Students from the Orfalea College of Business are putting their senior projects to good use by participating in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which serves students and community members.
Accounting professor Janice Carr is in charge of the program and the class, which she said has been a public service for 18 years. Carr said she expects a good number of people to come in partly because of the educational tax credit that came into effect this year.
“Last year, we did 700 returns over seven Saturdays, and if a year has more changes, then we get more people,” she said.
The service will be offered to anyone making $50,000 or less, an increase of $8,000 from last year. Carr said while the amount is increased every year because of inflation, this year it was raised more because more people are struggling and can’t afford to have their taxes done by a professional.
The students will be filing tax income reports every Saturday until March 15.
Carr said the program is a great opportunity for business students because they learn how to work together and with clients.
“It’s great for them to work in teams of two, because everyone has a different management style, and if there is a conflict, they have to resolve it in front of the client,” Carr said.
Accounting senior David Pochowski said the program has been rewarding from an academic standpoint.
“It’s not like reading something from a book or studying for a test. You actually get to talk to people and apply what you know,” he said.
The clients are first screened to ensure they have all the correct information, and then they fill out the tax forms, which the students file. A local certified public accountant volunteers to double-check the students’ work.
Our job is rather easy, you just take the information from the form and enter it into the software, Pochowski said. However, he added, it’s a balancing act of talking to the client and doing the return.
“Since you are working with a partner, it makes things a lot easier. One person can talk to the client while the other will enter in the information,” Pochowski said.
Accounting senior Preston Sutter said the interaction with clients can bothstressful and rewarding.
“The coolest thing is to be able to get money back for someone, but it sucks when they owe money; you’re getting to the end and you know they have to pay but you don’t want to tell them,” he said.
Sutter also said it’s really rewarding because if these people don’t come in, they either have to pay to have their taxes done or try to do it themselves without the proper tax knowledge.
The students also spend one Saturday in Santa Maria helping residents file their taxes in conjunction with United Way. The collaboration is made possible by a grant from Pacific Bank Corporation. Students who are not bilingual are paired with someone who speaks Spanish.
Participants are asked to bring their Social Security card or ITIN number, 2008 tax returns and all 2009 tax-related documents (including child-care expenses), child-care provider identification numbers and a phone number.