The 2021 tax season is months away, but for California State University, Northridge’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Clinic, the season marks the program’s 5oth anniversary of serving the public and low-income taxpayers.
The VITA Clinic, housed in CSUN’s David Nazarian College of Business and Economics, provides cost-free tax service for low-income individuals in the community and an opportunity for CSUN students to gain experience with handling taxation.
“It is with great pride that we celebrate the VITA Clinic’s 50th anniversary,” said Chandra Subramaniam, dean of the Nazarian College. “It is a privilege to provide low-income taxpayers with the assistance they need, while also providing our students with field experience. We look forward to continuing to serve our community for many years to come.”
Rafi Efrat, Bookstein Chair in Taxation and director of CSUN’s VITA Clinic, said the VITA Clinic has made a significant impact on the professional trajectory of thousands of students and the financial resiliency of countless low-income taxpayers it has served in the last 50 years.
“The CSUN VITA Clinic is proud of the role it has assumed as the first academic institution nationwide to offer free tax preparation services starting in the spring of 1971,” Efrat said. “Today, there are over 500 such academic institutions nationwide.”
In 1971, former CSUN professor Gary Iskowitz came up with the idea to create the VITA program which grew into a national norm for many educational institutions. Fifty years later, there now hundreds of similar programs housed at colleges and universities across the country.
Not only does the VITA Clinic provide a necessary hands-on experience for students, but it also gives taxpayers the freedom to put their money in other aspects of their life that they may not have been able to do before, Efrat said.
“By virtue of filing their tax return, many of the taxpayers we serve gain access to valuable tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credits, which helps them set aside funds for their children’s education, down payment for a house, or paying down debt,” he said.
“The CSUN VITA Clinic has served as a transformative agent for 50 years for both students and the low-income population it helps,” Efrat continued. “As part of an academic institution, the CSUN VITA Clinic offers students valuable clinical experience in the field of taxation that helps crystalize in their minds their passions and career paths. It enables the students to use the experience they gain volunteering at the tax clinic to get their first internship or job offer.”
As the 2021 tax season approaches, Efrat and his team are already making plans for offering free tax preparation assistance virtually. The CSUN VITA Clinic plans to open its doors to the public starting on Jan. 25, 2021, through April 15, 2021.
Given the pandemic, the CSUN student volunteers will be trained to offer free tax preparation in a completely virtual environment, thereby allowing taxpayers to access the free services from the comfort of their homes. For those taxpayers who may face challenges with the technology incidental to virtual tax preparation, CSUN VITA Clinic is also partnering with a number of community organizations that will allow the taxpayers to drop off their tax documents and pick up their tax returns from the same site one week later.
For more information about CSUN’s VITA Clinic, visit its website at vita.csun.edu.