This year’s Ivy Tech tax prep program helped clients get $1.2 million in refunds

By Mike Leonard 331-4368 |
March 11, 2012

In what might be another indicator of a recovering economy, Ivy Tech tax preparers saw a dramatic turn-around this year in clients saving money instead of draining savings accounts.

And that makes Ivy Tech accounting professor Roy Elkes happy for a number of reasons, including enabling him to tell those clients about a little-known IRS deduction that rewards low-income savers with a tax credit that in many cases will put additional refund dollars in their pockets.

“I had one client, married, filing jointly, with $26,000 in annual income,” Elkes said. “She also contributed $1,200 to her 401(k), so that meant she got a credit on her taxes of $600.”

Ivy Tech Bloomington is one of several area participants in an Internal Revenue Service program called Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA. Volunteers prepare tax returns for low-income individuals and families for free, and clients frequently leave their appointments extremely happy and for more reasons than just saving on their tax preparation cost.

Elkes said Ivy Tech volunteers served 700 clients before they ended this year’s program last week. They produced a whopping $1.2 million in refunds for those clients. “And that’s just in federal taxes,” Elkes said. “It’s such a worthwhile program. We’re seeing a lot of refunds in the $3,000-$4,000 range.”

The program operates not only with the blessing, but the assistance of the IRS. “Our relationship with the IRS is so congenial. They’ll do anything to help us provide the service. They get more compliance,” Elkes said.

Due to the publicity generated from a United Way grant and word-of-mouth, Ivy Tech saw its number of clients swell from about 350 three years ago to 700 this year. Other provider agencies have seen increases for the program designed to help people with $50,000 or less in annual household income.

At Ivy Tech, the program is rolled into an income tax course set up to be a service-learning class. Students who take the class have to learn about tax law and procedures and pass an IRS exam before they can serve clients. Their work, in turn, is double-checked by Elkes and fellow accounting department professors Steve Englert and James Smith.

“What’s great for the students is they learn the soft skills as well — interviewing, looking at documents, doing research. It also helps that all three of us who supervise the program are CPAs, so there is rarely a question that we don’t know the answer to or can find out fairly quickly,” Elkes said.

Help still available

Ivy Tech and the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University ended their VITA programs prior to spring break, which runs through this week.

According to the IRS website, area VITA programs that will continue this tax season include those at the South Central Community Action Program (until April 14); Ellettsville Public Library (until April 14); Bedford Public Library (until March 24); Owen County Public Library (until April 14); and Mitchell Public Library (until Thursday).

Phillip Hawking, an Ivy Tech student, helps Gerald and Carolina Keith file income taxes.
Roy Elkes | Ivy Tech

Copyright: 2012

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.