By Christopher Shaddock
For the past 18 years, DeSales junior and senior accounting majors have been volunteering their time by giving free tax preparation assistance for those in need, such as the elderly and low-income families. This program is part of the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). The accounting students are giving assistance from Jan. 22 to Mar. 28.
Those eligible for assistance call an extension at DeSales in which their contact information is then transferred to the accounting students. An accounting student then sets up an appointment held at DeSales with the client to collect any necessary tax information in order to prepare a tax return. Once prepared, it is checked by supervisor of the program and division head of business, Dr. Christopher Cocozza, then given back to the client.
“I was a student volunteer last year and it definitely is challenging to manage all the phone calls and meetings with various clients,” said senior Hannah Popp. “There is also a learning curve in the beginning because real client experience will always be different than the textbook examples we studied the semester before. However, after the first few returns, I really felt like I got the hang of it. It’s a really unique opportunity for me to gain real-client experience while learning to navigate professional tax preparation software, improving my communication and time-management skills and challenging myself to be more accountable and conscientious.”
The majority of volunteers come from Cocozza’s AB-323 class, which teaches taxation in businesses. There were 23 students, and each were required to pass a test given by the IRS in order to be certified for the program.
“We have had over 90 calls from community members so far this semester,” said Popp. “Normally, we stop taking clients in mid to late March, so we still have about a month to go. This is actually a pretty high volume for us, we normally finish about 100 returns each year. However, all the student volunteers have been extremely professional and diligent this year, even when managing very busy schedules. So, I am very confident that we will receive wonderful feedback from grateful clients again this year.”
Cocozza started the program in 2001, and since then students have completed more than 4,300 tax returns and served more than 1,950 Lehigh Valley taxpayers.
“Most clients are incredibly kind and appreciative of the service and the student’s time,” said Popp. “Last year, every once in a while, a client would bring me home-made cookies or a small candy bar. One time a client handed me an old-fashioned soda pop bottle when he stood up to go.”
For those who qualify for this program and would like help on tax returns call 610.282.1100, ext. 1868.