Posted February 13, 2008

Making taxes less taxing

For those most in need of help, Temple’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs provide a way through the tax filing maze.

Jones, of North Philadelphia, was among the first to use the service when Temple’s VITA site opened on Jan. 26. She’s a longtime fan of the service she’s gotten from the volunteers there.

“I’ve been coming here for the last four years,” she said. “It’s never been a problem getting the help I need, and it’s a free service.”

The VITA program is a free tax preparation program designed to help low- to moderate-income taxpayers (taxpayers who make $40,000 or less annually). This is the sixth year the program has been offered by Temple EARN (Employment Advancement Retention Network), part of the School of Social Administration’s Center for Social Policy and Community Development.

The EARN site is one of 16 sites under the Campaign for Working Families that will operate in the Philadelphia area from now until April 15.

How to take part
  • Temple EARN Center (1415 N. Broad St., Philadelphia):The program is looking for volunteers to help prepare taxes. If you're an accountant or accounting student, sign up to help at (click on Apply to Volunteer). For more information on how to access this service, go to or call 215-686-2599.
  • Volunteer Tax Assistors (Temple Ambler Campus Learning Center): Additional volunteers are welcome. Potential Volunteer Tax Assistors must learn how to use the necessary software and develop a good understanding of the federal tax code to be certified by the IRS as a VITA volunteer. To learn more, contact Steve Balsam at 267-468-8356 or Use of the tax assistance program is by appointment only and space is limited. Qualifying families, individuals and students can call Susan Young at 267-468-8352 to schedule an appointment.

Most tax filers served by the center are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, said Otis Hightower, a quality-control accountant working at the center. Since 2002, he said, approximately 55,000 tax returns have been filed under the Campaign for Working Families and approximately $86 million has been claimed by low- to moderate-income residents through the Earned Income Tax Credit, and dependent child tax credits.

Every year, volunteers sent from the United Way come and are trained and certified through the Internal Revenue Service in how to prepare taxes, said Anthony Johnson, site coordinator.

This year, the Temple University Ambler Accounting Professional Society, supported by campus faculty and additional volunteers, also is providing the federal and state tax preparation help that many low- to moderate-income families might need.

Nearly every Saturday through April 5, Volunteer Tax Assistors — many of them trained and certified students — will be available at the Ambler Campus Learning Center, from 9 a.m. to noon, to offer free tax preparation assistance through the VITA program.

Like the EARN Center program, the Ambler site tax help is open to those whose income is less than $40,000. Temple students and students throughout the region in need of tax preparation assistance are also invited to take advantage of the program, said accounting Professor Steven Balsam, who also advises the Ambler Accounting Professional Society.

According to Balsam, Ambler’s participation in the VITA program was entirely a student initiative.

Michelle Navitsky, an accounting senior and VITA coordinator, said for the students, participation “is a nice way to give back to the community and a great learning experience.”

Bryan Castrantas, a senior accounting and finance major who is also helping to coordinate the program, equates navigating the tax law to “trying to get through a funhouse maze” for many families who have no familiarity with it.

“There’s one entrance, and one exit, but there’s so many different paths to get there,” he said. “Many people don't have the time and money to properly prepare their own returns, and that’s where we come in.”