Slippery Rock University and the Internal Revenue Service have created a unique partnership that offers students and taxpayers a “bang for their buck”.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, often referred to as “VITA,” is once again providing free tax return preparation services for low-income individuals. The requirements for receiving free assistance include a household income of $50,000 or less, possessing no rental property, or a combined income of $58,000 or less if self-completing the return through the new myfreetaxes.com/butlercounty website.
According to the IRS, “up to 25 percent of those eligible do not claim Earned Income Tax Credits”—a statement that has sparked interest within the volunteer community in resolving this deficit. Jean Bowen, program specialist and VITA coordinator at Butler, shared her goal for the service.
“The primary purpose of VITA is to help low income individuals get all of the credit they deserve from the IRS that they may not otherwise be aware of,” Bowen said.
This goal is achieved with the help of IRS-trained volunteers, such as VITA reviewer Jo Annette Cynkar, as well as Slippery Rock University interns that also assist with the tax return process. Cynkar, who has been with the program for four years, shared her support of the service.
“The major benefit to participating in the free program as a taxpayer is saving a great deal of money, as opposed to utilizing a private firm,” Cynkar explained. “It also provides SRU students with valuable experience while allowing low income families to get back the income they deserve.”
The Slippery Rock office opened on Jan. 2 to begin eligibility screening and appointment scheduling, and will continue to be in operation through April 11.
Bowen, who has been involved in the program for 23 years, shared her expectations for this year’s tax season based on the successes of last year. She is expecting over 1,800 returns, an increase of approximately 200 returns from last year’s $2.2 million in refunds.
Cynkar has also kept a close eye on the current year’s progress, and hopes for a similar, if not improved, outcome from the previous years.
“This year is doing much better in terms of processing returns, and so far 70 returns have been filed here at the Slippery Rock location alone,” Cynkar said. “We are looking to double those figures, and hope that more students will come to us and spread the word about the program.”
Additional VITA offices are located in Butler, Cranberry, and Kittanning.