Students ease the agony for taxpayers
Matt Gleason, a sophomore accounting student at Rutgers Business School, stared at a computer screen, doing some last calculations to complete Yilei Shen’s income tax return.
“You get $100 back,” Gleason said. Shen leaned back in her chair with a slight smile of relief. Her taxes were done.
An international student at Rutgers, Shen had to file taxes on the part-time salary she makes as a research assistant. “I never filed taxes before,” she said. “I didn’t really know how it worked.”
“I could do Turbo Tax,” she said, “but I would like someone who knows more to help me.”
That’s why Gleason was there.
For accounting and finance students who belong to the Beta Alpha Psi honor society at Rutgers Business School, volunteering with the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program is something of a tax time tradition. It allows them to fulfill the honor society’s community service requirement and it gives them an experience to list on their resumes.
The VITA program assists low-and-moderate income residents filing standard tax forms. The maximum income for someone with a joint return is $110,000 and for single filers, the maximum income is $65,000.
During the weeks leading up to tax day, the accounting students show up for shifts on Fridays and Saturdays at the New Brunswick Public Library, which hosts the VITA program in the Teen Reading room.
The students average about five appointments every hour, according to Teresa Chen, a senior at Rutgers Business School who was serving as site coordinator on a Friday morning in late February.
Chen said the students will prepare tax forms for at least 250 people by April 7, when the program ends.
While some students like Gleason were perched around a round desk in front of computers installed with VITA’s Tax Slayer Pro software, others like Samuel Han, a sophomore accounting student, were scrutinizing W-2s, social security cards and filling out information from residents.
“You become a lot more familiar with income tax – the forms and the rules,” Chen said. “And just interacting with the clients is a huge learning opportunity.”
Pam Feng, who is also a senior accounting student at Rutgers, agreed. “This is a perfect opportunity for students to see what accounting is and how our service can affect others.”
Feng said it’s interesting for her to see how her classroom lessons matter in the real world of accounting. “It’s interesting,” she said. “I can understand now why someone owes something or why they’re receiving a refund of a certain amount.”
Like Chen, Feng fills the role of site coordinator, making sure everything runs smoothly while the students are assisting residents. And usually it does. “We don’t handle anything very complicated,” Chen said. But sometimes filers are missing forms and the students can get nervous if filers are impatient or frustrated.
Shen, the graduate student, went through the process calmly and quickly. She said a friend suggested that she make an appointment to have her taxes done by the students. The $100 refund mattered less than the relief at being done with the daunting task of filling out the tax forms correctly.
Gleason, the student who calculated her refund, was happy for the chance to help and to get some hands-on accounting experience since most firms won’t consider him for an internship until he’s a junior.
“This is a great thing to put on a resume,” he said.
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