Published on 02/26/21

UGA students offering free tax prep services through VITA program

By Cal Powell

University of Georgia students are again helping Georgia taxpayers by offering free tax preparation services through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

UGA has partnered with Georgia United Credit Union in the VITA program since 2005. The program is designed to provide free tax preparation assistance to individuals and families with low to moderate income, those with disabilities and the elderly.

Through the service-learning course, financial planning majors from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) and accounting majors from the Terry College of Business are certified as tax preparers by the IRS and earn academic credit for their involvement.

Virtual VITA allows taxpayers to work with their local UGA Cooperative Extension agents to facilitate remote tax preparation services with students based in Athens. The students operate under the direction of FACS faculty members Joan Koonce and Lance Palmer.

“Learning about taxes is definitely a different feeling than when you are about to talk to an actual client about their own finances,” said Blake Ertzberger, a student service provider and financial planning major from Bowersville, Georgia. “It keeps your ears more open to learning so you are better prepared when presenting to the client. It will be beneficial to me in the long run.”

Since the partnership began, more than 15,000 tax returns have been filed for Athens and other communities around the state, totaling more than $12 million in federal and state refunds.

“We’re proud to be a partner in this program that has such a tangible benefit for so many Georgia families,” said Koonce, a FACS professor and UGA Extension financial planning specialist. “The hands-on experience students receive by applying classroom knowledge to real-life situations is tremendous and serves as great preparation for their future careers.”

All in-person appointments are booked through the end of the season, but virtual appointments are still available Wednesday and Thursday evenings through April 7. Students also are assisting at additional VITA sites in Athens operated by Hancock Community Development Corporation and East Athens Community Development Corporation. 

All virtual appointments must be scheduled in advance at Walk-up appointments will not be offered.

Cal Powell is the director of communications for the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

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