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A Time for Taxes: TLU’s VITA Clinic Gets a Visit from the IRS

It’s that season again, and there are telltale signs of it all over campus at Texas Lutheran University. We’re not talking about spring, but Tax Season. It’s evident on Wednesday evenings, as the sun gets low in the sky and the cars line up along tree-lined Beck Drive—members of the community arriving to get their taxes done.

The TLU Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Clinic is offered every year, and has grown by leaps and bounds with each passing April. It started out helping around 50 people, but this year, may serve as many as 300. As of this writing, TLU Accounting student volunteers have already completed 194 returns with the mid-April deadline still weeks away.

In fact, the program is such a success that it caught the eye of none other than the IRS, which manages VITA programs all over the nation. Under normal circumstances, it’s not always good news when the IRS comes calling, but this faction made their way to campus to see what’s happening at TLU’s clinic, and to offer congratulations on a job well done.

“This is a different model than we’ve seen,” says National Director of VITA Gwen Garren. She and her colleagues, who’ve traveled to Seguin from Atlanta, El Paso, and San Antonio, point to the way taxpayers line up in their cars and student volunteers go out to meet them, gather their tax information, and then return to one of Beck Center’s basement computer labs and get to work. Meanwhile, the taxpayers simply park while they wait for their returns to be completed.

The service is offered to people who generally make less than $57,000 a year, who have disabilities, or who have limited English-speaking abilities. VITA services are not only free, but they are also a reliable and trusted source for preparing tax returns.

And it’s not only the taxpayers who benefit from the service, but the students. “It truly impacts these kids,” says Dr. Sally Cook, professor and director of the Master of Accountancy Program at the university. She’s been overseeing the clinic for some 20 years now. She says TLU’s model is mutually beneficial, with members of the community getting their tax returns done while students learn real world accounting. The students spend an average of 30 minutes on each return—each student typically doing three or four returns in an evening.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Sarah Ferguson and Vice President of Finance Edie Richardson were on hand to welcome the IRS—and to shake the hand of Cook as well. “We appreciate what you’re doing, Sally,” Ferguson said. “And we know the community does as well.”

“I am very proud of my students for handling the increased volume this year even though we have a smaller group of tax preparers,” says Cook, turning the spotlight to her dedicated band of volunteers.

The Texas Lutheran University Tax Clinic is open to the public on Wednesdays from 5:00-7:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Taxpayers should be sure to bring all their tax forms, a photo ID, and their Social Security card (to prevent identity theft of SS numbers). If they are filing jointly, both taxpayers must be present. If they have dependents, they will need to provide the Social Security cards of the dependents as well. The clinic closes for the season on April 13 and is closed Saturday, March 30, as students will be away on Easter break.

Photo, from left to right: Tracey Walker-Carter (Director of CARE); Wayne Ford (Senior Operations Advisor); Laura Martinez (Sr. Stakeholder Relationship Tax Consultant); Gwen Garren (National Director, VITA); Grace Torres (Territory Manager for Texas, Nebraska, Kansas); Sally Cook (professor and the Master of Accountancy Program Director at TLU); Edie Richardson (TLU Vice President of Finance); Sarah Ferguson (TLU Vice President for Academic Affairs)