also saves students money on purchasing software or paying someone else to do it for them.”



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