Lifestyle

Volunteers help Ambler residents file taxes

Accounting students and alumni are assisting with tax filing every Saturday morning until April 8.

Sandra Diaz, a teacher’s assistant from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, doesn’t feel comfortable using computers and she was worried she would mess up filing her taxes online. Then, she said, a friend recommended she use Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.

VITA is a nationwide organization regulated by the IRS that works with families that make less than $53,000 a year. Each Saturday since Feb. 4 and until April 8 — 10 days before Tax Day — students from the Fox School of Business commute to Ambler Campus to help people in the area file their income tax returns for free through this program.

Steven Balsam, an accounting professor and the supervisor of Temple’s VITA program, said several of his accounting students approached him in 2006 with interest in starting their own program after a member of the IRS spoke to one of their classes.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Balsam said. “I am a firm believer in experienced learning.”

Now Temple’s VITA chapter is celebrating its 10th anniversary. There are 60 IRS-certified student volunteers for the Ambler Campus VITA program and 13 alumni who are certified public accountants.

With roughly 400 clients a year, Balsam said the students are getting great industry experience.

“Most of our organization consists of students, and nearly all of those students are pursuing a career in accounting or public accounting,” Balsam said. “Accounting is a very marketable job to have and this program has given many students the necessary experience to be in that field.”

Alex Kamaratos, a senior accounting major and student volunteer, was referred to the program by his Intermediate Accounting II professor.

“I think it’s a good deal because I’m learning something and I’m getting course credit too for it,” Kamaratos said.

“It’s a good way to start to get your feet wet in applying what’s going on in our federal income tax class,” Kamaratos added. “It means a lot more when it’s somebody who can’t afford the service, so it’s good that you can help them out while also getting them a better return than they would maybe going somewhere else.”

Montgomery County residents can make appointments to come to Ambler Campus on Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. to get help filing their tax returns. Balsam said he has worked with some of the same clients for years.

Despite the fact that many of the VITA student volunteers take classes on Main Campus, the program does not assist families in North Philadelphia.

Balsam said there are already several similar programs in Philadelphia, and the IRS deemed the community around Ambler Campus as an “untouched area,” meaning there are no similar programs in the region.

Balsam added that the program has grown since it first started, but he is concerned that he may have reached full capacity.

“I’d love to expand,” Balsam said. “However, travel is difficult for security reasons because we would have to use a trusted network to file and there would have to be more supervisors, whom are hard to find.”

Diaz said her first experience with VITA was positive and she would “recommend anybody to come here.”

“It was easy, [the volunteers] took the time to explain everything and I actually got a refund,” Diaz added. “[The students] were very polite, pleasant and respectful. And if I had any questions, they didn’t mind going over the answers, so I could ask them over and over the same question and I didn’t feel stupid.”

Patrick Bilow and Erin Moran can be reached at features@temple-news.com or on Twitter @TheTempleNews.

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