PHOTO COURTESY STETSON UNIVERSITY WHERE THE SERVICE IS OFFERED — The Lynn Business Center on the south side of Stetson’s campus is where people can go to get free help with preparing their income tax returns.

Three sites are now open in West Volusia to offer assistance to people filing their federal income tax returns. And after a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, Stetson University is once again an option.

Stetson’s VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program will run through April 15 in Room 318 of the Lynn Business Center, 345 N. Woodland Blvd. The other VITA sites, operated by the United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties, are the Dr. Joyce M. Cusack Resource Center, Spring Hill Neighborhood Association Inc., 489 W. Mathis St. in DeLand; and Four Townes Family YMCA, 280 Wolf Pack Run in Deltona.

The VITA program at Stetson is administered through the School of Business Administration. This year, it features approximately 25 Stetson students providing free tax services to community members in need.

Stetson’s program is run through the M.E. Rinker Sr. Institute of Tax and Accountancy program. However, students from any major across the university may participate in what has grown into a proven win-win for both students and the community, according to Bonnie Holloway, MBA, an adjunct instructor in accounting and one of the VITA site coordinators (along with Maria Rickling, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting and chair of the Rinker Institute).

Serving as tax preparers, the students meet with clients in person and complete the returns just as professionals would do.

“While this is a service for clients, it’s also an experiential learning requirement for the students. And I believe the interaction with the clients is a valuable part of that experience,” Holloway said in a news release. She trains the students, helps with quality reviews on the tax returns, and handles assorted other administrative duties.

Bonnie Holloway

Students train for a total of 16 hours prior to meeting with clients. Stetson School of Business Administration students who are seeking experiential credit must complete eight tax sessions. Each tax return is reviewed for quality control by one of the VITA site coordinators or a student assistant site coordinator.

To be eligible for assistance at any of the sites, client household income must be $58,000 or less, per their tax return. Clients must bring valid photo identification and a Social Security card for each taxpayer and dependent on the tax return. They must wear a mask on the Stetson campus. To participate at any location, clients must schedule an appointment by calling 211 or going to United Way’s VITA site, https://book.appointment-plus.com/d6njb77v/#/.

At Stetson, client sessions take place 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays, and 1-3 p.m. Fridays. (To accommodate Stetson’s spring break, the tax service is not available during the first week of March.) The Cusack Resource Center in DeLand schedules assistance 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays through April 11. Assistance at Four Townes Family YMCA in Deltona is available 4:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 10 a.m.-noon Saturdays, through Saturday, April 2.

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