Portland State students can get help on their income tax, but not on campus as in previous years.
Beta Alpha Psi, the national accounting fraternity which offered the tax help service in past years, has dropped the program, said Johanna Hall, chapter president.
“We didn’t have the people coming in last year,” Hall said. “We had people only two days of the program.” With 20 members committed to the on-campus program and no apparent student interest, the fraternity decided to drop the service.
“The program had focused on international students,” Hall said. “We assume maybe their parents are helping them or they’re working it out for themselves.”
The Internal Revenue Service is offering help seminars on federal income tax. The State of Oregon has a tentative program to send lecturers to high schools and colleges but no schedule has been announced. It is not known now if the state will send someone to PSU.
Both the IRS and the state maintain a center in the lobby of the Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, 1220 S.W. Third Ave. The center offers complete forms and instruction folders for both federal and state taxes. Both federal and state governments have service desks at the location.
Alan Komada, manager of the IRS Portland Taxpayer Assistance Center, said foreign nationals and students can visit the self-help seminars in the lobby for one-on-one help. The seminars tentatively will meet Tuesdays at 10 a.m. and Fridays at 1 p.m. Gary Ferrell, a tax specialist, was conducting the 10 a.m. seminar Tuesday. He had two clients, one a PSU student, one a foreign national.
Komada said the seminars will meet only as demand requires. He suggested people who want help call the IRS information number at 1-800-829-1040 to register for a seminar so the IRS can arrange its helper schedule. The same number may also request speakers for organizations.
The student seminars emphasize self-help.
“We don’t prepare returns,” Komada said. “We coach you through your own preparation, answer questions and guide you through the process.” The IRS also maintains an information Web site at www.irs.gov. The state also has a Web site which offers tax forms 24 hours a day. It is www.dor.state.or.us.
Although her fraternity is not offering tax help sessions, Hall had some advice for students.
“It is most important that any income earned, regardless of how or why it is earned, needs to be reported,” Hall said, adding that the IRS is very strict about this. “It can be just $30 you earned doing some job. The IRS doesn’t care how you made the money, they just want it listed.”
Also, she warned some individuals who work in the country without social security numbers need to realize they may not be eligible to claim earned income tax credit. These would be persons permitted to work in the U.S. under an ITIN, an Individual Tax Identification Number.
Hall said by far the most efficient method of filing is online. She has been filing that way for five years. She uses the Turbo Tax program, which, she said, can be bought and downloaded online from the Intuit Website. Current software even permits the filer to sign the return online. There are other similar software programs available, with the cost around $20 to $25.
“You get your refund in about two weeks,” she said.
The accounting majors who offered tax help here previously are not allowed to replace that program with service to individual clients. The fraternity program operated under VITA, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. This was a training program using materials provided by the IRS. The fraternity program operated under the supervision of reviewers. The fraternity members acted as VITA volunteers rather than as professional tax preparers. This protected them from liability.
Although Beta Alpha Psi will not be assisting taxpayers at Portland State, members will continue its program to give this assistance to farm workers at Woodburn.
Hall said this program operates under auspices of the farm workers’ union. It will meet two Saturdays in early April. The union provides facilities and helps farm workers with their photocopying and assembling their documents.
Hall said the fraternity members typically want careers in accounting either in the public or private sectors. The accounting profession maintains a commitment to community service. The PSU chapter pursues that ideal as part of its professional obligation.
To that end, Beta Alpha Psi held a food drive last week, with a donation table in the lobby of the School of Business Administration Building. The proceeds will go to West, a women’s and children’s shelter in Northwest Portland. The fraternity will conduct a similar drive once a month.
Other community service activities include money raising for cystic fibrosis through a walk in the spring and a bowling event in December. Members also volunteer as phone answerers during Oregon Public Broadcasting pledge drives. They devote a day of construction work to Habitat for Humanity.
“We do a lot of fund-raising,” Hall said. “We’re always open to new ideas.”