The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax assistance to qualifying individuals. This IRS program requires volunteers to attend training and pass certifications.
VITA is an excellent way to learn more about how to prepare taxes while bolstering your resume with real-world accounting experience.
Volunteering for VITA will give you hands-on training, a boost to your resume, excellent networking opportunities, and plenty of experience to add depth to your future interviews. Best of all, since VITA does not require a minimum amount of college credits, you’ll be able to reap these benefits while you’re still in your Freshman or Sophomore years.
VITA offers a variety of outstanding opportunities for accounting students and entry-level professionals.
Hands-on training from tax preparation experts
There is no better teacher than real-world experience. By preparing taxes for individuals, you’ll be exposed to topics that before had just been a bullet point in a textbook. In addition, professional tax preparers and CPAs will be available to assist you with complex questions. Interning with a large firm offers many advantages, but being part of a smaller team provides greater opportunities to be relied on and helps build your confidence.
Many VITA locations are supervised by CPAs, so joining the program is a great way to network with professional CPAs. Taking this opportunity could even result in additional internship accessibility down the road.
Tax preparation experience to boost your resume
Adding additional content to your resume is always valuable–especially when that experience comes from a known name. VITA is a well-known program, and many CPAs have worked with the program in the past. This means the program carries good name recognition and can add a bit of weight to the otherwise limited experience most students start with.
Talking points for interviews
Your accounting interview will have a fair number of questions. Many of those questions may be focused on accounting topics, but some will involve your communication skills and personal responsibility. Having accounting experience outside the classroom allows you to diversify your responses.
Your experience with VITA can provide answers to these common interview questions:
In addition, because VITA is such a well-known program, there is a chance your interviewer will have first-hand experience in the program. This shared experience can be a great way to connect and stand out from the competition.
Communication and people skills
Communication skills are essential for all accountants. Whether trying to explain an accounting topic to a non-accounting peer or presenting your findings to a client, you’ll need to be good at working with a wide variety of people. VITA gives you the opportunity to work with many different clients and coworkers.
For instance, most of your clients will know very little about taxes, so you’ll get practice explaining topics in layman’s terms. Because they don’t know much about taxes, you will also learn to extract information from context and conversation. These same skills will become essential when conducting audits in the future.
Academic credit or CPA work experience
Some colleges and universities offer academic credit for the VITA program. This is an advantageous way to boost your GPA while gaining work experience. Be sure to check with your academic advisor to ask about any possible credit you could receive for volunteering with VITA.
If you do not receive academic credit, your experience could count toward the CPA credential’s work experience requirement. For the experience to count, it will need to be signed off by a licensed CPA. Some states also require that a CPA supervise your experience, so be sure to confirm all requirements with your state board.
VITA volunteers have a head start on preparing for Part 1 of the EA exam. We offer Part 1 of our digital book and Test Prep Online for free to student volunteers, along with a cross-reference between EA topics and VITA exam topics so they can pass more quickly and easily.
In addition to the positive experience of giving back to your community, many ethics courses require volunteer experience. Working with VITA is a great way to earn those volunteer hours while also advancing your career.
Continuing education credit
Enrolled agents and non-certified tax return preparers can earn continuing education credits. This is only applicable if they volunteer as a VITA/TCE instructor, quality reviewer, or tax return preparer.
Certification exam preparation
Completing the IRS’s tax training will also help prepare you for some of the accounting certification exams. Specifically, your experience and exams will assist in preparing you for the Enrolled Agent exams and REG section of the CPA Exam.
VITA does not have any education or work experience requirements. To volunteer for VITA, you will need to take an introductory Standards of Conduct training course and pass one or more certification tests Opens in new window depending on the type of tax preparation you wish to perform.
Each test you pass expands the types of returns you’ll be able to complete.
There are nine tests you may take:
Running a free tax service requires many different types of people. As a result, VITA locations have many different volunteer roles. For most accounting students and entry-level professionals, volunteering as a Tax Preparer, Quality Reviewer, and Tax Coach will provide the most value. The Greeter, Interpreter, and Site Administrator positions are useful for developing the soft skills you’ll need for networking, interviews, and client services.
NOTE: Some positions won’t give you accounting experience but can be helpful to get your feet wet while you pass the IRS’s open-book exams.
Joining the VITA program is simple, and the program is open year-round (though some locations do not conduct training during certain months). There are multiple ways to join the program.
Join through the IRS
The IRS works to pair volunteers with locations that need additional members.
Join through a college course
Some universities/colleges offer VITA courses for academic credit. In this case, you’ll just need to enroll in the VITA course at your university/college. If you’re not sure whether your school offers such a program, you should discuss your options with an academic advisor.
Contact your local VITA location
If you’d like to discuss your options for volunteering, you can reach out to your local VITA location. Contacting your local VITA location may help accelerate your on-boarding and provides an opportunity to ask additional questions, such as when they conduct training.
To find your local VITA location, use the IRS’s VITA/TCE finder tool Opens in new window.