Creighton’s free tax-prep clinics go virtual for 2021

Published: Feb. 11, 2021 at 12:39 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Creighton University’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance clinics will look nothing like they have in past years. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, student volunteers won’t meet clients face-to-face. Instead, all meetings will happen over Zoom.

VITA clinics are an IRS initiative that Creighton offers every year to help low-income people get reliable and free tax preparation services.

Senior accounting student Scott Haverman will help with the clinics, but his role this year was even bigger. He was one of the students who helped design the virtual format Creighton will use.

“We tried to make the process as similar to last year as possible and as fluid as possible,” said Haverman.

Clients will be asked to upload their tax documents to Google Drive. Then they’ll move from room to room within Zoom and the student volunteers will prepare and file their taxes. Tech assistants will also be on hand at all clinics to help with any issues the clients have.

Haverman is asking people to have patience as they expect things to move slower than in previous years.

“I just hope everybody involved is willing to be patient in making it work and understand that both sides are doing the best they can and we’re all coming together for a good purpose,” said Haverman.

Going virtual was necessary. Scott Haverman says without this service, too many people, and especially those still struggling during the pandemic, would lose out.

“Our clients benefit greatly from this,” he said. “Especially in a year like this, our clients are entitled to returns, and even stimulus checks they didn’t receive. There’s significant financial value here and if we’re not providing this service, many of these clients may just not file a tax return or they’ll have to pay a good amount to a professional preparer.”

Dr. Tom Purcell, professor of accounting at Creighton, says the VITA clinics also benefit his students, who gain real-world experience with every person they help. Even, like this year, if it’s through a computer screen.

“We’re strong on service at Creighton. That’s in our DNA, that’s part of our mission statement. We exist to help students learn, but we also exist to take into account the needs of those least respected by society,” Dr. Purcell said. “And oftentimes that’s the client base we serve — the marginalized or overlooked by society — and so this might be the first time some of our students interact with them or interact with them in a way where Scott said they get to use their professional knowledge to help someone better their economic situation so it’s a very powerful expression of what service can do.”

“It’s something that I’m very passionate about and I’m very interested in, and I’ve learned a lot and spent a lot of time learning it and now I can put it to a good use and help the community and, for a lot of people, take a big burden off their shoulders,” said Haverman.

Purcell says they have clients who’ve been using the free clinics for 10 years.

Creighton will have nearly 130 student volunteers helping out as preparers and reviewers. Dr. Purcell says it’s required for students in the accounting program to work the clinics.

VITA clinic info

The VITA clinics are available to people who make less than $57,000, and they can assist with several different forms, including credits and deductions.

The clinics take place every Saturday, starting this weekend, through March 13. All the clinics are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Find more information about these clinics, including how to join them and what to have ready, on the Creighton website.

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