PSU Students Offer Free Tax Return Preparation Service

February 19th, 2007 by Adam

Denise Loveless of Alexandria has a lot on her mind. Her husband is recovering from kidney transplant surgery, she’s changed jobs in the past year and preparing her tax return seems like a monumental task. But through a PSU volunteer program at Plymouth’s Whole Village Family Resource Center, Denise has nothing to worry about; she’s getting her return completed, for free, by a professionally trained and certified preparer who happens to be a PSU student.

“Nothing we do in class is as effective as doing it in real life, it’s great experience,” said Shawn Cronin of Meredith, a junior accounting major at PSU. “It’s nice to be able to do this for people. They need the service.”

“I could never afford to pay someone to fill-out an itemized return, and this would be difficult on my own” said Loveless. “The students are very polite, very professional, they wouldn’t guess on a question, they researched it and gave me a definitive answer.”

Loveless said the Volunteer Return Preparation Program has done everything she wanted, including communicating the status of her return. “They called me back, as promised.”

Who is eligible? The program offers free tax return assistance to those with low-to-moderate incomes, including those with disabilities, limited-English proficiency and seniors.

The program is limited to those earning less than $50,000 annually. Those wanting to use the program should bring their tax return forms, wage and earnings statement (W-2’s), interest income statements (1099’s) and a copy of last year’s return.

All of the student tax preparers are required to complete a PSU income tax course as a prerequisite for participating and they also must pass the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) course, a Web-based IRS tax preparation program that certifies them to prepare returns.

The Volunteer Return Preparation Program starts at the beginning of the spring semester, continuing through mid-April and the income tax filing deadline. Students estimate it takes an average of one hour to complete a return.

Hundreds of PSU students have volunteered their tax preparation expertise over the course of the 30 year-old program, while 75-100 local taxpayers get their returns completed, on average, in a normal year.

“Our clients appear to very happy, they save, on average, $100-$350 from having a fee-based professional tax return firm do their taxes,” said Roger Babin, the PSU business professor who manages the PSU VITA program. “We get written thank-you’s from people, often because they’re getting a lot more on their tax refunds than they thought they would. For instance, when earned income and child credits first came out, we helped a lot of people who were not aware of these tax changes and the look on their faces was, ‘wow,’ when they discovered how large their refunds were.”

“Of course, this gives students hands-on experience and a chance for practical applications for what they learn in the classroom,” noted Babin. “This provides an excellent service; it fills a need in the community, while the students have an opportunity for professional satisfaction. They see it being beneficial to their clients.”

“It feels good to help people out, plus, you’re getting some great experience at using your skills in a way that’s really appreciated,” said Travis Drake of Rutland, Vt., a senior accounting major.

The program has been offered in the past at Plymouth town hall, the Pease library and on the PSU campus, but Babin felt the program belonged at Whole Village, a local social service agency on Highland Street.

“1040s, 1040As, itemized deductions, we’ve seen them all,” said Jeff Dolan, a Norfolk, Mass. senior majoring in accounting. “We see a lot of single mothers, people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, so they really need their tax refund check. They’re just regular people and it feels good to help them get everything that’s owed them and they don’t need to pay for it.”

For more information, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU Media Relations Mgr.,(603)535-2775 or blyndes@plymouth.edu