UTRGV students help take the sting out of tax preparation

UTRGV graduate student Nora Caballero with United Way of Southern Cameron County at the MyFreeTaxes.com site on the Brownsville Campus, helping people navigate the often confusing tax preparation process. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

UTRGV graduate student Nora Caballero with United Way of Southern Cameron County at the MyFreeTaxes.com site on the Brownsville Campus, helping people navigate the often confusing tax preparation process. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – FEB. 17, 2016 – Nora Caballero is one of those rare individuals who loves filling out tax returns. A graduate student working on her Master of Business Administration at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Caballero combines her talent for taxes with an interest in helping others in her part-time job with United Way. 

Along with other students, Caballero assists clients in filing their federal tax returns at the United Way’s “Learn to File” site, located on the second floor of Main on the Brownsville Campus. The conveniently located site is where students, their families and UTRGV staff can learn to file their own tax returns using MyFreeTaxes.com

“Last year I was a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program volunteer, where we actually complete clients’ tax returns, and that experience helped me know I wanted taxes to become my area of expertise,” Caballero said. “Then, when I got my job as a clerk at United Way of Southern Cameron County, I was happy they assigned me to work over here at the MyFreeTaxes.com site on the Brownsville Campus.”

MyFreeTaxes.com provides clients with a clear pathway that guides them through the tax preparation process. 

“I walk people through the software the first time and answer their tax questions,” Caballero said. “Most people become so comfortable and confident, they will do their taxes by themselves the next year.”

UTRGV’s Brownsville Campus student volunteers also assist clients at the VITA site at the International Technology Education and Commerce Center (ITEC Center), Room F-6.

Edinburg Campus students volunteer at the VITA site in the CESS building, Room 1.201. At the VITA sites, students volunteer as the actual tax preparers and prepare the tax return for the client.

Student participation is dependent upon faculty members who volunteer annually to oversee the sites and assist as preparers and quality reviewers. Lecturers Seth Colwell, Linda Acevedo and Deborah Gonzalez, along with Dr. Dennis Ortiz, assistant professor, are long-time volunteers from the School of Accountancy; Dr. Anil Singh, associate professor, volunteers from the Department of Information Systems.

“Students find helping people with their taxes to be fulfilling work, as well as good training for their future careers,” Colwell said. “And prospective employers always like to see activities such as this on a resume.”

Israel Rios, a senior accounting major, is a volunteer at the VITA site on the Edinburg Campus.  Like Caballero, his first-year experience was rewarding, and he returned to volunteer a second year.

“This year, I am a quality reviewer. I look over the returns prepared by the volunteers – it’s always good to double check everything,” said Rios, who wants to eventually obtain his CPA (Certified Public Accountant). “And I am available at the site to answer questions. Clients are so thankful for the assistance, and we have a lot of return clients.”

The 45 VITA volunteers at the Edinburg Campus site are coordinated by Claudia Orozco, a finance major who plans to graduate in May 2018.

“We encourage everyone to try to take care of their taxes early and not wait until the last minute,” Orozco said. “For families with students, or students who are independent wage earners, having taxes completed is especially important to apply for FAFSA and TASFA for financial aid.”

The Edinburg Campus also has a MyFreeTaxes.com site set up in the Financial Aid Office, for those who feel comfortable enough to do their own but still want someone handy for questions.

“I volunteered last year and I found it to be so rewarding,” Orozco said. “That’s why I wanted to be a site coordinator this year. We really do a good job of helping people get this necessary chore out of the way. It’s a good feeling.”

Keren Arista, financial stability coordinator at United Way of Southern Cameron County, explained the two main advantages of MyFreeTaxes.com if people want to learn to prepare their own tax return.

“There is other free-file software available, but United Way promotes MyFreeTaxes.com because it has the highest income limit to get a free tax return, $62,000.” Arista said. “Persons with incomes above $62,000 may still use MyFreeTaxes.com, but they will be charged the normal fee schedule of H&R Block.

“Secondly, MyFreeTaxes provides help features that do not come with other free software. Clients can call a helpline at (855) 698-9435 and use online chat to ask software or tax questions.”

Caballero recalls when she started volunteering for VITA.

“At first, I didn’t really expect people to care so much, since to me it was just a matter of putting in numbers. But people are really thankful when I’ve done their taxes,” she said. “Sometimes they tell me of bad experiences in the past, being charged anywhere from $100 to several hundred dollars. We want to help clients keep every dollar of their tax refund.”

Information about VITA sites and hours can be found at United Way of South Texas or by calling (956) 686-6337; and at United Way of Southern Cameron County, or (956) 548-6880.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications
956-665-2742

Jennifer.McGehee@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of Public Relations
956-882-5105