Less taxing returns

Less taxing returns

Rowan students help file returns for free.

For 30 years, Rowan students have helped South Jersey residents of low to moderate income file their tax returns for free and that program has returned to the university in 2011.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which is sponsored by the IRS and began at Rowan in the 1980s, trains students to become certified tax return professionals and helps them build real-world experience while serving the community.

“There’s a real need for this,” said Margaret Van Brunt, assistant dean of Rowan’s Rohrer College of Business. “Last year we filed about 300 returns and I’m hoping we pass the 350 mark this year.”

She said the program, which this year enlisted about 75 College of Business students, assists residents with total household incomes of $49,000 per year or less, many of whom qualify for refunds.

Certification through the program involves a two-hour training session followed by about four hours of online study and passing a test.

Once certified, Van Brunt said, her students often like the work so much they go into tax-related fields upon graduating.

“It’s been a springboard for many careers, sometimes in the private sector and sometimes with the government,” Van Brunt said.

While many in the general public cringe at the thought of filing annual returns, student preparers say it’s gratifying to get returns done right, to interact with members of the community and to secure them refunds.

“I’m giving up some free time but this program is one of the reasons I came to Rowan,” said Jackie Fogg, a junior accounting major from Lindenwold.

Fogg, 23, seeks her CPA and hopes one day to do forensic accounting, possibly for the FBI.

“It may sound odd but I like this stuff,” Fogg said. “Inputting the numbers, doing the paperwork, I find the whole thing interesting.”

Senior accounting major James McBride, who volunteered for VITA last year and is now Van Brunt’s assistant coordinator, said tax filers benefit but students do too.

“They’re providing us with experience and that’s going to help us,” said McBride, 30, of Stratford.

Clients Marilyn Fox and Bill Green of Clayton said they’ve come to Rowan’s VITA program for at least 10 years and see no reason to stop now.

“It’s free and it’s fast,” Green said.

The couple, who file independently, said whoever gets the smaller refund has to make the other dinner.

“We always get refunds,” Fox said.

In addition to on-campus tax prep sessions, Rowan’s VITA volunteers will visit the Linden Lake Senior Apartment complex in Lindenwold and offer their services to residents of Camden between February and April 15.

The program is offered on the first floor of Campbell Library Tuesdays from 9-1 a.m. and Wednesdays from 4-8 p.m. through April 13. There will also be two Saturday sessions, Feb. 19 and March 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Interested tax filers must bring valid photo ID, Social Security cards and all relevant tax information including wage and earning statements, interest and dividend statements, bank routing and account numbers and the previous year's federal and state returns.

No appointments are necessary but all work is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Rowan’s VITA service is funded in part by a $2,500 grant from the IRS through the United Way of Salem County, Inc., of which Rowan is a member organization.

For more information, contact Assistant Dean Margaret Van Brunt in the Rohrer College of Business at 856-256-4047 or by e-mail at vanbrunt@rowan.edu.