EDITOR'S NOTE: After this story was published, H&R Block contacted Spectrum News saying, "The price range can vary depending on the complexity of an individual's tax return, but H&R Block tax services can start at $0 for users leveraging our online platform, or at $80 for individuals working one-on-one with a tax pro, either virtually or in person."

LONG BEACH, Calif. — When Briana Martin transferred to Cal State Long Beach two years ago, she knew little about taxes or tax returns.

“I didn’t really know about how the returns should look. I didn’t do my own taxes prior to then,” Martin said.

What You Need To Know

  • The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program operates on four other CSU campuses, including Dominguez Hills, CSUN, Pomona and Cal State LA

  • It provides free tax prep services for students and community members who make $58,000 and below

  • The volunteer accounting students are certified by the IRS through a 4-day training program, following by multiple tests

  • Last year, the program saw more than 500 clients and processed more than $700,000 in refunds

Nowadays, she not only does her own taxes, but her family’s as well.

The accounting major also helps prepare tax returns for students and the larger Long Beach community through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, also known as VITA.

“These are real life clients outside campus, on campus. Anybody with this year’s income of $58,000 or below,” said Sudha Krishnan, who runs the program at the school.

She said it used to be run through student organizations until she turned it into a class through the College of Business. Each student goes through four days of training with an IRS-approved instructor and then must pass multiple tests to get certified, so clients don’t have to worry.

“They may be a little iffy at first, but afterward, they see our professionalism. They see our dedication to our work, and they’re comfortable and we review the return a couple times before they walk out the door,” Martin said.

Krishnan said it’s a win-win, because students get practical, real-world experience that they can put on their resume and many low-income students or community members get an important service.

“If they go to H&R Block or some other location, it’s about $300 to $500 in fees, depending on your income and deductions and things. We do the basics, but it’s free,” Krishnan said. (H&R Block disputes this claim).

“As students, it’s also good to give back and knowing that we’re a part of that while we’re learning at the same time is the best of both worlds,” Martin said.

VITA accepts both walk-ins and in-person appointments and remote interviews with clients who can’t make it to campus.

“Same clients come every year, Feb. 1. Calls go to the dean’s office. Has VITA started? Can we come? It’s that popular and that many people come,” Krishnan said. “Pre-COVID, we had close to 1,000 clients and over $1.1 million in refunds.”

Cindy Schultheis is a repeat client who used to work at the university.

“I live right across the street. It’s free. It’s awesome,” Schultheis said.

As for Martin, she credits VITA with giving her the tools and confidence to land her first job.

“Thankfully, I was extended an offer from Moss Adams, so I will be joining their tax team,” Martin said.

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