NMU group complete tax returns free of charge


Sam Rush/NW

Rayna Sherbinow

A second round of stimulus payments will soon be going out to eligible citizens across the country. With the financial strain the pandemic has put on many college students, and tax season quickly approaching, students should determine whether they are eligible for this payment.

Students could be eligible for $1,800 in financial assistance from the government. It is possible to claim both the $1,200 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and the $600 economic impact payment approved by former president Trump. 

Those who did not receive the first payment when it was initially offered may be able to claim it now as a recovery rebate credit. The IRS defines this as “a tax credit against your 2020 income tax.” 

“Generally, this credit will increase the amount of your tax refund or decrease the amount of the tax you owe,” the website said.

There are some important exceptions to keep in mind. Students can’t receive the payment if they can be claimed as a dependent, according to the IRS. Filing status can be determined with this tool from the IRS.

Once they know their status, students may wonder how to file taxes. Companies such as TurboTax and H&R Block offer filing services for a fee. However, there are also free resources available to students and the public. 

One resource is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Through the VITA program, certified volunteers will complete federal and state tax returns for free. To qualify for assistance, a household must have an annual income of $57,500 or less and must not be self-employed. 

The program is overseen by the IRS and exists nationwide. At NMU, the program is hosted by the university’s chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an honor society dedicated to financial information students.

Trent Batchelor is a professor of accounting and has served as the faculty advisor for the NMU chapter of Beta Alpha Psi for the past nine years. He has also directed the VITA program at NMU during that time. He said the program would normally be held in person. Due to the pandemic, services will be provided via Google Meets this year. 

Assistance is open to the public as well as NMU students.

“We definitely help just about anybody,” Batchelor said. “We haven’t turned anyone away lately. It’s been quite a few years.”

People in need of assistance can register for a 30 minute appointment with a VITA program volunteer who will review and complete the returns.

“We can walk through the process at that time or answer any questions that they have,” Batchelor said. “It’s what we do every year.”

Batchelor said the VITA program at NMU helps an average of 250 households annually. 

Senior accounting major Karissa Oliphant is the vice president of the NMU chapter of Beta Alpha Psi. This is her second year volunteering for the VITA program. She said last year volunteers completed 10 to 15 tax returns each night. When the event is held in person, demand is high.

“Up to April 15 we’re slammed every night,” Oliphant said. “From the time we open the doors until the time we close there’s been really long lines to wait, so it will be interesting to see how it is this year with being on Google Meets.”

The team for the VITA program is small. Oliphant hopes to have ten volunteers this year, although this number could fluctuate.

“Some volunteers show up just on Tuesdays, some just on Thursdays,” Oliphant said. 

To make the process easier for everyone, anyone who receives assistance should come prepared with the necessary documents. These include Form W-2, Social Security card, driver’s license or government-issued ID, and Form 1099-G, if applicable. If students are unsure about which documents to have with them, Oliphant has some advice.

“If you think it’s important, include it,” Oliphant said. “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

Oliphant asks participants to scan documents beforehand so a digital version will be available for the volunteers during the appointment.
The VITA program begins on February 16 and operates until the end of tax season on April 15. Assistance will be available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Click here to register. For more information on the VITA program from the IRS click here. The IRS also provides tax information for students, which can be found here.