U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney visited the University of Connecticut’s Business School on Friday morning to thank the students providing free, volunteer tax assistance to an estimated 656 international students this year.
The student volunteers are participants in UConn’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site, which is a nationwide program sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service.
VITA’s original purpose was to provide free assistance to low-income individuals and families who need help filing their taxes. More specifically, the goal is to make sure taxpayers receive all of the tax credits available to them, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and credits for the Elderly or the Disabled.
In addition, to its primary focus, Courtney expressed the important and successful role VITA plays in helping affordable and accurate returns reach the government.
And the IRS could be facing some changes in the near future because of sequestration.
The sequester plans will reach the IRS next Friday with an 8.2 percent budget cut, as reported by Politico, which could potentially result in fewer agents, fewer audits, and increasing the opportunity for tax fraud.
“Every department is going to, basically, take a haircut,” Courtney said in regard to the sequester. “And the IRS’ budget is pretty much all personnel.”
Since its conception, VITA has expanded their services to military participants and international students — two communities requiring special help when it comes to filing taxes, according to Michael Redemske, an accounting professor who directs UConn’s VITA site.
There are more than 2,000 foreign students at UConn’s main campus in Storrs, so its VITA program focuses exclusively on providing tax services to that specific population.
“At UConn, our foreign student population is so large that when we try to run a VITA program we get flooded with the foreign students — to the point that there’s very little time available to serve any other need of the community,” Redemske said.
All of the low-income students who are U.S. citizens and in need of tax help are directed to other sites in the area.
The position foreign students find themselves in “is pretty complex,” Courtney said. “As hard as the tax code is for everyone, I mean it’s actually even more challenging when you’re not a resident of a country and here on a visa. The rules are just different.”
The complexities referred to by Courtney include various tax treaties that the U.S. has signed with 68 different countries, with each treaty being unique.
These treaties are agreements regarding how the U.S. will tax visiting students, and how each country will tax students from the U.S.
“The tax issues that a foreign student deals with are really unique,” Redemske said. “They’re not what you deal with day in and day out, so to tell a foreign student ‘H&R Block can do your tax return’ . . . they can’t.”
UConn’s VITA site is comprised of more than 50 student volunteers. The majority of the volunteers are certified through a training course with Redemske, who has taught them the necessary skills.
“It’s a very successful program,” Courtney said. “It works for clients because they get an affordable way to get an accurate return filed, and it’s good for the government to get accurate returns filed in a timely fashion and it’s great for the preparers who are students getting real life experience.”