Many Happy Returns
Student volunteers make filing taxes easier
A man and a woman have just had their 2011 income tax forms completed and filed in a basement computer lab in the Isenberg School of Management and they radiate delight. The man pumps the hand of Ben Black ’12, a volunteer who worked on their returns, “You’re awesome,” he says. The woman flashes two thumbs up and the couple leaves, smiling as if they’ve found a leprechaun’s gold.
Every year, Isenberg accounting students prepare and file more than 1,700 federal tax returns for low-income Amherst-area residents and for students and scholars from overseas through the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program. “I’d say 95 percent of the people who come through here leave happy,” says Black. They’re pleased for several reasons: the service is free, and many clients become newly aware of tax breaks, such as the earned income and child tax credits, through VITA. UMass Amherst VITA volunteers will secure more than $1 million in refunds this year.
Filing international returns can be especially tricky. Under the guidance of Ted Los, retired payroll administrator, students untangle the tax treaties of scores of countries. Serving more than 1,000 foreign students and workers from across the Five College Consortium, Isenberg is the largest international VITA site in the country.
Accounting lecturer Catherine Lowry ’96, ’01G, who directs the VITA program, says she actually has to turn away students eager to train as tax preparers and to spend February and March evenings filing returns. The 90 students who volunteer each year are looking for knowledge and practical experience, she says, and along the way they discover other benefits, too.
Ben Black explains: “Nurses have clinical rounds, we have this. We talk about accounting on a large scale in class, but this experience brings you down to earth. And, of course, it’s rewarding to help people.”
In the Isenberg basement at tax time you’ll even find students who find 1040s fun, “I was one of those weird kids who always wanted to do taxes,” says Patrick Michaud ’13, after fielding a client’s question about education tax credits. “This is just great.”Volunteer assistants are available Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m.