For 22 years, Purdue University North Central Accounting students have helped area residents prepare and file their state and federal tax returns.
These students volunteer to provide a valuable service to qualifying taxpayers while they gain valuable experience preparing taxes and dealing with clients who each present unique situations and challenges.
Students Alison Herbst, of Kingsford Heights, Terri Malocha, of Valparaiso and Jason Haynes of Michigan City, will graduate in May. They look forward to varied careers in the accounting field and each hopes to earn an MBA in the near future. But recently, each spent their spring Saturdays ensconced at PNC, helping dozens of people prepare their taxes.
“It was a wonderful experience that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” said Malocha.
To qualify to participate in the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, students are required to take a semester course in Federal Taxation. They also receive intense training in the use of Tax Preparation Software provided by the IRS, pass a rigorous Internal Revenue Tax Exam and learn procedures to use when interviewing taxpayers.
“It’s an experience that cannot be duplicated in class,” said Herbst. “This allows you to deal with people in a professional manner, just as you would on the job. It was great for me – I was able to volunteer to help people, and I still was able to deal with accounting.”
The students work with team leader Thomas Holets, PNC continuing lecturer of Accounting and coordinator of the PNC VITA program.
“Our students earn that in actual practice, a document they have seen in the classroom, may actually come to them in a variety of formats as they deal with real life situations,” he explained.
There is some competition among students to be accepted to be a volunteer tax preparer and these students were happy to have this opportunity. Plus, a number of alumni and PNC Business Department members lend their assistance too.
“This is a great way to gain practical experience in the field. It is so different from dealing with theory in the classroom,” explained Haynes. “It’s not just crunching numbers, it’s explaining things to people, listening to them and sorting through their paperwork.”
They agreed that each of the more than 110 clients they serve is unique and deserves their complete attention.
“We understand that some people are nervous,” said Malocha. “We have a lot of repeat customers from year to year. That’s great for us.”
A series of safeguards guarantee the returns are correct before filing. According to Holets, returns are processed with a very high degree of accuracy, with e-file rejections well below the national rate.
Holets is always available to the students for advice, clarification and support, said Herbst.
With graduation just a few weeks away, the students look forward to the future. All plan to earn an MBA to help forward their careers.
Malocha would like to someday work for the IRS. Haynes aspires to become a CPA and opening his own firm. Herbst aspires to a career as financial advisor in manufacturing or with a large company.
“I’m happy that I’ve had this opportunity to give back to the community,” said Malocha. “It’s doing the right thing.”
“It was a really positive experience and it was a positive experience for our clients,” added Haynes.