Tax Filers Receive Millions in Returns Thanks to Jindal Students
April 11, 2014
Accounting students in the Naveen Jindal School of Management are helping people in the community file their taxes through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Tax season for many is a time of angst and procrastination, but for 175 accounting students in the Naveen Jindal School of Management, it’s a time for making a difference.
As tax-filing season enters its last leg, students are volunteering time and accounting know-how to help put money back into the pockets of those in need.
The students are participating in the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a free tax-prep service for people with low to moderate incomes that draws upon the skills of IRS-certified volunteers. Coordinated by the United Way, the program puts its volunteers through two days of extensive training, then tests them on the IRS tax system.
Since UT Dallas students began participating in the program five years ago, the number of student volunteers has grown from about 50 students the first few years to around 175 this year. In fact, UT Dallas students made up more than 50 percent of the United Way’s Dallas-area volunteer pool last year, according to Kathy Zolton, associate director of the Jindal School graduate accounting program and VITA coordinator.
Nadia Devani, senior accounting student
“Interest in the VITA program has been amazing. At both of our two-day training sessions this year, we had to turn people away at the door. We had 90 in each session and every seat both weekends was taken,” Zolton said.
Last year, 93 UT Dallas students served more than 2,200 taxpayers who earned approximately $50,000 or less, returning more than $5.5 million in tax refunds and saving clients more than $475,000 in tax preparation fees, Zolton said.
So far this year, UT Dallas students have helped 3,300 taxpayers get back nearly $9.1 million in tax refunds, averaging about $2,800 in reimbursements per filer. Final figures for the 2013 tax year will be available in May.
VITA is about more than getting taxpayers maximum refunds or bolstering students’ resumes, Zolton said.
“It’s not just about the tax return they’re doing. It’s about unstructured problem-solving and the stories they hear that are life-changing for some of the people they help.
“The students gain compassion for a family of five living on $22,000. It’s a perspective you can’t learn in a textbook,” Zolton said.
Rong Huang, information technology and management graduate student
Zolton recalls a story from last year: A student processed a tax return for a large family with an income of about $20,000. When the student told the husband he was getting back $8,000, the man turned to his family and exclaimed, “We’re going to McDonald’s and we’re buying coats.”
“Those are the kinds of meaningful stories that put it all in perspective,” Zolton said.
Senior accounting student Nadia Devani drives 40 minutes from her Plano home to help tax filers at Christian Community Action of Lewisville, arriving 15 minutes early and staying 15 minutes late because the work is so meaningful, she said.
“It doesn’t matter how far I drive because I get such rewards from my work. Every time I’m scheduled, I’m excited to go because I love what I’m doing,” she said. “When they leave the center, many people say thank you with lots of emotion in their eyes. That’s a great reward.”
Rong Huang, an information technology and management graduate student, is doing tax prep for a second year.
“VITA’s team is growing fast and will keep expanding. I believe more and more people will be willing to commit their efforts to this meaningful job. And it’s good news to the community because that means VITA is able to help more people,” Huang said. “What I have gotten out of the program is beyond my expectations. Thanks to VITA, I grew fast and learned a lot.”