University of Southern Indiana

Protocols Ensure Safety of VITA Tax Assistance Program

Dr. Brett Bueltel, Assistant Professor of Accounting, leads USI’s annual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program every Spring. Through the USI VITA program, students in the Romain College of Business provide free federal and state income tax preparation. Students in Accounting 390 interview and prepare the taxes for clients who make an appointment for the service.

In VITA programs, the Internal Revenue Service partners with national and local organizations to provide tax services to individuals with low-to-moderate income at no cost to the taxpayer. This annual service is so valuable to the community that Bueltel wanted to ensure it would still be offered despite the pandemic. Working with a safety team at USI since late last year, he implemented protocols to ensure everyone’s safety, including screenings, temperature readings, physically distanced appointments and plexiglass partitions separating students and clients.

Plexiglass desk

Plexiglass desk

In fact, the season went so smoothly that even a snow day that closed campus didn’t create much of an issue. Bueltel accommodated those clients by moving them to an appointment on a different night.

“Although there have been challenges, our students have done a terrific job this tax season,” said Bueltel. “We have new protocols in place and limited client capacity due to the pandemic, but we are still providing a great service to the community and our students are gaining real-world professional experience.”

Students enjoy interacting with clients, gaining real-world experience and being part of this community service. “I've loved being a part of the VITA program!” reflected Thomas Busche ’21, accounting. “While a lot of other accounting classes tend to be more theoretical, this one really lets every student get hands on. Not only that, but you also get a chance to interact with clients while you're doing their taxes, which is something I've never experienced even at my tax internships. My favorite part has definitely been talking with the clients and getting to know them while I do their taxes. VITA is really the ultimate accounting class because it's a mix of a class, hands-on experience and community service. Hard to beat that!”  

On average, USI students provide tax preparation for more than 100 taxpayers each season. USI has offered the VITA program for nearly two decades.

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