LEWISTON, N.Y. — While millions of Americans get frustrated or excited by tax season every year, it’s inevitable. And so many out there could use a helping hand, especially if going it alone.
In 2022, around 92% of all personal tax returns were filed online, and of those, more than 66.8 million were self-prepared.
"It's not super exciting all the time, but it is a very in-depth process," said Niagara University graduate student Olivia Mitchell. "To know what you're talking about, you have to do it over and over again. So I think that would be the key takeaway for me."
With tax laws and situations constantly in flux, sometimes it pays to get help and that’s why there are programs like Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, at Niagara University.
"It's sponsored through the IRS that helps us help the community around us file their taxes free of charge,” said associate accounting professor Ian Burt.
He helps run the show in Lewiston, but understands why assistance like this is needed from the falls to the Hudson and beyond.
"Especially in the last couple of years, with COVID and the rebates that were paid out, we were able to help a lot of clients obtain a lot of refunds and additional income sources that they would have gotten elsewhere," said Burt.
Even in the modern age, there is free software that can help, but there are always nagging prompts for insurance that add up on the wallet.
"They're saving that $50 to $100 to $150 just to file their taxes saves them that money saved at that time and it takes away that stress of doing their taxes on their own," Burt added.
Of course, this particular program helps those who may need extra attention in the community. It also gives a boost to the helpers.
"We have firms coming to campus and anytime we mentioned that they've worked in VITA, the firms think that's great. It's actual, practical experience that these students are gaining," said Burt.
Because the volunteer and academic base that makes this program needs to learn more than math and tax codes.
"It's helping these students individuals that will be out in the workforce and get that experience and not just with taxes just interacting with other people," Burt added.
"I've been doing it for three years now the first year I think as a sophomore as a part of the class requirement," said Mitchell.
The accounting major has had her fair share of practice crunching the numbers for local returns and now helps mentor.
"My role is just to help other students become confident in their abilities and help the people who come in," Mitchell said.
With so many different documents to keep track of between W2s and 1098s, it's possible to forget to budget something like Lyft and Uber income because it’s classified as contract work. Programs like these have you covered.
"So even if they have done it themselves in the past, not sure if they've done it right, they can come and we can walk them through it and really show them how we did it and what benefits that they can learn from it,” said Mitchell. “And as students we are also learning.”
Involvement in VITA may be a class requirement to spruce up an application, but those involved come from different walks of life. Some aren’t even future accountants.
"So for me to be a part of it, it’s great, but it's also just very fulfilling," said Mitchell.