By Alejandro Ambriz
East Los Angeles College students and members of the surrounding community who have yet to file their taxes can file them with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Clinic (VITA). People who made under $56,000 in 2019 can have their federal and state income tax returns electronically filed by professionally trained volunteers at no cost until April 15. VITA is located at E7-313, it’s open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Aside from the social security or individual taxpayer identification (ITIN) cards, people who would like to have their tax returns done will need proof of identification and if married, identification of a spouse who must be present. The W-2, 1099 and 1098 forms will also be needed. If the taxpayer does not have an ITIN, VITA can also assist in acquiring them one.
The free tax return service consists of more than 30 volunteer tax preparers who were trained under Professor Satoshi Kojima, who teaches accounting at ELAC. Volunteers, who are all current students at ELAC, spent three weekends in December under Kojima’s supervision in preparation. “I conducted a training session for them teaching them the basic income laws. Then how the tax returns will be prepared,” said Kojima. As tax preparers, they were also required to take the Registered Tax Return Preparer competency test from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Kojima said that there were two types of certification tax preparers could apply for, basic and advanced. “I required them to take all advance because what happens in our process is that when a taxpayer comes in, they go into the intake room and we have an individual person work with them to make sure they can answer all the questions on our intake form,” said Kojima. This way, tax preparers can satisfactorily answer the taxpayers concerns without leaving them confused.
In addition to giving the taxpayers some peace of mind, as well as their refund, VITA recirculates the money they would have otherwise spent on filing their taxes back to them. According to the National Society of Accountants, the average fee a professional charges to prepare and submit a Form 1040 and a state return is $176. VITA, a free service, allows for the money to be used on important things such as rent and groceries.
Though there might be reluctance that a student is preparing state and federal tax returns, Kojima assured there is nothing to worry about. He said, “You have to understand we have two supervising CPAs (certified public accountant) so it’s not…like they’re run rampant. These returns are actually prepared and go through three reviews before they’re actually filed with the Internal Revenue Service.” VITA tax preparers are trained on a variety of tax related issues including but not limited to income tax, Schedule C, Schedule D, itemized deduction and cancellation of debt. “We do tax returns for students who are self employed…work part time as Uber drivers, as Lyft drivers, returns for people that are retired…we can prepare just about any type of tax return that the public that comes in here requires,” said Kojima.
Members of the community who need more information with regards to VITA and other free tax preparation services can visit the Internal Revenue Service where it will provide free tax return services based on the taxpayers zip code. Taxpayers who would like to make an appointment with VITA can do so at elacvitaprogramappointments.as.me. For more information, contact (323)265-8845.