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The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program will be assisting LU foreign students with their taxes at the Neighborhood Resource Center and the Catholic Charities in Beaumont starting today. 

“VITA, sanctioned by the Internal Revenue Service, has been in existence for over 40 years and this will be our 10th year of operation in Beaumont,” Jon Korejwa, Lamar VITA director of training and operations, said. “It is a free-of-cost program that provides free tax filing services to residents and non-residents with income under $54,000.” 

In 2017, VITA prepared 529 returns system-wide, including 65 foreign student returns.

“We help students with their form 8843 to maintain their exempt status and be able to file the form 1040-NR (non-resident),” Korejwa said. “The 8843-form return will be prepared with the student and reviewed by another VITA person, electronically filed with the IRS, then the form is mailed and refunds can be expected in eight to 10 days if direct deposit is available.”

Korejwa emphasized that the service is available for all Lamar students.

VITA site coordinator and LU alumnus Pavneet Singh is one of the members that assists with international student returns. 

“I have been with VITA since the tax filing year 2015, and I have done between 500 to 600 tax returns for VITA,” he said. “I, along with a team of other tax preparers from VITA, help with the student taxes, mostly with international students.”

Singh said that using VITA is easier for international students who struggle with filing their taxes. 

“Most of the students are from Asia, and since I am from there it helps the students have less of a hassle in communicating,” he said. “All of our volunteers are certified with IRS certifications and trained under supervision of highly experienced and qualified team volunteers which gives competitive edge over other competitors and assurance of filing correctly.”

VITA is also looking for additional volunteers who will assist with preparing student returns.

“I encourage any student to join the VITA program, as it could be a resume builder, and since volunteering for VITA, several students have gotten jobs because they listed VITA on their resumes,” Korejwa said. “Working as a VITA volunteer strengthens interpersonal skills, financial methods, tax law and software training that are transferable into many employment opportunities.” 

The Neighborhood Resource Center, located at 2850 Gulf Street in Beaumont, is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Catholic Charities, located at 2780 Eastex Freeway, is open Mondays from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

Along with VITA, H&R Block also assists students with their taxes. 

“The IRS wants to verify that the income that people claim on their taxes each year is correct,” Sandy Craigen, H&R Block tax associate, said. “They want to make sure that nobody is laundering money or being fraudulent on their taxes.” 

When doing taxes sometimes there are deductions that are made to reduce what is paid to the IRS, and filers need to make sure they are appropriate. That is when the expertise of the preparers can benefit the student and help them avoid any filing problems, Craigen said. 

“Some of the ways that we can subtract what you owe is based on what we can subtract from your income,” she said. “If you are single or married, which is called your filing status, is one of many deductions that we can take away from your income to lower what you pay in taxes to the IRS.”

The process on how to do your taxes with H&R block is similar to VITA.

“The first thing you need to do before you arrive is to claim all of your income for the year,” Craigen said. “This would include W-2 forms from your job, interest from a savings account and retirement funds.” 

After claiming all income for the year, the next step is to bring all documentation. 

“When getting your taxes done from us, you will need to bring all documentation that claims income for the year — a valid state identification and a social security card — to be eligible to file,” Craigen said. 

The cost to file taxes with H&R block depends on the credits present on the documentation that is given to a tax associate.  

“Some people have an education credit from going to school, there is also a child credit if you have any children,” Craigen said. “So whatever credit you have on your documentation depends on the cost of doing your taxes with us.”

Craigen said she believes that people who are doing their taxes for the first time should do them in person, rather than online.  

“When filing taxes for the first time, people are not aware on how the process works to get them done,” she said.  “When people do taxes online, they miss out on the one-on-one explanation on what goes into doing them, I feel like filing your taxes in person is the best way to understand that process.”

The Neighborhood Resource Center location will close April 14, and the Catholic Charities location will close April 2. Federal tax returns are due April 17 this year. 

For more information, visit www. irs.gov/vita or call 880-2301.  

Story by Cade Smith, UP staff writer

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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