VITA’s Third Year at Menlo College

VITA’s Third Year at Menlo College

Sponsored by the United Way and the IRS, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) program assists lower income taxpayers with the preparation of their tax returns. Since 2012, Menlo College has sponsored a VITA site, comprised of student volunteers, supervised by Professor Jack Klingler. Last year, the Menlo site prepared over 100 tax returns, resulting in over $53,000 of refunds for clients from the local area. For the 2014 filing season currently underway, the site is staffed with seventeen accounting and finance majors who went through extensive training as well as a series of exams in order to take part in the program. Two of those volunteers included Rachel Gao ’16 and Luis Plata ’15.

Rachel is an accounting major who works in the business office doing accounts payable, journal entries, and some payroll. She entered the United States as an international student from China the year before college through a high school exchange program in Colorado. There were 300 people in her high school town of Norwood, and only 30 students in her high school. Menlo was a large campus compared to her high school and the weather is more temperate. “I love California weather,” she smiled.

In her spare time, Rachel is a talented artist, creating art in an impressionistic style with art sticks and she tutors students in math and accounting. “VITA is good experience,” said Rachel. “I’ve taken tax classes but I wanted experience working for the lower income community.” Sometimes she pairs up with other accounting students such as Luis at VITA, and other times she works without a partner. Each accounting volunteer took an exam to qualify at an advanced level, so that they can review the completed returns.

“I hope to stay in America after I graduate. It is difficult to find a job if you’re an international student because you must find employer sponsorship, but I’d love stay in the Bay Area and work in tax and corporate accounting.”

Luis has been on a long journey to become qualified for his career, but he has a plan and he is nearing the finish line. Luis is a transfer student from DeAnza Community College. As a graduate in computer science, he arrived at Menlo College knowing he wanted to major in accounting.

His advice to other accounting students is to “learn the basic material about debits and credits because it will help you immensely. You’ll have difficulty going forward if you don’t understand the elementary concepts.”

“Volunteering for VITA was a way for me to get first-hand experience in what tax work is all about,” he said. Students who work for VITA get 15 SERV hours and 2 academic credits as well. Luis has been in demand at VITA because he speaks Spanish, a language frequently requested by the clientele.

Until he completes his education, he works as head cashier at CVS pharmacy in San Jose. After commencement, Luis will start the Becker CPA program. When he finishes the half-year program that preps accountants for the CPA exam, he will be eligible to pass the test to be a CPA. “I’m hoping to bypass years of an entry position where I would have to study at night to pass the CPA test,” said Luis.

Menlo has partnered with Becker CPA Review and the CPA review courses on campus from May 26, 2015-Oct 31, 2015.  Students are eligible to apply for 6 units of non-degree credits that can be applied towards the 150 units for the CPA licensure. It is available to Menlo and non-Menlo students who hold a bachelor’s degree.  However, only Menlo students are eligible for a discount with Becker.

Once they complete the four parts of the CPA exams they must complete a one-year experience under the guidance of a CPA as well as 150 academic units. Then they are able to apply for the state of California CPA licensure. “It is truly a long and challenging process,” said Professor Janis Zaima. “I’m so proud of our students who are taking the challenge to succeed as accountants.”

Luis praised Dr. Zaima for the help she gave him while he pursued his degree at Menlo College. “I love the friendly people, and the close-knit base at Menlo,” he said. “I had five other colleges to choose from, and I’m so glad I chose Menlo College.”