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A Taxing Experience

By: Bailey York

Undergraduate students at the Ohio State University have taken the initiative to improve Columbus families though the means of financial services. Two organizations which have seen strong growth in recent years, The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program and Scarlet and Grey Financial (SGF), provide workshop’s free of charge in hopes of teaching financial stability for young adults and families.

Whether it be navigating a changing tax code, teaching the importance of building credit, or discussing budgeting for student loans and mortgages, the VITA program and Scarlet and Grey Financial are both positive extensions of Ohio State.

The VITA Program, supported by Stephanie Lewis, professor of Accounting, has been gaining attraction to undergraduate students looking to gain practical experience with taxes. Fisher accounting students team up with the IRS-sponsored program to provide free tax preparation and filing to individuals and families who earn less than roughly $54,000/year. Each fall, members of the VITA program go through technical training and become IRS certified preparers. Then, for six weekends in the spring, VITA members volunteer at Godman Guild, a community center roughly ten minutes from campus.

“The program brings a tremendous value to the Columbus community,” says Elita Marchetti, site manager for the VITA program in the upcoming tax season. “VITA is geared towards helping low and moderate income individuals and families in the community. Preparing taxes can be daunting and stressful job for anyone; we try to provide a really friendly and helpful environment to make the process as smooth as possible.”

Marchetti first found interest in tax preparation in her courses Tax I and Tax II. After completing an internship with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Pittsburgh in the summer of 2017, she gained interest in the tax system because of the relevance to individuals and businesses. As of recent, she accepted a full-time position with PwC’s tax department in Pittsburgh and has increasing interest in the changing tax system.

“With the quickly-changing parts and pieces of the US tax system today, I don’t think there will be a better or more interesting time to dive into the tax profession,” Marchetti says. For the first time since 1986, the United States tax code saw reform under President Trump’s administration, certainly posing a lot of exciting times ahead for tax preparers.

Despite the changes ahead, the VITA program allows students to gain real-world experience with tax preparation, solving problems for citizens of the Columbus community. Having credited the VITA program as a valuable out of class experience, Marchetti mentioned the value gained with both technical skills and soft skills. “The program teaches patience and problem solving when working on a difficult case.” Ultimately, her experience has set her up be a stronger tax preparer, ready to adapt to a potential changing tax system.

Lewis mentions many of the student volunteers are involved with Beta Alpha Psi and the Macc program though she is looking for more opportunities to expand the number of participants in the program. “Participation in the VITA program helps them apply what they learn in their introductory tax course real-life scenarios and allows them to start developing skills communicating with clients,” said Lewis. “We are always open on how to expand our program so that more students have the opportunity to get involved with the program.”

Another program with focus on improving the ease of financial advice for lower income residents  is Scarlet and Grey Financial, an arm of the Student Wellness Center at Ohio State. Last year, the SGF service team held workshops at the Circleville Juvenile Detention Facility, Columbus’s Star House, the Van Buren Shelter, and on campus with OSU LiFE Sports. Over 135 individuals participated in financial service workshops put on by the SGF team in the previous school year. This semester, SGF is looking to expand its reach to nearly 100 High School Student by hosting a joint event with the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

Andrew Kitay, Honors Accounting Student at The Fisher College of Business and Service Chair of SGF, touches on the types of stories a student volunteers manage in one-on-one workshops. “We talked with a 10-year old boy who explained to us how a mortgage works, a 14-year old girl who wanted to be a doctor because “too many people get shot” around her, and an incarcerated young man who wanted to be a counselor and help others that fall victim to a similar situation that he fell into,” says Kitay.

Made up of over fifty undergraduate volunteers, SGF assists the Columbus community by providing education on topics such as financial goal setting, banking basics, budgeting, & credit and debt repayment. In addition to their educational presentations at workshops, SGF team members give financial and general wellness advice which best align with the client’s personal goals. In addition, The organization also helps STEP students with financial planning and provides advice to first generation college students.

As the organization looks to expand to underserved high schools, juvenile centers, homeless shelters in the Columbus region, Kitay feels the program is truly about motiving and educating individuals to find financial stability on their own. Volunteering drives impact and builds for students when encountering challenging, inspiring stories. “The descriptions of these individuals only scratch the surface of the young men and women” whom participate with Scarlet and Grey Financial. “Limited by extremely unfortunate circumstances, these individuals inspire us to think relatively about our own challenges, opportunities, and dreams,” adds Kitay, emphasizing the degree of potential impact Scarlet and Grey Financial can have on the greater Columbus Community.