Wake Forest students offer free tax assistance to Winston-Salem community

The bus station in downtown Winston-Salem will be more than a busy transportation hub in the coming weeks. A group of Wake Forest University accounting and analytical finance students, led by professor Yvonne Hinson, are turning it into a temporary income tax preparation office.

The group will offer four three-hour sessions, starting Feb. 20 and ending March 3, at the main bus terminal downtown. They will assist taxpayers who can file using the 1040-EZ, 1040-A, or other basic 1040 forms.

“Many people think that since they don’t owe, they don’t need to file,” said Hinson. “We’re there to help those people who can’t afford other assistance, or who don’t know that assistance is even available to them.” Hinson is an assistant professor in the Calloway School of Business and Accountancy and a PricewaterhouseCoopers Faculty Fellow.

The Wake Forest professor and her group of 30 introductory tax students will prepare forms free of charge for potentially hundreds of Winston-Salem residents during February and March. They are the newest participants in the nation-wide Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, known as VITA.

A 30 year-old program operated by the Internal Revenue Service, VITA depends on trained volunteers to help lower to moderate income, elderly, disabled or non-English speaking taxpayers file their tax returns. Last year VITA programs in North Carolina assisted 108,000 residents. IRS officials say Wake Forest’s participation will help fill a need in Forsyth County.

“This program will help a lot of taxpayers in Winston-Salem that aren’t getting any assistance,” said Mary Williams, a taxpayer education specialist with the Greensboro IRS office and VITA coordinator for North Carolina. “It is one of the best ways to ensure those people get their returns filed accurately and promptly.”

Taylor Campbell, a graduate student who works closely with Hinson, helped organize the program for the Calloway students. He enlisted the support of the university’s Romance languages department to provide Spanish-speaking translators for the sessions, where the city’s growing Hispanic population may make up a large portion of the group’s clients. He and Hinson will also lead a crash-course on filing tax returns for the group before the program starts.

“This is a chance for Wake Forest to really give back to our community,” Campbell said. He will graduate in May with a master’s degree in accounting.

The students will work in pairs to prepare each return, with a support system that includes Campbell, Hinson and volunteers from local accounting firms. Students will also have access to a toll-free hotline staffed by IRS experts, if needed.

“We’re there to make sure the students have the tools they need to help those who wouldn’t receive help any other way,” Hinson said of her role. “I want it to be a learning experience for the students, but a supportive learning experience.”

The project fulfills two of her top classroom priorities: community service and hands-on learning. She made the project a requirement in her introductory course, “Taxes and Their Role in Personal and Business Decisions,” where students learn to prepare tax returns the old-fashioned way before trying it online.

“Hands-on experience is extremely important,” she said. “The quicker these students get their hands on actual tax forms, the better they will be.”

Following are the dates that Wake Forest students will offer free tax assistance:

  • Feb. 20, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
  • Feb. 24, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
  • Feb. 28, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
  • March 3, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

All sessions will be held in the second floor conference room of the Winston-Salem Transit Authority, located at 1060 N. Trade St. Posters hung by the students around downtown have advertised the program for nearly two weeks. For more information, call the VITA office at 336-378-2197 or 800-829-1040.

Editors’ note: For more information about Wake Forest’s program, reporters may call the News Service office. For more information about VITA, reporters may call Mary Williams, at 336-378-2197.

Categories: Community, Events, University Announcement