Cobbers help make taxes less taxing

The room is filled with the constant clicking of keyboards, frequent shuffling of papers and an occasional ringtone from outside. The volunteer tax preparers chat back and forth with assistant professor of accounting Ron Twedt and each other as they fill out the tax returns. 

“You ready?” Twedt says.

“I think I need some help here,” the volunteer responds.

Twedt is the site coordinator at Concordia College for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, where volunteers will prepare your tax return for you. The IRS offers this free program for taxpayers who will make less than $57,000 and older adults. 

Instead of navigating your own 1040 form, W2 or other miscellaneous tax documents for the IRS, Concordia College student volunteers will. The VITA program makes tax preparation more accessible, said Twedt.

Make sure you bring two forms of ID: one has to be your Social Security Card, the other has to be a photo ID of some sort. Bring any W2s you may have. If you would like your refund to be a direct deposit, bring a blank check or your bank account and routing numbers.

“But the most important material to bring is patience,” Twedt said.

The volunteers are all Concordia students taking Tax Accounting 2.

“VITA gives students the chance to serve someone who needs their expertise,” Twedt said.

Before these volunteers even touch your tax return, they must pass a test to ensure they will uphold the IRS standards of conduct and submit your taxes properly.

Taxpayers who want to take advantage of this offer should make their way over to Grant Center room 118 at Concordia College’s Offutt School of Business on a Monday, Tuesday or Thursday evening. 

Doors open at 6 p.m., and Twedt asks that nobody show up earlier than 5:30 p.m. 

What used to be a first-come-first-served system has been changed to promote social distancing. Everyone who shows up will be assigned a random number that indicates the order that people will be helped. 

“People used to stake out spots like it was a big concert,” Twedt said. “Some people would show up as early as 4:30 p.m.”

Free parking is offered in the E/ES East Complex and Grant Center parking lot off of 12 Avenue South.

Taxpayers walk through the glass doors by the Barry Auditorium sign, and are greeted by Concordia nursing students sitting at a brown folding table. These students make sure nobody showing up for the VITA program has any symptoms of the coronavirus.

After going through the motions, taxpayers are assigned their random number.

There is a floor, folding chairs or concrete windowsills where taxpayers wait in hopeful anticipation for minutes or hours for the time to come when they get to meet with one of the volunteers. Unfortunately, their waiting might be in vain.

Twedt said that the first few days the program became available, they were not able to help everyone.

“This year, we are busy beyond compare,” Twedt said.

As numbers are called, a student ushers taxpayers from one waiting area to another. 

This is where the taxpayers meet their volunteers who navigate the tax system. 

The volunteer takes the taxpayer’s two forms of identification and other assorted documents they brought into a computer lab to work their accounting magic. The taxpayers wait on the comfortable couches nearby while the volunteers work in plastic desk chairs.

In the computer lab, the volunteers sit accompanied by their tax preparation software and the documents taxpayers have given them.

Twedt checks the work of a volunteer before filing the tax return | David Lindgren

Twedt helps the volunteers make sure the tax returns are filled out properly, but he does not have all the answers.

“I think you need to go ask the taxpayer,” Twedt says after a long discussion about a taxpayer’s income compared to their rent.

As the volunteers work with the tax software, there is very little talk of taxes. 

A volunteer fills out various fields on a form 1040 for the IRS while Twedt asks her about musicals.

“Were you there while I was talking about musical theater the other night? Do you know any songs from ‘Oklahoma?’ ‘Hamilton?’ ‘West Side Story?’” Twedt says. 

The volunteers are not as well versed in musical theater as they are in tax preparation. Twedt threatens to serenade them as an education opportunity.

“Would that be unprofessional for us to be singing loudly while preparing taxes?” Twedt wonders aloud.

Talk of musical theater quickly shifts to TikTok as the volunteers chime in. They know much more about it than Twedt does. 

“I will not be a part of making any TikToks,” Twedt says as he checks a volunteer’s work. 

“Did you get her account number?” Twedt asks, shifting the conversation back to the task at hand.

Once the volunteer has filled out the tax return and had their work double-checked, the printer’s whirring fills the room. This time the taxpayer needs to fill out the paperwork. The volunteers need consent from the taxpayer before filing taxes on their behalf. 

As a volunteer leaves the room to get a taxpayer’s signature, Twedt tells the volunteer to “compliment him on his organization.” This taxpayer brought all of the required forms of ID, his W2 forms, his tax return from 2019 and his checkbook.  

“Do you have any more questions?” the volunteer asks a taxpayer.

“No.”

“Then I’ll just ask you to sign right here,” the volunteer says as he points to a line on the consent form.

After the volunteer signs their name, they return to the computer lab to hit the submit button on his tax software. The IRS will digitally receive the forms shortly and review them within a few days.

The volunteer leaves the room again to meet with his next taxpayer. There are still dozens more to help.

Further information about the VITA program can be found at https://cobbernet.cord.edu/updates/details/free-tax-preparation/ 

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