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Filing your taxes may not be as scary as you think

Western’s VITA tax center offers support to students free-of-charge

VITA student volunteer Alden Edison (middle, wearing plaid) assists Michael G. Yde (right, wearing orange) file his taxes in Parks Hall at Western Washington University in Bellingham Wash., on Feb. 26, 2024. VITA offers free tax assistance to Western students and Bellingham community members. // Photo by Peyton Perdue

Editor's Note: This story was originally written for another course at Western. Even though the reporter is not on our staff, it has gone through our editing process and meets our standards.

"It's massively confusing. … I've been dreading it since last year," Eric Bachman said as he sat down to file his taxes in the basement of Western Washington University’s Parks Hall. Bachman is a second-year student at Western. Like many other college students, he said, he finds that tax season poses an overwhelming and confusing challenge. 

With tax season underway, Western’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program is up and running for its 34th year. VITA is an IRS-sponsored national program that provides locations with professional volunteer assistance to taxpayers for free. 

This year, Western’s VITA offers two ways to get tax help. The first is an in-person appointment with a volunteer who completes a quality review to ensure one’s return is properly completed. This service is open to anyone. 

New this year is a second option of self-preparation, where an individual can complete their return through an online service provided by VITA. Volunteers can answer additional questions and offer help if needed. Support in reviewing can be found in person, by email and by phone. This option is restricted for those who make more than $79,000 in the tax year. 

The program's goal is to help provide resources to taxpayers in need of support, according to Steve Smith, the head of VITA at Western and an associate professor in the College of Business and Economics. This tax season will be Smith’s sixth year running the program at Western.

“The ultimate goal is to continue to expand and serve more and more people,” Smith said. 

“Especially people who need support.” 

Last year, Western’s VITA had a total economic impact of $193,692 in Whatcom County. This number includes both federal and state tax refunds as well as the estimated cost of tax return preparation from an outside service. 

Volunteers for VITA are certified through a series of tests on tax-filing procedures to ensure they provide accurate and knowledgeable assistance. Due to the connection to accounting, Western introduced a class to incentivize students to participate in the filing assistance program. For the last two years, Accounting 297A has been a class open to everyone with no prerequisites. In the course, students can earn credit for volunteering at VITA as well as developing other professional accounting skills. 

Among Western’s volunteers is Sehome High School freshman Ben Zou. Despite this being his first year volunteering, Zou has already been advanced certified to assist in tax filing at VITA. 

“It’s a useful skill,” Zou said in regards to his interest in filing taxes. He said he hopes to begin a club at Sehome that focuses on helping his peers become more comfortable with taxes as well as spreading more awareness and knowledge about the process of filing.

“People are frightened of taxes,” said Robynn Troiano, a volunteer and the quality reviewer for Western VITA. “They really appreciate the help.” 

Troiano also volunteers with AARP’s VITA. Troiano has spent over 20 years working for the Department of Revenue specializing in corporate tax as well as a few years working for the IRS. 

Like Troiano, Smith also spoke to the importance of VITA’s community impact. Despite the on-campus location of VITA, Smith said most of the taxpayers that come in are other community members.

“We have had community members coming to us for years, and they are going to continue to come,” Smith said. 

Last year, VITA served 101 taxpayers, an 82% increase from the previous year. 

After a little over an hour, Bachman had completed his taxes in the brightly lit computer lab. He described his experience as helpful, easy and useful. “An opportunity to not struggle with [taxes] on my own was awesome.”

Paying Taxes as a College Student: What do I need to do, what do I need to know, and other FAQs:

For many college students, taxes pose lots of confusing questions. If you are confused about where to start, this is the place for you. 

Should I file taxes? 

Everyone’s tax situation is a little different, but generally, yes. In most cases, your employer likely withheld the taxes and they will be returned to you in your refund.

When are my taxes due? 

This year (2024), taxes are due Monday, April 15th. 

How do I know if I'm filing independent or dependent this year?

The best way to find out is to call your parent(s) or guardian(s) to find out if they are planning to claim you as a dependent on their taxes. If they’re claiming you as a dependent, you should follow suit and file as a dependent. If they’re not planning to claim you, you file independently. 

What is a W-2? Where do I get mine? 

A W-2 is a common tax form that is used to document how much an employee was paid and how much was withheld for taxes. This form is used to file state and federal taxes. You should receive a W-2 from your employer. 

I have a side hustle, do I have to pay taxes?

Yes. You file through a Schedule C tax form. 

I drive for a food delivery service, do I have to file taxes?

Yes. You file taxes through a Schedule C tax form as well as a 1040 if applicable to you. 

I got a 1098-T from Western. What is it? 

This is an educational tax form that reports how much was paid for qualified tuition and other educational expenses. If you need to access this form, it can be found through accessing MyWestern  > Student Accounts > Western Accounts Online > Tax Forms. 

I have another question…?

For additional information on taxes, help filing and other assistance, visit VITA’s website or visit their on-campus location. VITA is located in Western’s Parks Hall 047 and is open every Monday through Wednesday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. This service will be available until taxes are due in mid-April.

Peyton Perdue

Peyton Perdue (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year visual journalism major minoring in religion and culture studies. When she’s not reporting, you can find her taking pictures, reading or (most likely) napping. You can reach Peyton at

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