Student Volunteers Help Needy Tax Filers Get Refunds

Jindal School of Management Class Organizes Help Through IRS Assistance Program

Ross Chan, certified volunteer tax preparer at VITA Dallas

Graduate accounting student Ross Chan helped fill out 30 returns on his first day volunteering for VITA.

Two years ago, Monica used a tax preparation service that urged her to apply for a refund anticipation loan so she could get her much-needed refund quickly.

But the mother of three, who earns around $19,000 annually, paid $200 for preparation and loan fees on a tax-time advance that she learned didn’t come any faster than her friend’s refund. Her friend had used the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA), a free tax prep service for people in need that draws upon the skills of trained volunteers, including roughly 100 UT Dallas students.

“I paid $200, and my friend paid nothing, and she got her money just one day before I did,” said Monica, who asked that her real name not be used. “So this year I came here. It’s free and it’s fast, and I won’t have to worry about someone taking a chunk out of what I need for my family.”

Sixteen of the 100 UT Dallas students volunteering with VITA Dallas are receiving class credit hours for their work as part of a class taught by senior accounting lecturer Kathy Zolton.

“It feels good to know that you can make someone’s day better and let them know that they can trust people to help them out when they’re in need.”

Ross Chan,
graduate accounting student, volunteer

Zolton’s 16 students had helped nearly 500 individuals file their tax returns by Feb. 28, generating more than $1.3 million in refunds and averaging $2,770 in reimbursements per filer.  In total, UT Dallas students had completed nearly 3,100 returns, refunding clients about $8.5 million. Final figures for the 2012 tax year will be available in May.

One student volunteer is graduate accounting student Ross Chan.

“It feels good to know that you can make someone’s day better and let them know that they can trust people to help them out when they’re in need,” the Houston native said.

Chan showed up for his first day of volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, one of the VITA sites, in late January. The line of people awaiting help wound through the entrance and out the door, he said.

 “When I got there, there were only two people doing returns,” Chan said.  “I sat behind the supervisor and watched her do a return, then she threw me into it because it was so busy. I did 30 returns that first day. The office usually closes at 6 p.m., but I didn’t leave until 9 p.m.”

The largest refund Chan had processed so far totaled $11,000, he said. “They made around $20,000 a year and had six dependents, so they qualified for a lot of the credits. And on top of that, one of their dependents was in college, so they got education credits, too.”

Many low-income families don’t realize they’re entitled to the Earned Income Tax Credit, said Gala Triggs, United Way Director of Income, Initiatives and Projects. Triggs spoke this month to Zolton’s class.

“Thousands of dollars are being left on the table each year, so your volunteer hours really do make a difference to make sure that these people get the money that they are entitled to,” Triggs told students.

The VITA program, coordinated by the United Way, gives Jindal School students practical experience that can enhance their resumes and broaden their career and education options, said Zolton. It also gives them a vehicle to give back to the community by using their accounting acumen.

“I’ve enjoyed watching the students evolve since they started in January and become much more confident students. I’ve also enjoyed seeing them working to become advocates for their clients. They are very proud of the amount of refunds they have helped their clients get,” Zolton said.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].