SPEARFISH | Black Hills State University accounting instructor Robin Meyerink said the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, now in its 29th year offered through the Spearfish campus, has benefited both tax filers and students.

“It’s been here a long time and over the years the community has responded really well,” Meyerink said. “We help them and we get the experience.”

This year, about a dozen BHSU accounting students, mostly seniors, will prepare simple tax returns free of charge for residents, on selected Saturdays, Mondays and Tuesdays starting on Feb. 2.

The return preparation sessions are walk-in only, and are held in Jonas computer room 205 on the BHSU campus.

Students will prepare the returns, and Meyerink, a certified public accountant with 25 years of tax experience, will review the students’ work.

“If taxpayers have all of their information they can come in and have their taxes prepared for free,” she said.

There are limits to the program, however.

Students may only prepare basic tax returns, nothing complex with the taxpayer’s annual income limited to under $54,000, she said.

“You can have a small business, but we are not allowed to do tax returns that include any depreciation,” Meyerink said.

Students from BHSU’s Rapid City campus participate in the VITA program in alternate years. Last year, Meyerink said about 30 students helped provide tax services.

This year about a dozen accounting students will be providing the service.

Meyerink said many students will participate in the VITA program, sponsored with software from the Internal Revenue Service, with less than overwhelming initial enthusiasm.

“Most of the time the students go into it kind of hesitantly. They think ‘this is requiring me to have a different schedule. I have to put in these hours,’” she said.

“And every year they come out saying ‘wow, that was really great experience,’” she said.

The hands-on experience is better than reading the material in a textbook and remembering it for an exam.

“Not only are they gaining tax preparation experience, they are also working on their communication skills and working with the public, which I think is very important in this technological age,” she said.

Meyerink recalls one taxpayer who came with a letter from the IRS relating to an item missed on an earlier return, and that he owed about $3,000.

Meyerink encouraged the student to try filing an amended return and wound up reducing the taxpayer's payment to $200.

“When that man came in he wasn’t the most friendly person, but by the time he left, he had a big smile on his face,” Meyerink said.

Meyerink said the service is required to be provided free of charge.

“We are not even allowed to set out a jar and take tips. That would be against the rules of the program,” she said.

Saturday sessions are on Saturday, Feb. 2, and Saturday, March 16, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Monday sessions from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. are set for Feb. 4, Feb. 11, March 25 and April 1.

Tuesday sessions from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., are set for Feb. 5, Feb. 12, March 26, and April 2.

Later March and early April dates are designed for people who are waiting on investment papers, she said.

Meyerink said she doesn’t have the staffing to schedule appointments.

“You just never know how many people we’re going to have at a session. Sometimes people have to wait a little bit and sometimes there is no waiting,” she said.

Call Meyerink at 605-642-6002 for more information on eligible tax services that students may provide and what documents to bring.

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