14:16 PM

Accounting Students Make Tax Filing Easier for Houston Residents

UHD students and community volunteers attend a two-day training to become volunteer tax preparers. UHD students and community volunteers attend a two-day training to become volunteer tax preparers.

Students in professor Alicia Yancy's accounting class at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) are making the filing process easier for some Houston residents.

In October 2014, Yancy received an email from Neighborhood Centers Inc. (NCI), an organization that has partnered with several teams and departments at UHD. It was an invitation for her students to assist their members during the upcoming tax season.

"I thought it was a great opportunity for the students to get practical, real-world experience relevant to a career in accounting," said Yancy.

Neighborhood Centers are service sites for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, an IRS-sponsored initiative that offers free tax help to people who generally make $58,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.

In January, upon approval from department chair Chu Nguyen, about 20 students and 40 additional volunteers participated in a two-day on-campus training session led by Danishia Ventura and Tiffany Edwards of NCI.

A variety of topics and situations were covered, including tax filing statuses, standard deductions, exemptions, and updates regarding the Affordable Care Act. Students practiced filing sample returns for hypothetical tax filers with special circumstances such as common law partners, newlyweds, and students.The students then finished the process by taking an online tax ethics course and completing a certification test.

Armed with this certification, students are now qualified to volunteer at NCI's 17 citywide locations, and many have already logged dozens of hours. On-site quality reviewers- individuals with at least intermediate tax law certification- look over each tax return to ensure accuracy. Some students plan to participate in a mobile tax unit later this month. Nguyen and his faculty are also exploring the possibility of offering on-campus tax services for students and staff.

In the future, the department hopes to expand the collaboration beyond the College of Business. Other VITA volunteers are needed to greet and screen participants, act as interpreters for customers not fluent in English, and offer on-site computer and software troubleshooting.

For more information on becoming a Neighborhood Tax Centers volunteer, visit them online.