TSC Accounting students set to provide free tax preparation services

For nearly 20 years, Texas Southmost College Accounting Technology students have served their community through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program spearheaded by the United Way of Southern Cameron County, and this year is no different.

Beginning February 1, students from TSC’s Special Topics in Taxation course will assist with free tax preparation services for individuals and families in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Every year this experience proves to be a great opportunity for our students,” said Maggie Solis, TSC program coordinator of Accounting Technology. “Through service-learning projects like this, our students get to build upon their skills while making a difference.”

Although tax preparation will look different this year, Solis said people can still expect to get the same high-quality service they’ve received in previous years.

“This year, with the pandemic, my first priority is ensuring the health and safety of my students and our clients by minimizing face-to-face contact,” said Solis. “So, we’re going virtual.”

Like other years, VITA will be housed at the TSC International Technology Education and Commerce Center (ITECC) Monday through Saturday and TSC Accounting Technology students will volunteer on Saturday mornings.

However, the community has two tax service options this year to minimize crowds and the spread of COVID-19.

Firstly, those technologically savvy can use their personal phones or a tablet, that will be provided at ITECC, to self-upload their tax documents to be worked on virtually by VITA volunteers. Clients will then be contacted by phone, text or email to discuss this year’s tax return and to obtain a virtual signature.

Secondly, those not comfortable with technology can take their tax documents to the ITECC VITA center to have them scanned. All Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines such as mask wearing, social distancing and hand sanitizing will be followed.

And like the first option, tax preparation will be done virtually, with communication being handled by phone, text or email, except the client will have the option of digitally signing their tax return or signing in person.

“We are in an era where there is a new way of doing everything,” said Solis. “Although we’ve had to adapt and transition our services from in-person to virtual, we’re ready and confident in what we have to offer.”

Olga Rosas will be one of 10 TSC Accounting Technology students preparing tax returns this year through VITA and said she is enthusiastic about the new process and excited to get started.

“Tax preparation can be expensive, so to be a part of this service-learning opportunity is exciting,” said the 46-year-old. “We get to help our community and make a difference, all while getting real-world experience that will be valuable in starting a successful career.”

She added that as an observer during last year’s tax preparation season, she got to see the impact that this service has on the community and she found it remarkable.

According to Solis, last year VITA served more than 2,400 people at the ITECC site with an economic impact valued at over $5 million.

“VITA has numerous sites throughout the region and our site at ITECC generates the most clients annually,” she said. “We always look forward to servicing returning clients and new ones. Our ultimate goal this year is to continue providing the excellent service everyone expects, to keep everyone safe and to give our students the skills and training they need to be successful. We’re looking forward to this tax season.”

The Internal Revenue Service will begin processing income tax returns for this tax season on Feb. 12.

For more information about this year’s VITA services and hours, call 956-295-3761.