The Maneater

Free tax prep services offered to students, faculty and community members by MU Extension

The sites allow student volunteers to prepare tax return forms for free for students, faculty and community members.

MU plans to offer free tax return assistance through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites. courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

MU Extension is running Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites to help students, faculty members and Columbia residents prepare their tax return forms for free. This year, the VITA services are being offered in the MU Office for Financial Success, Trulaske College of Business and the MU Family Impact Center.

The free tax prep services do not require prior registration; all sites allow walk-ins only on a first-come, first-served basis.

According to Andrew Zumwalt, assistant Extension professor and associate state specialist for financial planning, VITA is a partnership sponsored by the department of personal financial planning and the MU School of Law. It pulls student volunteers from those areas to help clients prepare their tax returns.

“It’s a great service for people who may not want to pay several hundred dollars to get their taxes done or who feel uncomfortable doing it on their own,” Zumwalt said. “For student volunteers, it’s a huge experience looking at the refund and explaining to clients why their situation might be different from the prior year or the refund is lower than they expected. It’s a great experience to talk about money so when [students] go to an employer they stand out versus other candidates.”

Michelle Gregory-Rives, a student volunteer majoring in personal financial planning, said client interaction helps students develop customer service skills, especially those who want to go into finance-based careers.

“The tax season is already stressful and a lot of people get nervous when they are filling out their tax forms, and just having someone to help them is really cool,” Gregory-Rives said.

Zumwalt said in the future, he wants to start a site at Ellis Library where people can use a software to get their taxes done for free, and if they have any questions, they can seek help at the front desk.

“What we realize is that the market is shifting a little bit,” Zumwalt said. “People feel comfortable entering their information online, but they may have specific questions about the tax aspects or a question their software is asking them.”

One thing the program is struggling with is advertising and reaching out to more students, Zumwalt and Gregory-Rives said.

Zumwalt said he has talked to different media outlets about the VITA program, but even then enough students do not know about it.

“It seems like there’s so much information bombarding students, and so I would be open to conversation about how to better reach students,” Zumwalt said.

The VITA sites will remain open until April 17 but will not operate during spring break.

Edited by Stephi Smith |

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