Paige Lacasse ’19 is one of those unique individuals who likes filling out tax returns. As an undergraduate accounting major in the Barney School of Business, she is one of ten University of Hartford students who are combining their tax talent with an interest in helping individuals and families save money on their taxes.
The students are volunteering through the IRS’s nationwide Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA), sponsored locally by the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut. The free tax-preparation service is offered on UHart’s campus and at sites throughout the greater Hartford region to qualifying filers during tax season. Participants receive help with tax preparation and learn ways to save and stretch their refunds.
“It is a great way to give back to the community using our knowledge, but also gives us first-hand experience in the world of accounting and taxation,” says Paige who is from Deep River, Conn. “There are different ways individuals can save money on their taxes and, when we find someone didn’t use a credit or deduction the year before and we apply it this year, it can save them hundreds of dollars.”
Last year, over 11,000 filers in Central and Northeastern Connecticut received nearly $30 million in federal refunds and credits through VITA and MyFreeTaxes, (another sponsored filing service).
“I recently met with a gentleman who had used his entire 2015 refund to pay for a tax preparation service, so when I told him we do not get paid, he was so happy and relieved because he needed this year’s refund money to pay bills,” says Gabriele Tripodi ’18 of Waterbury, Conn. “Helping him made me realize that taking even a small amount of time out of your day to help someone can make a big difference.”
Though they don’t serve as actual tax-filers, students attend an IRS certification training program provided by the United Way which qualifies them to assist individuals and families with preparing their state and federal taxes. Associate Professor of Accounting Carl Smith, who organizes UHart’s participation in the program, says when taxpayers walk out from meeting with students, the tax forms are typically done. “They will nearly always carry with them their completed return for 2016 and students are instrumental in helping them fill out the appropriate tax forms.”
Ilycia Rieman ’18, of Avon, Conn., says she reviews the forms a client may have already filled out and works to “find any and all tax deductions for them.”
Damien DeJesus ’18, of New Britain, Conn. recalls working with a woman from Jamaica who was filing her first U.S. tax return and he took the opportunity to explain the value of saving a portion of her refund for emergencies. “I wanted her to know she has options for improving her financial situation,” says Damien, who believes that while they are providing a valuable community service, “it is also turning out to be a valuable learning experience.”