Bulloch County residents who participated in the 2021 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program through the Parker College of Business at Georgia Southern University saved an estimated $33,000 in tax preparation fees and received a total of $128,679 in refunds.
Additionally, the IRS estimated Georgia Southern’s VITA services contributed to an economic impact of more than $225,000.
“Qualifying taxpayers in our community are able to receive free tax preparation and e-file services,” said Gloria Stuart, senior lecturer in the School of Accountancy and advisor for the VITA program. “Our program helps taxpayers comply with the tax law while ensuring they claim the proper tax credits and possible tax refunds. Taxpayers are able to save money on tax preparation fees. The cost savings plus the financial impact of the credits and refunds help boost the local economy.”
Local taxpayers aren’t the only ones who benefit from the VITA program. Undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Accountancy work one-on-one with community members who use the service to gain experience for their accounting careers.
Alumna Katie Mancil (‘20, ‘21) volunteered with the VITA program as an undergraduate and graduate student. Not only did it provide her with real-world experience when a tax preparation internship didn’t fit with her schedule, but the program also helped her land a full-time job with a CPA firm, which she began in August.
“The VITA program taught me how to be professional and helped me retain the variety of tax rules and issues,” she said. “It also helped me realize the importance of working well with your coworkers and being very comfortable with constructive criticism.”
The mentorship Mancil received from Georgia Southern faculty also made an impact in her career.
“The professors who helped with the VITA program also helped prepare me for my career,” she said. “They gave me advice, pushed me to be better and even provided a reference to me while I was applying for jobs. I had two great job offers from different accounting firms because of two of the professors that worked with the program.”
The VITA program at Georgia Southern began in 2020 but was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the 2021 tax season began, the VITA program volunteers were prepared and increased their tax returns by more than 100 percent.
“We were only able to complete 62 tax returns our first year because we had to stop in mid-March,” Stuart said. “For the 2021 filing season, we addressed the COVID-19 environment by utilizing drop-off sites and virtual services. We completed 132 tax returns during the 2021 filing season.”
Easing an overwhelming situation for members of the community is another reason Mancil enjoyed participating in the VITA program.
“Taxes can be very intimidating to people, although it’s really not that bad,” said Mancil. “But it is nice to be able to take that weight and time off of someone. We are able to give clients peace of mind that they will be taken care of.”
The VITA program exemplifies Georgia Southern University’s commitment to community engagement, Stuart added.
“The Georgia Southern VITA program is an excellent example of our partnership with the local community,” Stuart said. “Our students enjoy meeting and helping people in our community while enhancing their educational experience. Taxpayers in our community receive a valuable, free service while helping our students become career-ready.”
Knowing she made an impact in the community was the ultimate reward for Mancil.
“As a college student, it is hard to be able to give money to people in need,” she said. “The VITA tax program gives us an avenue to be able to help people save money and live more comfortably. This made me feel like I was able to make a small difference in the community. I felt accomplished that I was able to help at least one person not have to worry about something that can be so tedious. It also left me feeling encouraged to continue to help serve others in the community in different capacities.”