Kara Helgeson of Billings is pursuing a masters of accountancy at Montana State University-Bozeman. The College of Business student is one of 34 students that are participating in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or VITA. This Internal Revenue Service program provides opportunities for accounting students to learn how to prepare tax returns and apply their knowledge to a wide range of tax issues while learning the value of volunteering in the community. They also earn one accounting credit.

This is Helgeson's second year of volunteering in the VITA program. "I feel this service is of great value. I think it is wonderful that low-income people as well as students are able to get assistance with their tax returns without having to pay a professional," Helgeson said. "Many tax returns can be confusing even if a person is not of high income. The VITA program offers help to those individuals that they may otherwise not be able to receive."

Anne Christensen, Professor of Accounting at Montana State University Bozeman College of Business, oversees and trains the students for the VITA program. "The students are well prepared to offer this service. They have completed one or more tax courses as well as nine additional hours of training specifically oriented to low income taxpayers. The students also must pass a qualifying exam prepared by the IRS," Christensen said.

"We are proud of our MSU-Bozeman College of Business graduate accounting students. They receive an exceptional education and are well prepared for accounting practices and passing the difficult CPA exam. We were number one in the nation in 2002 for first-time candidates with advanced degrees passing the CPA exam," Christensen added. "Not only does the VITA program provide educational value to the students, they learn the importance and rewards of sharing their knowledge and expertise with those in need of tax assistance."

Halverson agrees. "I have received many educational values from this service. I learned a great deal about tax rules and regulations through the training as well as gained a lot of practical experience in actually assisting individuals in preparing their returns."

It is a service she feels needs to be continued and offered to students in the future. "I would definitely recommend this volunteer project to students who will be seniors or graduate. I think VITA is an excellent opportunity to not only improve and expand upon your accounting skills, but also a great chance to give back to the community," Halvorson said.

With the exception of March 16, the service will be offered every Tues., Feb. 10 through April 6, from 6:30 - 9 p.m in room 401 Reid Hall on Montana State University-Bozeman campus. The students will help people with basic federal and Montana income tax returns.

There is no appointment necessary and individuals interested in free tax help should bring their 2003 tax packages, W-2 forms, interest statements, 2002 tax returns and other tax documents. International students should attend one of the tax seminars for non-resident aliens on March 9 in Room 104 Reid Hall from 5:30-9 p.m. or March 10 from 9 a.m. 2 p.m. in Room 275 Student Union Building. They are requested to bring their W-2s and 1042S.