SUNY Cortland students offer tax help to community

Six SUNY Cortland economics majors are using their skills this tax season to help community members save thousands of dollars.

The federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program provides free tax help to individuals who have a combined household income of $54,000 or less. Qualifying clients are asked to call 607-745-2114 or email info@cortlandfreetaxes.org for an appointment.

Since 2010, the VITA program consists of IRS-certified student volunteers offering their free services to Cortland and Tompkins county.

Students will be at the Cortland Free Library on Tuesday, April 4 and April 18, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 8 and 15, at Access to Independence, located at 26 N. Main. St., from noon until 5 p.m. The IRS filling date is Tuesday, April 18. A full calendar that includes locations and hours can be found at cortlandfreetaxes.org.

Since the Cortland County program started, VITA volunteers have completed 4,563 tax returns for individuals under the income threshold.

“VITA has taught me a great deal about communicating with clients in a professional manner, the importance of accuracy and how humbling of an experience it is to help members of the community,” said Michael Baiardi, a senior economics major from Smithtown, N.Y.

The program was designed to promote and support free tax preparation services for the under-served, disabled, elderly and limited English-speaking tax payers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.

Students are able to receive one academic credit per 40 hours served.

“Initially, I intended on participating in the program to help enhance my resume,” said two-year volunteer, senior Tim McIntyre, a business economics major from Putnam Valley, N.Y. “But after helping out several community members, I began to realize there was much more to it. The overwhelming majority of those that we serve are extremely grateful for the services that we provide.”

Kathleen Burke, professor and chair of the Economics Department, seeks out students in her class who may be a good fit for the program. According to her, this applied learning opportunity for students give them valuable experience in the financial field.

Individuals who are interested in participating in the VITA program should contact Burke.

This article was prepared by SUNY Cortland Communications Office writing intern Jessica Haverlin.