UGA tax preparation program helps Georgians claim $2 million-plus in refunds | News

ATHENS — University of Georgia students contributed to an estimated $4.4 million economic impact on the state from services provided through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program this year.

Through the VITA program, student tax preparers from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the Terry College of Business and the School of Social Work helped low- to moderate-income Georgians and those with disabilities file more than 1,500 tax returns that saved $602,000 in fees.

“Athens has struggled following the pandemic and the elimination of preparation fees through this program has large economic benefits for residents,” accounting student Joseph Berman said. “Each week we could see the good we were doing in the area, and this made me proud to be a member of both the UGA and Athens communities.”

UGA has participated in the VITA program for 17 years in partnership with Georgia United Credit Union and the Internal Revenue Service.

Students are supervised by FACS faculty members Joan Koonce and Lance Palmer during both in-person and remote sessions, earning academic credit while becoming certified tax preparers for their involvement.

“VITA gives students the opportunity to apply what they learned in the classroom to real-world situations,” Palmer said. “It helps them learn how to communicate with clients and gives them confidence when working as a professional.”

The program expanded six years ago to include a virtual component that allows taxpayers to work with their local UGA Cooperative Extension agents to facilitate remote tax preparation services with students based in Athens.

This season, 81 students and 18 student managers participated in the program, serving 1,525 Georgians in 83 counties across the state. Georgia taxpayers received $2,331,759 in refunds through the program.

“VITA is a unique opportunity to connect with clients in new ways,” Dana Carney, an extension agent in Lanier County, said. “Clients come for tax assistance, but they often leave with steps to improve their credit, business plans, gardening resources, recipes to try and possibly most meaningful of all, community. Beyond the refund dollars gained and fees saved, the connection shared by clients from all walks of life is truly priceless.”

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