R E S P O N S I B I L I T I E S & L E A D E R S H I P
Practical Guidance for Establishing
or Improving a Volunteer Income Tax
Assistance (VITA) Program
By Alan Davis, Keith Harrison, and Laurie Turner
olunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs have been munity. Second, VITA sites are designed to serve taxpayers
around for many years. These programs operate to provide with simple returns or with low incomes; as such, they do not
services to low-income taxpayers who often find the tax return normally compete with paid preparers. Third, VITA gives CPAs
preparation process very intimidating. VITA sites also pro- the opportunity to serve their community. Retired CPAs and CPAs
vide great opportunities for CPAs to utilize their skills in service in industry may find VITA a fulfilling experience that keeps
to the community. Given their skills and experience, CPAs are their knowledge and skills current.
uniquely qualified to coordinate and manage VITA sites.
What’s in it for busy CPAs? First, there is the opportunity to Background
help develop young accounting talent. Through VITA, students Several excellent articles on VITA programs have noted the
gain valuable experience providing professional services to clients, importance of VITA programs in helping students develop skills
honing their technical and people skills and serving their com- and knowledge. In addition to many useful ideas for operating a
JULY 2010 / THE CPA JOURNAL 59
successful VITA site, “The VITA Program: nient, accessible location for all clients; suf- majority (53%) did both. Most VITA
A Catalyst for Improving Accounting ficient work space allowing a confidential sites use the TaxWise software to prepare
Education” (Robert Clovey and Olajide environment; and storage space for com- every return and e-file whenever possible.
Oladipo, The CPA Journal, December pleted documents and training materials. E-filing is not possible in some situations:
2008) includes a list of other articles that the The location decision is closely connected First, to e-file, both husband and wife need
authors recommend for those interested in to the decision regarding the client base to be present to sign the permission form.
VITA. While this list is extensive, one other discussed below. Second, some VITA sites may lack per-
volume that may be helpful is a 1998 pub- How can the IRS help? Most impor- mission to e-file in all states. Third, some
lication by the American Association for tantly, the IRS can provide the TaxWise VITA clients are nonresidents who must
Higher Education, Learning by Doing: software that can be used for return file Form 1040NR, which cannot be e-
Concepts and Models for Service-Learning preparation and electronic filing. It can also filed. Finally, a few clients will request that
in Accounting (D.V. Rama, ed.). This vol- provide training and advertising materials. a paper return be filed. In most cases, how-
ume has several articles devoted to VITA ever, it is better to e-file because the
as implemented on college campuses. client will get a refund sooner.
Who operates VITA sites? Many are The authors have found the TaxWise
operated by academic institutions or retiree online and telephone support to be very
organizations such as AARP. Some sites helpful. The software makes it relatively
The type of client served will
are staffed by retired CPAs who want to easy to fix a mistake.
give something back to their community. Should state returns be prepared and
These CPAs are well qualified to staff a filed? This is especially problematic with
VITA site because the IRS-required train-
ing is easy for them to complete. dictate many of the other decisions regard to taxpayers who have out-of-state
income. At the authors’ site, many student
The following is intended to provide a clients worked out of state; hence, in one
road map for establishing new VITA sites
and suggestions for improving existing that must be made relating to tax season we prepared returns for 19 dif-