By Samantha Iniguez
Professor Satoshi Kojima and 23 East Los Angeles College student-volunteers are helping students and the community by filing their taxes free of cost.
Every applicant saves about $50-$200 in filing cost.
All student-preparers are part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The program offers free tax help to people who generally make $55,000 or less.
“Filing through this program means more money in the hands of our community. For example, a mother of two came to get her taxes filed and although she only made a little bit of money, we were able to get her a $4,000 refund,” Kojima said.
Before becoming preparers student-volunteers go through three weeks of thorough training, which requires them to complete three courses: Ethics, Intake/Interview training, and Tax Preparation.
They study one subject each week and at the end of each week they must take and pass all exams before they are certified and allowed to file any taxes.
To further strengthen the quality of service provided by the VITA program, three certified public accountants overview the volunteers’ work.
The VITA program is sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service meaning whenever someone files for taxes through the program they are filing under the IRS’s hospices.
Kojima said he is proud of the volunteers because they are all there on their own time looking to help their community and doing an outstanding job at it.
Always paying attention to detail is one of the reasons Kojima says they have a very low reject rate.
Most of the volunteers are accounting students but not all. Kojima said one of the program’s best preparers is a nursing student.
He believes her success in the program stems from her nature of wanting to help others in everything she does.
Preparers are also Bilingual in Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Thai and Japanese making the program more accessible to community members. Jonathan Gor, a preparer with the program, said “It really is important to have preparers that speak different dialects because I think it makes our community members more comfortable. They ask questions and understand the process.”
This is the second year that ELAC has tried the VITA program, the first time being in 2016. ELAC is the only college in the LACCD district to offer this program.
The VITA program has filed over 250 tax forms since it was first offered in February. They will continue to file taxes Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. through April 13.
To ensure everyone gets the assistance they require the program works solely by appointment. To make an appointment call (323) 265-8845.