Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Students and community members brave tax season

The new year marks not only the start of a new semester but also the start of tax season, and a group of Augustana students are helping residents of the Quad Cities file their taxes. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) benefits both students and residents as students learn about real-world situations and residents receive free tax help.

United Way Quad Cities, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) of Western Illinois and AARP of Eastern Iowa are leading the program, while volunteers from Augustana, St. Ambrose and the University of Western Illinois are taking part.

Sophomore Mallory Coley is one of the students participating in the program this year.

“There are a lot of steps, and there are a lot of things that you need to pay attention to,” Coley said.

Tax season is infamous for being stressful, something VITA aims to change by involving college students in the process.

“Some people just send off their information and let companies do it, but it’s a great thing to know what you’re doing because those companies may not see something or skip over it,”  Coley said.

In addition to the practical skills that the program helps develop, students can receive credit toward their major after nine sessions, according to Coley. Students must take three certification tests before tax season.

“I’ve learned a lot about how taxes work,” Coley said. “But I’m really excited to be helping people.”

The three tests outline volunteer responsibilities, confidentiality and the various circumstances that residents will be filing their taxes under. VITA simultaneously allows Augustana students to learn while also helping residents out.

Max Bigalk, VITA program coordinator at United Way Quad Cities, said the program has had a large impact over the years.

“Last year we did over 3,300 returns and the average return was about $900,” Bigalk said. “If you do the math, we put back over three million dollars in the hands of Quad Citizens.”

VITA is important because if a person files their taxes incorrectly, they don’t receive the correct amount of money back. The program is aimed at those who are making less than $64,000 a year. Since it is free for residents, that means they truly get every dollar of their refund back.

“It’s really fulfilling work,” Bigalk said. “We’ve scheduled over 2,000 appointments so far and there is no shortage of need for the program.”

The program runs from Feb. 1 to Apr. 6, with multiple locations throughout the Quad Cities. Residents can schedule appointments through the United Way website.

Both Coley and Bigalk said that the program highlights the need for financial literacy or an understanding of real-world situations involving money.

“It’s something that just isn’t taught enough in school,” Bigalk said. “And you don’t realize how much you don’t know until it’s too late.”

With a clear need for the program, Coley and Bigalk said it may come down to earlier financial education in schools.

“Even basic stuff could really help folks down the line,” Bigalk said.

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