The Woods Offers Free Income Tax Assistance

Tax season is upon us. These words have a way of making the best of us feel inferior, especially if the only time you think about taxes is when it’s time to file. For those who need assistance with tax returns, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) provides the services of trained volunteers to those who qualify.

For the seventh year, SMWC participates in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program to help low- to moderate-income (generally, $54,000 and below) people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. Through VITA, which is a national program, certified volunteers sponsored by various organizations receive training to help prepare basic tax returns in communities across the country. SMWC is the only VITA site in Vigo County.

In 2015, fourteen SMWC students received extensive training and successfully completed a 15-20 hours advanced certification test. These students volunteered to assist citizens and residents with their federal and state income tax returns. Last year, they prepared 495 returns throughout tax season.

“Participating in the volunteer tax site gives students experience that they could not get in a classroom. Being a tax preparer is so much more than doing taxes. It's about respect, compassion, and confidentiality just to name a few things,” said Jamie McCracken, SMWC assistant professor of business and co-coordinator of SMWC’s VITA services. “Students go on to see this as the best experience of their college years because of the overall hands-on experience.”

The site will offer free electronic filing (e-filing) and, according to the website, “Individuals taking advantage of the e-file program will receive their refunds in half the time compared to returns filed on paper – even faster if you have your refund deposited directly into your bank account.”

Those who wish to have tax returns prepared at a VITA site must bring:

To file taxes electronically on a married-filing-joint tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms.

The program was recently awarded a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to be used to expand the program to assist more people. The single-year grant assisted in providing new technology and limited funding for marketing to increase participation.

This grant also provided funding for McCracken to take the Enrolled Agent exam, to provide extra qualifications as appropriate for the VITA site coordinator. With 20 years of experience as a tax preparer, McCracken teaches tax law at the baccalaureate college level. She regularly takes the VITA certification exams. Each spring since 2007, she has completed the Link and Learn training and VITA certification exams at the advanced levels, as well as the coordinator training.

Under her leadership, over the last three years, SMWC has increased returns filed by nearly 60 percent each year and increased the net dollars of federal refunds processed from $180,000 to over $500,000.

To make an appointment:

VITA services are offered in the lower level of the Rooney Library, room LB001 on the SMWC campus Monday and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Jan. 25 through April 15. Drop off service is available for simple returns Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-10 a.m.

Individuals are welcome to use the My Free Tax site to file returns and print copies at no cost.

To reserve an appointment with SMWC’s VITA site to file your e-file or paper return, call 812-535-5223. For directions, see the campus map.

Beginning Feb. 3, 2016, VITA services will be provided at the Vigo County Public Library on Wednesday evenings 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. There will be two City-Wide Tax Days at the Vigo County Public Library on Feb. 6 and March 5, 2016. Call 812-232-1116 to make an appointment and walk-ins are accepted as time allows.