Students provide pro bono tax services

The Spectrum

This spring, IRS-certified accounting students from the University at Buffalo will provide free tax preparation services on North and South Campuses for individuals with annual incomes below $49,000.
The student-run tax service includes preparing tax returns and ensuring that all tax deductions and income tax credits are accounted for.
In 2009, according to a press release on the UB School of Management Web site, volunteer accounting services brought nearly $640,000 in tax refunds back into the Buffalo community. Around $120,400 of that sum came from the Earned Income Credit, which helps to direct additional financial support to low income families.
'It's called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, sponsored by the IRS,' said Jeff Bassen, a senior accounting major. 'It's the same thing as getting taxes done by a certified accountant, but we save our patrons up to $300 in fees that they would otherwise have to pay for the services.'
Bassen is the president of the UB chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an international accounting society, which annually spearheads the volunteer work at the university. The accounting program at UB also recruits and accepts volunteers to assist in the program on both campuses and on their weekend time.
The accounting students must complete an eight-hour training program and pass an online exam in order to participate in the VITA program. The program is almost entirely student-run.
'The students involved are typically undergraduate students in the accounting program,' Bassen said. 'Some volunteers are in their sophomore year at UB.'
The services are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Patrons need to bring with them wage statements, W2 forms, interest and dividend statements and 1099 forms, along with banking information and standard identification documents. The length of time required for each tax service depends on the complexity of the return.
'The biggest thing, in the past three years of this project, is the move to the South Campus, closer to where more of the target clientele lives,' said Cynthia M. Shore, senior assistant dean of external relations at UB. 'One of its most significant purposes is to make sure that the people who are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit get their money, because some don't even know they're eligible to save several thousand dollars in taxes.'
The EIC helps to reduce income taxes by refunding taxes already withheld from wages, saving a family with two children up to $5,000, according to the press release.
'Most of the South Campus clients are from the Buffalo community,' Shore said. 'I think it's more gratifying for the volunteers when they can get people the money that they would have otherwise lost in paperwork.'
According to Shore, the project typically recruits around 200 students each year, grossing thousands of hours in tax services and hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax returns.
'The whole point is to give back to the university and the city of Buffalo,' Bassen said.
The School of Management encourages the entire UB community to take advantage of the opportunity for free tax services. The services are available in 109 Allen Hall on South Campus and in 106 Jacobs Management Center on North Campus. Times and dates can be found on the UB School of Management's Web site.