This tax season 16 Daemen College accounting students ran the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) site on campus providing income tax services for 90 clients. This gave the students real life, hands on experience in tax preparations and customer service.
“Daemen College has had some sort of student tax program for over 31 years, whether on or off campus,” according to Linda Kuechler, professor of accounting.
“Being that this was the first year, as an on campus site in many years, it has been a successful program. In past years Daemen has done Income Taxis, an off campus mobile tax service program done in a bus or van. VITA wanted us to do over 50 clients, since we were a first year program. We almost doubled that, which is great,” said Grace Huff, professor of accounting.
VITA is a free, IRS-sponsored program to help low and middle-income workers (people who generally make $54,000 or less), people with disabilities, and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance, have their federal and state income taxes prepared and filed electronically at no cost. VITA also ensures that these workers receive all the tax credits to which they are entitled.
“I just thought I would give it a shot. I saw the signs in front of the business building and signed up. My experience was very good. It was quick, easy and free. I would definitely use the program again,” said client Chad Van Every, a Business Administration major with a Specialization in Sport Management.
Students were broken up and rotated into three departments: in takers, tax preparers and quality reviewers. Students had to pass, with a grade of 80 percent or higher, a basic tax and advance tax certification exam, volunteer standards certification exam and an intake/interview international tax certification exam to participate in the program.
“I was actually glad to have taken the certifications. I took an income tax theory course a few years back, and the certifications were great refreshers on the knowledge necessary to prepare people’s income taxes,” said Kenneth May, accounting major.
As an in taker, students became greeters of potential clients, checked identification, ensured clients had the required documents to file taxes, determined if the client qualified for the program and helped them fill out the tax interview form.
“I didn’t realize the different aspects of tax preparation, which includes interaction with people. This experience definitely helped me develop my communication and people skills while working with clients,’ said John Wilson, accounting major.
As a tax preparer, students inputted all the clients’ information of income, determined credits and deduction, and determined if a client owed or received a return on their taxes using tax return software.
“I actually learned a lot more than I thought I would. I was able to prepare a retirement plan and income taxes using tax software, while being a tax preparer. I am glad I did this for my Service Learning for my accounting major. It was a good life experience,” said John LeMar, accounting major.
“As a tax preparer, I feel that this program was a lot better than taking a class. It has given me good hands on experience that I can see being relevant for the rest of my life. An overall good, worthwhile experience,” said May.
As a quality reviewer, students checked their colleagues work by running diagnostics. They had the clients sign their return that needed to be filed, gave a copy of the return to the client and thanked them for coming in.
“I learned valuable skills and was able to see how they worked in the accounting world. Being a quality reviewer gave me the opportunity to experience how it is to review other people’s work and make sure everything was done correctly. It was a valuable life experience prior to going into the real world. Overall good experience,” said Grant Zlomek, accounting major.
Not only did the clients get their taxes done for free, they may receive their federal refund within as few as 10 days if they have a bank account and use direct deposit.
“I see this program continuing next spring. For the students in the program it is a marketable, personable and practical tax experience. Everyone should understand tax returns after being in the program,” said Huff.
“This program provides students with real life experience doing actually income tax returns. The work and experience is a lot harder with actual clients and their documents, than what a student can get out of a text book. I see the program continuing for many years in the future,” said Kuechler.