UTEP Students, GECU Offer Free Tax Return Preparation Services
As a volunteer with the VITA program, Daniela Escamilla has gained more than valuable work experience helping community members file their tax returns for free. The senior accounting major at UTEP is also making a difference by providing free tax assistance to individuals who cannot afford to pay for the services.
“Serving the community has always been something I am passionate about,” said Escamilla, who expects to graduate from UTEP in May 2022, “and having the chance to do so while also learning and gaining new skills has been a thrill.”
Since 2014, UTEP’s College of Business Administration has partnered with GECU to provide bilingual tax preparation services at no cost to low- to moderate-income households earning less than $55,000 per year through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program.
This spring, Escamilla and 16 other undergraduate and graduate accounting students provided free basic tax help to qualified individuals. Student volunteers receive special training and certification on the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) in order to process tax returns.
Student volunteers successfully transmitted 185 federal tax returns in 2021.
“VITA is more than a free tax-return program to help families save real money as tax preparation services can cost hundreds of dollars,” said Kevin Dow, Ph.D., professor of accounting and information systems and chair of UTEP’s Department of Accounting. “VITA is a program that helps to empower families to build financial stability. Further, VITA provides access to one of the greatest anti-poverty tools – the Earned Income Tax Credit.”
UTEP is the only VITA site in El Paso certified to file 1040-NR: U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return. The 1040-NR is the IRS income tax return used by international UTEP students to file their taxes. In 2021, UTEP processed 92 non-residential returns for international students.
“GECU’s longstanding partnership with UTEP continuously creates educational opportunities for students and provides much-needed support to our community. Every year, UTEP students make an incredible impact by volunteering for VITA to help our community save millions in tax preparation fees and bring back millions in tax refunds to the Borderland for a more prosperous community,” said Ruby Alvarez, Vice President of GECU Community Development. “UTEP student volunteers gain real-world experience and invaluable knowledge from VITA that will help them well in the future.”
In addition to providing hands-on learning opportunities in tax preparation, student volunteers such as Escamilla also work on their customer service and communication skills in English and Spanish.
Escamilla said that tax preparation is more than helping people complete their tax returns. It is also about helping people understand their tax situation.
“I learned that often the taxpayer is just as nervous about the process as we are, and they can be shy to ask questions,” said Escamilla, who plans to start UTEP’s Master of Accountancy program in fall 2022. “But talking them through every step of the way since the beginning and welcoming them with a warm smile is how we serve them.”
Student volunteers provided free tax preparation through the VITA program in the newly-created GECU Terrace at Sun Bowl Stadium.
Credit: JR Hernandez / University Communications