Students aid low-income taxpayers

David Torres, senior accounting major, e-files tax returns.

David Torres, senior accounting major, e-files tax returns.

Jerry Manter

If there’s anyone who has yet to submit his or her taxes to the federal and state government, help is available, and, it’s free.

Seven students from the accounting department at Missouri Southern have been earning course credit by helping lower-income individuals file their tax returns at Northpark Mall.

“It benefits the community and the students,” said Dr. David Smith, associate professor of accounting. “It gives them a chance to do real world accounting work, and it’s not in a textbook.”

Two tax preparations organizations, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly, have been stationed at the mall since the first week in February. Southern and VITA have had a working relationship for about 10 years. Both parties agree the internship program has been a success.

“The students are excellent,” said Karen Blades, a volunteer who has helped the organizations file more than 1,800 returns this tax season.

David Torres, senior accounting major, has participated in the internship program with VITA and Southern for three years.

“For my accounting major, I think it’s very beneficial to see how the tax process works,” Torres said. “I think it’s great.”

Although the tax preparation services are free to the public, there are a few restrictions. There’s no set income level requirement, however, a majority of the people seeking assistance are in the lower end of the income bracket. Volunteers also see a great deal of people who are disabled and are unable to file their own taxes.

“Everyone wants to help someone out,” said Margaret Hughlett, volunteer site coordinator. “That’s why we’re here.”

Hughlett said she has been impressed with the Southern students who have worked at the tax site over the past couple of months.

“They just pitched right in,” Hughlett said. “They didn’t have any questions – I guess they’ve been trained well over at the school.”

Smith said a majority of the students have logged in several additional hours of work that’s required for internship credit. Eighteen credits are needed, but, several students have been putting in 20-25 hours.

Seeing all of the hard work from the students has impressed Smith.

“It means a lot,” Smith said. “It’s telling me that they are seeing the benefit that they’re giving to the taxpayer.”

Smith said there’s a possibility a tax preparation service might come to the campus next year to help students and faculty needing help.

“We’re hoping to expand,” he said.

Torres said he knows the internship program will help him when he graduates in May. He’s hoping to work for the Internal Revenue Service some day.

“Anyone in the accounting major should do this,” he said. “There are people that need help.”