Meadville VITA Program Completes Record Number of Tax Returns for Local Residents

Allegheny students help residents save $90,000 in income tax preparation fees

April 20, 2015 — The Meadville Volunteer Income Tax Program (VITA), which prepared free 2014 federal, state and local tax returns for area residents at the Meadville Public Library from Feb. 2 to April 11, is pleased to share that it prepared 900 tax returns this year, a 15 percent increase from the number of returns completed last year.

According to Dr. Stephanie Martin, Allegheny College associate professor of economics, the 900 federal income tax returns – prepared at no cost to local taxpayers – represented a savings of approximately $90,000 in income tax preparation fees for area residents. The program’s acceptance rate on e-filed returns continues to improve as well, with a rate of more than 96 percent this tax season.

The majority of returns are prepared by trained Allegheny College students, says Martin, who is in her sixth year overseeing the Meadville VITA program.

“What I really like about this program is that there are so many benefits to both the students and the residents,” she says. “For the students, they learn a valuable life skill, and they see Meadville in a whole new light. For residents, we help them get the credits they are eligible for, we save them money because they don’t have to pay for this service and we help them learn about their taxes.”

This year, more than 50 Allegheny students served as VITA volunteers. When they committed to the program, they were required to attend a 30-hour training regimen that the IRS provided over winter break, then eight more hours of training with Martin on the software they would use. They also needed to pass a certification exam.

Once they completed these requirements, students spent four to six hours each week on site. During their shift, they rotated between greeters and tax preparers. They also were qualified to review each other’s work to make sure it was correct before the taxes were filed.

In return, students received four academic credits. “The experience is graded like any other internship,” Martin says. “I also ask them to write reflections about the experience as part of their grade.”

This is the second year that Allegheny senior Olivia Newman has worked with VITA. Olivia, a biology major/economics minor (with a focus on pre-veterinary medicine), says the program helped her gain a newfound confidence.

“Before VITA, I was clueless about what to do when it came to taxes. Now I’m not, which is really cool,” she says. “I feel that if I can help other people figure it out, too, that’s awesome. That’s what drives me.”

This season, local clients received a total of $821,474 in federal refunds and $74,342 in state refunds. The group prepared returns for 301 taxpayers who qualified for Earned Income Credits, totaling $344,923. The taxpayers served by Meadville VITA for the 2014 tax season also received $46,612 in Education Credits and $18,100 in Child Tax Credits, Martin says.

In addition, the program assisted 356 clients over the age of 60, and 97 percent of the clients were in VITA’s target group of taxpayers with incomes below $50,000. In addition, Meadville VITA prepared PA-1000 forms for approximately 90 taxpayers, garnering approximately $36,000 in property tax and rent rebates from the state.

The Meadville VITA program is a partnership between Allegheny, the United Way of Western Crawford County, the Meadville Public Library, Active Aging and the IRS.

Photo: Senior Tom Bober gives back to the community as part of the free VITA Program.