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Volunteers aid international students as tax day nears

BY NORA HEATON | APRIL 15, 2010 7:30 AM

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Juan Pang doesn’t usually ask a person’s income the first time they meet.

It can be considered crass, even rude.

But with the University of Iowa international students coming into the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance workshop, the UI senior can afford to be a little more forward.

On Wednesday, the night before the federal tax deadline, more than 50 international students and scholars flooded into the workshop at Seashore Hall with half-completed tax returns.

Approximately five volunteers from the Office of International Students and Scholars greeted the students and fielded questions about nonresident tax forms.

The volunteers, most of whom are international students, have been certified by the IRS to aid in tax filing, said Pang, an accounting student from China who has helped with the workshops for three years.

“I got my taxes filed last year because of this,” said UI fifth-year student Brittany Logan, a native of Canada and fourth-year workshop attendee.

“If I didn’t have this opportunity, I’d probably have to resort to my friends for help,” she said. “I’m on page two [of the forms], and I’m already lost. I have lots of issues with this stuff.”

Some students stay for an hour or more and work through their entire returns, while others are able to ask specific questions and be out the door in minutes.

Mengyao Zhang, who enrolled at the UI this spring, left the workshop with a smile on her face and a complementary envelope addressed to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

“Tomorrow, the post office closes at 5 — don’t forget,” Pang called as Zhang exited.

The UI is home to almost 2,500 international students and scholars this year, according to the Office of International Students and Scholars website.

Of those 2,500, approximately 550 have attended one of the 28 tax-assistance workshops in the last seven weeks, Pang said.

But up to 900 students have used CINTAX, the UI’s tax-preparation website at home, where they can sign in with their Hawk ID and then e-mail the UI’s tax-assistance volunteers with questions. The volunteer-run account usually receives around 20 e-mails per day.

Some of these messages come from former UI students who received an income in Iowa City in 2009 and have returned to their home countries. These students are still required to mail their tax forms in from abroad.

Many people do not realize they are required to fill out the 8843 form for international students, even if they don’t make an income, said Pang. That’s why the international office sends out periodic e-mail reminders about today’s tax deadline.

Zhang said she learned about the workshop through e-mails and is glad she came — despite the crowded rush.

“Tomorrow is the deadline — that’s why there are so many people,” said Nan Liu, a UI senior from China who volunteered at her first workshop on Wednesday. “It’s like rush hour.”

Pang, who has lived in the United States for four years, said she attended a workshop the first time she ever filed American taxes.

“The first year, it’s difficult,” she said. “Out of the country, we do not have that complicated a tax system. But in the U.S., it’s complicated.”

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