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Milligan to offer free tax preparation

MILLIGAN COLLEGE, TN (Jan. 31, 2013) — Milligan College’s highly popular, free income tax preparation program will kick off the 2013 tax prep season Feb. 4 with additional locations, a new website (http://vita.milligan.edu/) and the usual host of well-trained, IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers.

Led by Milligan professor Dr. Harold Branstrator, the IRS VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program is entering its fifth year of serving area residents with a free alternative that provides the same fast refunds as paid preparers do. In 2012, volunteers completed nearly 450 returns, saving clients more than $100,000 compared to if they had used fee-based services. This year’s program features seven sites, with services offered Mondays through Thursdays and Saturday mornings.

Taxpayers eligible for VITA services include: people with annual incomes of less than $50,000, anyone with a physical disability, non English-speaking citizens, and people older than 55. In addition to electronic filing for quick deposit of returns, VITA preparers can inform taxpayers about special tax credits for which they may qualify such as earned income tax credit, child tax credit and credit for the elderly or the disabled.

“Milligan’s VITA site has become one of the strongest in the Southeast, more than quadrupling in returns prepared the last two years,” Branstrator said. “We see this as a ministry of justice to low and moderate-income taxpayers. Our volunteers (mostly Milligan students) are competent, courteous and respectful, and we have a near-zero error rate, much lower than the average for paid preparers.

“I believe this approach is what has caused our rapid growth, which includes many repeat customers,” Branstrator added. “The fact that we’re saving the average client a couple hundred dollars or more certainly plays a role as well — people like to keep their own money.”

The program has become as popular with Milligan students as it has with taxpayers. Branstrator has a stable of nearly 20 students this year. All of the volunteers completed a three-week certification process that is standard with VITA and leaves them prepared at the high level expected by the IRS.

Milligan President Dr. Bill Greer said the VITA program has become a highly effective example of the college’s strong emphasis on servant leadership.

“VITA is a practical, hands-on way for our students to make a positive difference in the community,” Greer said. “It’s been inspiring to see so many students grow to share Dr. Branstrator’s passion for helping taxpayers. This program’s growing popularity with clients and host sites shows there has been a great unmet need out there for this type of service.”

Branstrator said the program also has helped students, particularly those in business-related fields of study, put classroom skills into practice.

“We’re pleased about a few new features this year,” said Branstrator, who started Milligan’s VITA program in 2009, when volunteers completed 35 returns. “We have an Elizabethton location (Elizabethton Public Library on Thursday evenings) and a fifth Johnson City location (Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church). We have more computers this year, and I’m also excited about our website, which will help clients know exactly what they should bring to the appointments.”

Sites and days of operation (beginning Feb. 4 and running through mid-April) include:

Mondays: Johnson City Housing Authority Carver Office, 500 Washington Ave., 9 a.m.-noon.
Eastern Eight Community Development Corp., 214 E. Watauga Ave., 5-9 p.m.

Tuesdays: Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church, 201 E. Market St., 5-9 p.m.

Wednesdays: Catholic Charities, 323 W. Walnut St., 9 a.m.-noon
Milligan College, Derthick Hall Room 109, 5-9 p.m.

Thursdays: Elizabethton Public Library, 201 N. Sycamore St., Elizabethton, 4-8 p.m.

Saturdays: Grandview Christian Church, 300 University Parkway, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

To schedule an appointment, call 423.461.8700, 423.773.6438 or 928.7866 (Grandview Christian only).

For more information visit http://vita.milligan.edu/ (note it does not include www in the url).

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MILLIGAN COLLEGE is a Christian liberal arts college in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The college offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan College, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-447-5922.

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