Student accountants join tax-season volunteers

Fourteen accounting students at TCNJ are helping area residents in one of the best ways they know how: by preparing their tax returns, free of charge.

The students, all juniors and seniors who learned their preparatory skills in the College’s Federal Income Taxation course, will be working with the local center for Volunteer Income Tax Assistants (VITA), which is operated by the Mercer County Alliance. As volunteers, the aspiring accountants will spend up to 100 hours preparing tax paperwork for low-income people in the Trenton area.

“The tax code is very difficult,” said C. Andrew Lafond, assistant professor of accounting and information systems, who taught the students the ways of federal income tax over the last couple of semesters.

“These low-income people are eligible for the earned-income tax credit,” which requires paperwork and form-filing, he explained. That’s where VITA lends a hand: “It’s a way for them to make sure they file their tax return … (and) if they have a refund coming back to them, that they in fact get it.” VITA is offered by the IRS.

As a part of his income tax course, Lafond required his students to take the qualifying test for participation in the VITA program. All of his students passed, he said, and 14 chose to work with the nationwide program, which offers internship credit for some participants.

“They’re great kids,” he said. “They’re not getting paid for this … they’re getting ready to graduate, some of them even have jobs, but they’re just feeling the need to give back.”

Collette Shalhoub, a senior participant, admitted that accounting is not the kind of thing people typically associate with community service.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to give back in a profession where it’s not assumed people give back,” she said.

Along with the other accounting students, she has already received preliminary training, and she plans to work with VITA after graduation.

“People do find doing taxes intimidating, so I at least hope that accounting majors will take advantage of the opportunity to help others,” she said. “They really do appreciate our help.”

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