Students have incentive, assistance for filing taxes

Ethan Metcalf

With only three weeks left before the famous April 15 deadline, tax return madness is in full swing all across the country. Luckily, Midwestern State University students need only to drive down Kemp Boulevard to be reminded of the looming deadline by the Liberty Tax Service mascot, the Statue of Liberty, frantically waving a sign at passing vehicles. Her service is greatly appreciated.

Accounting students are offering an even more helpful service, however, by serving as Voluntary Income Tax Assistants, or VITA, a program sponsored by the IRS to offer free tax services to low income earners (college students) or the elderly and disabled.

According to the Project on Student Loan Debt, 64 percent of 2012 MSU graduates are $22,891 in debt on average, so any extra money students receive through tax returns can go towards reducing loan debt.

Figures from 2012 academic year.
Figures from 2012 academic year.

“Because all the students are [considered a] low income taxpayer, they will get a refund,” Emily Wang, accounting instructor, said. “That’s why students need to file a tax return as early as possible to get money back.”

Wang teaches a Federal Income Tax course and said she takes her accounting students to the VITA site at the mall to offer their services as tax volunteers. She said VITA has helped more than 3,000 taxpayers in Wichita Falls this year.

“All my students will prepare tax returns for the taxpayers. It is very easy, and after filing the tax return, the students can get a refund within eight to 10 days,” Wang said.

Wang said the service doesn’t cost money like tax services such as Liberty.

“They will prepare tax returns for you and then you file your tax return with the IRS,” Wang said. “So you give them your bank account number so you will get a refund directly deposited to your account.”

Wang said students often have an easier time filing their tax returns because they have less information to compile, but they should still be careful when filing such an important document.

“If you don’t have any tax knowledge, you cannot prepare it by yourself. It’s very complicated. They need to pay attention to whether their parents claim them as a dependent,” Wang said. “If you are not claimed as a dependent by your parents, you can claim the standard deduction.”

Wang said the standard deduction is a fixed amount adjusted each year for inflation. This year, students whose parents didn’t claim them as dependents can expect a standard deduction of $6,100.

“For example, if you only have $3,000 for your gross income you can deduct standard deduction of $6,000,” Wang said.

This results in receiving a refund of about $3,000, a considerable chunk of change for college students.

Wang said as students graduate and begin their careers they will have to pay attention to more deductions. Graduates who need to move to another city for their job can claim a deduction for moving, for example.

“If you’re already working for a company, and then the company needs you to work in another state, there is a deductible for moving expenses,” Wang said. “Meals or a house-hunting trip can’t be deducted, but lodging and transportation expense, or the cost of delivering your belongings, are deductible.”

Wang said VITA won’t teach taxpayers how to file on their own, but she said that even non-accounting students can enroll in her income tax class to learn everything they’ll ever need to know about filing taxes.

“It’s a benefit for yourself. It is useful forever,” Wang said. “I told my students after they study this class they can prepare tax returns for themselves, their parents and friends.”