San Francisco State University's VITA program receives honor

Christine Caratan, center, and recipientsAt the 2017 Beta Alpha Psi annual meeting held in Anaheim in August, Beta Chi’s VITA program was honored by the IRS as the nation’s top Beta Alpha Psi VITA site.

Unlike last year, the San Francisco State University site did not share the top honors. The awards earned by SF State include Prepared More Than 1,000 Returns, Return Preparation for Chapters with Less Than 50 Members, Volunteerism, Alternative Method, Prepared 1040NR Returns, and Most Outstanding Chapter Award. Nearly 300 U.S.-based BAP chapters participate in VITA, but only 22 chapters were awarded honors by the IRS for their programs. While student-run and operated, Professor Katie Hetherington, J.D./LLM, functions as the VITA faculty adviser and instructor for ACCT 699, and contributes advice and structure to the program that allows it to be so successful.

About the program

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is an IRS program designed to help low and moderate-income taxpayers complete their annual tax returns at no cost. Gary Iskowitz, a former associate professor at California State University Northridge founded the program in 1971. The concept, as originally designed, was to provide local taxpayers with free tax return preparation by accounting students, an effort to provide both a valuable community service and a powerful hands-on learning experience for the accounting students. The program grew from a small group of dedicated accounting students to what is now a nationwide program that serves millions of taxpayers and (in many cases) still provides a valuable learning experience for accounting students.

SF State's VITA program

SF State's program began over 20 years ago by two accounting students. Throughout the early years, the program has been provided invaluable assistance from the local chapter of California Enrolled Agents, who provide E.A.’s to conduct our week long training program for our student volunteers. Over the years, the program has grown from 500 returns prepared (filing year 2005) to nearly 1,500 returns prepared (filing year 2016). Our volunteers come from all four-class years and while predominately from the College of Business we do have volunteers from other colleges within the University. Over 80 percent of our clients come from the local community, which sets our program apart from many of the other BAP run programs. The IRS has indicated that for every dollar received by a taxpayer as either a tax refund or tax credit equates to $6 to $7 increase in the local economy. Given this assumption, our students’ services yielded over $2 million in Federal and state refunds and credits or upwards to $14 million in economic increase to our local San Francisco community. 

Many of our student volunteers hail from countries that do not have a tax system. They have embraced the program as a way to help those who have not been afforded the education they are obtaining at SF State. They provide services in the native languages of our clients, numbering up to 20 distinct languages.

Our program is grateful to a variety of sponsors including Moss Adams (computers); United Way of the Bay Area; Roger CPA Review; Becker CPA Review (financial support); Robert Half (gifts in kind); Patrick Brown (IRS); Jean Nelson, E.A.; and Torie Chavez, E.A. (instructors). And finally, our faculty advisers—Katie Hetherington, J.D./LLM (VITA) and Tina Caratan, MNA, CPA, CGMA (Beta Chi).