SRU faculty, students provide guidance for tax season
A new IRS Tax Withholding Estimator allows taxpayers to figure out the amount of income tax they must withhold from wages and pension payments.
Feb. 28, 2020
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Every year there seems to more tools and resources available for those looking to file their own returns and make the season a little "taxing." Case in point, the new IRS Tax Withholding Estimator, which allows taxpayers to figure out the amount of income tax they must withhold from wages and pension payments.
Theresa Phipps, a Slippery Rock University associate professor of accounting, economics and finance, is intrigued by the new tool, available on the IRS website. However, spoken like a true account, she's cautiously optimistic.
"This is the first year the estimator is available so we don't know if it's going to work well for everyone, but I think overall it's a great idea," Phipps said. "After you put in all your data, it gives you an amount of taxes that you would owe, and that can be helpful to know so you can plan for it instead of getting a big bill when you file your taxes."
The estimator can provide guidance for use in adjusting a person's W-4 form which tells employers how much money to withhold from a paycheck for federal taxes.
"This will help prevent you from giving the IRS too much money each paycheck, which the IRS is just giving back to you in the form of a refund," Phipps said. "You're just giving the IRS what you owe them as opposed to giving the government an interest-free loan. I can see the estimator being really useful, and that is certainly its goal, but only time will tell if it is as user-friendly as intended."
One user-friendly venture that has already proven itself is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. In its eighth year with SRU involvement, VITA is a national program in which SRU students become certified volunteers who prepare tax returns for community members free of charge. This year, more than 23 SRU students, mostly accounting majors, are volunteering for the VITA program by meeting with eligible clients at multiple Butler County locations, organized through the Center for Community Resources in Butler.
"We are proud of the program and its success because it's truly a win-win," said Phipps, who helps lead the VITA program at SRU and was a VITA volunteer when she was a college student. "The students gain valuable tax preparation experience and families get free tax preparation. It's a well-respected program in the accounting profession and it is a great resume-builder that increases students' professional competencies. Also, it exposes students to community service, and many of them feel a sense of gratification by helping a family."
"I love being able to help others, and this really opened my eyes to a section of the community who can't afford to visit an accounting firm," said Mary Thomas, a senior dual accounting and finance major from Enon Valley. "When someone gets a giant tax return and they're incredibly excited, that's one of the best feelings I've ever felt ... being able to help someone who is need."
Although Thomas is one of a few SRU students receiving internship credit for her work with the VITA program, it's become more than fulfilling hourly requirements for her degree.
"It's meant a lot more to me because I get to work one-on-one with someone and gotten to know them as a person. It's really taught me how important it is to communicate with others," Thomas said. "And I've made some friends by being involved with the program, so it's just been a great opportunity on a lot of levels."
Last year, CCR VITA program volunteers, a third of which were SRU students, completed 2,463 tax returns that refunded more than $4.2 million. SRU students average about 10-12 returns per week and each client's return takes about an hour to complete. Both the students and the clients must meet certain qualifications. The students go through training certification through the IRS and the client's household annual income must be less than $50,000 to qualify for assistance.
Hours vary by location and most SRU students work from the CRR office at 212-214 South Main Street, Butler, where they see more clients compared to the Slippery Rock location, located in SRU's Sustainable Enterprise Accelerator at 165 Elm Street, Slippery Rock. All appointments for the VITA program must be arranged through the CCR by calling 724.431.3767.
Appointments in Butler can be made from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays; 1-4 p.m. Fridays; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturdays, through April 15, 2020. Appointments for the Slippery Rock location are available 4-8 p.m. Fridays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., through April 11, 2020.
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