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VITA program to offer free tax services to qualifying individuals

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

VITA program student volunteer

Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management is partnering with the United Way of Greater Lafayette to once again offer tax services to anyone with a household income of $66,000 or less per year — including domestic and international students and community members — to prepare and file their taxes for free. Krannert has also developed a website with resources to support international students.

The services are offered in conjunction with the United Way of Greater Lafayette through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The program is primarily staffed by undergraduate and graduate accounting student volunteers enrolled in a practicum course taught by Thomas Godwin, assistant professor of management and Purdue VITA site coordinator.

Beginning January 25, the IRS-certified volunteers will provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in local communities. United Way of Greater Lafayette and Purdue offer VITA locations from January through April.

“We are excited to continue providing free tax preparation for the community and Purdue staff and students through the VITA program,” Godwin says. “It yields invaluable learning for our students and helps around 3,000 people with their tax returns annually.”

The United Way/Purdue VITA program has grown to become among the largest in the state. Since its inception in 2010, volunteers have prepared about 20,000 tax returns with a community impact of around $2.5 million (a combination of tax refunds and tax preparation fees saved) in a typical year. “Our cumulative numbers are even more impressive,” Godwin says. “We’ve crossed $14.7 million in tax refunds alone.”

Godwin’s leadership of the successful program has garnered recognition on multiple fronts. He received the 2020 Jefferson Award from Purdue’s Office of Engagement, as well as the 2021 Gary Henriott Community Impact Leadership Award from United Way of Greater Lafayette.

“We also presented our model at IRS conferences and developed completely new processes to allow the program to run fully remotely during the pandemic,” Godwin says.

In 2022, the VITA program will use a hybrid approach where everything can be done in-person or remotely from start to finish. “We’ve found that most clients prefer doing it in person,” he says. “And they can also submit everything on the front end remotely, then come in to get their return prepared so that ultimately they're just picking things up.”

The focus is not only on serving others, but also on developing the student volunteers as individuals. “You don’t necessarily associate accounting with community service, but the VITA program gives students technical knowledge along with emotional intelligence from using their skills to do good,” Godwin says.

About 70 percent of the student volunteers are master’s students, while the remaining 30 percent are undergraduates. The majority of them go on to earn their CPA certification.

“In the practicum course, we guide the students through what they need to operate in the program and give them resources for whenever they run into things that are unique or difficult,” Godwin says. “I think those challenges provide a valuable learning experience for the students because they’ll encounter similar situations in their careers.”