Lakeland VITA programs nets nearly $1 million in tax refunds
Academics - posted on 5/7/2008
Lakeland College and Lakeshore Technical College students teamed up to put nearly $1 million in to pockets of local taxpayers this spring as Lakeland's Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program posted record numbers.
From January 24 thru April 15, the student VITA volunteers prepared and filed 625 tax returns, up from 453 in 2007, at the Salvation Army in Sheboygan. The average total refund was $1,498 (down slightly from $1,510 last year) and the total amount of refunds was $932,529 (up from $683,832 last year).
The VITA service is provided under special oversight of the IRS to encourage and enable low-income (under $40,000) taxpayers free income tax return preparation and access to low income tax credits, including the Earned Income Credit and Wisconsin Homestead Credit.
Other notable numbers from this year included (2007 figures in parenthesis):
Average Adjusted Gross Income, $12,631 ($13,661)
Average Total Federal Refund, $1,070 ($1,043)
Average Total Wisconsin Refund, $448 ($567)
Total Earned Income Credits, $269,729 ($178,170)
Total Child Tax Credits, $86,826 ($59,001)
Total Wis. Homestead Credits, $58,661 ($57,728)
This year, due to the rapid growth in demand for this free tax service, Lakeland added the services of accounting students from Lakeshore Technical College. LTC professor Bob Martin assisted in organizing several students joining the VITA team.
All the students worked under the supervision of Lakeland accounting professor Rick Gaumer, who led the creation of this program four years ago. The program has returned over $2.2 million in tax refunds to low income earners since its inception.
"We call this the Lakeland economic stimulus package," Gaumer said. "These young people from Lakeland and LTC gave of themselves many Saturdays and evenings to perform nearly 1,500 of community service. It is nice to see them learning to apply tax law, but it is even nicer to see them learn just how important they can be in helping others. It was very satisfying for all of us affiliated with VITA this year."
There were 55 total volunteers involved in VITA this year; either directly preparing or e-filing these returns or indirectly as support resources. In addition to income tax preparation services, students were involved in providing social services resource information through the Lakeland Psych Club, and providing computer technology support.
Also, M&I Bank was onsite to provide immediate opening of a bank account for direct deposit purposes, and Ross Inc provided free use of a copier. Considerable support was provided by Salvation Army staff in making their facility available.
Another 44 returns yielding $17,008 in refunds were completed by international accounting student Kyung-Jun (Rocky) Ahn for Lakeland international students requiring special tax preparation assistance. Returns were prepared for residents of 15 different countries.
Another 60 "economic stimulus" tax returns were prepared for elderly residents who normally do not file a federal income tax return. This filing will result in these taxpayers receiving a $300 (single) or $600 (joint) stimulus refund check during May or June.
Shut-ins at area nursing homes and assisted living locations had their returns prepared by Rocky Ahn (South Korea) and Vesna Aboagye (Ghana). These 60 returns will result in $19,500 of additional rebates for these elderly taxpayers.
Gaumer singled out the efforts of junior Marc Meade, who supervised electronic filing for these nearly 700 returns and necessary corrections, and he personally prepared a number of these returns for students living on campus and over 25 returns for prior years. These prior year returns were mostly for unfiled Homestead Credits that were going unclaimed, resulting in another $10,374 in refunds above and beyond the numbers for 2007.
Gaumer said preparations are already underway to have the VITA site open again next year.
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