Students help others with taxes


In six months, UI senior Evan Malcom will put his accounting degree to use as a corporate accountant at Grant Thornton LLP in Kansas City.

He got a head start in his field thanks to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, started by Beta Alpha Psi, the UI’s accounting fraternity.

The program — run by IRS-certified UI students trained in Iowa and federal tax law — offers free tax assistance to any Johnson County resident who earned less than $42,000 in 2008.

“Everyone involved is getting the opportunity to take the knowledge we’ve learned in class and put it to use in a real way, with real people,” said Malcom, Beta Alpha Psi’s vice president for the program.

Though it began as a program for Beta Alpha Psi members approximately 20 years ago, the tax program has expanded to include all accounting majors in the UI Tippie College of Business and law students in the UI College of Law, said faculty adviser Joyce Berg.

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In 2006, the tax program teamed up with Johnson County as a part of the outreach program “You Earned it, Now Claim it,” she said.

“It’s the perfect partnership,” she said. “We have the trained students, and they have the taxpayers.”
The program filed 664 returns in 2008 — double what it did in 2007 — and it is already halfway to meeting last year’s numbers for 2009 with a little under six weeks left in the tax season.

Berg estimated the program will help file over 1,000 tax returns this year.

Malcom, 22, said he thinks the increase in users this year is due to the state of the economy.

“People now more than ever need their tax refunds, and they are demanding them,” he said.

This was the first year program organizers offered student volunteers certification classes through the program, which made joining it much easier, Berg said.

“Getting the certification on their own was really tough,” she said. “They really seemed to appreciate the preparation courses provided this year, and the quality of the tax returns are better than ever.”

And the volunteers appreciate the experience the program has offered.

UI junior and volunteer Max Anderson, 21, said this was the first time he was able to get a true sense of the tax process outside of class, which is why he decided to join the program.

“The greatest benefit to the students in my perspective is that the accounting and law students are both going into fields in which they have to explain something very complex in a way that another person can understand it,” Berg said. “They are getting experience explaining these complex ideas to people who don’t share their area of expertise.”

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