The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax services to low-income students and Vermillion community members.
The program prepares tax returns for those who cannot afford other services, such as H&R Block or TurboTax.
“It definitely helps people, especially with the tax law changes, who aren’t sure what to do with certain forms or aren’t sure why they’re getting a certain amount back or why they have to pay a certain amount,” Olivia Siglin, a USD law student and the VITA site coordinator, said. “For some people in town who don’t have access to the internet… it provides them with an opportunity for them to file without having to do it on paper, we transmit it totally free, so you don’t have to pay postage to mail it in.”
Families and individuals who make annual incomes of less than $54,000 qualify for the free VITA services.
“There’s an income threshold that we technically aren’t supposed to go above; we can use our best judgment if we choose to go above it,” Whitney Denning, a USD law student and a volunteer for VITA said.
Siglin said students who qualify are also welcome to utilize the services.
“We’d love to see students come, and as long as they qualify, as long as they make under $54,000, which is almost every student,” Siglin said. “Even if you’re claimed as a dependent on someone else’s returns, you can come to get tax help.”
VITA is available across the United States because it is under the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Siglin said.
“VITA is not just something that we have here in Vermillion, but it’s something that they have all across the state and all across the country,” she said. “Me as the site coordinator, and a few other volunteers, we went through a VITA training program with other people across the state in Sioux Falls, and then we came back and train the other volunteers.”
Most of the volunteers are students at the USD law school.
“It is also great for the law students who volunteer because we get pro bono hours,” Siglin said. “We get recognized at graduation if we do 50 or more volunteer hours throughout law school, and it just helps us learn more about taxes and learn how to interact with future clients.”
Tax sessions are held at the Vermillion Public Library three nights a week, from the beginning of February until the end of March.
“You’ll have probably have 4 or 5 mostly law students, and people will just come in and come and go, it doesn’t take long for taxes, most of them are pretty simple, so they’ll sit there for probably about 30 minutes to an hour at the most,” Denning said. “A student attorney will do the taxes and all of our taxes and returns are going to be double-checked by another student attorney, just to make sure there aren’t any mistakes. Then it will be checked again by the supervisor.”
Siglin said last year VITA did 130 returns, and this year their goal is to do 150 or more.
“It’s been pretty so good far,” she said. “But we’d like to see an even higher number utilize it.”