Course provides free tax assistance to Worcester residents
Carmen Amores needed help.
Amores found herself owing more than $12,000 she could not pay due to a mistake made on her tax returns. She had filed as single when she was in fact married and an extra $1,000 she couldn’t afford was being taken out of her check every month. Now, thanks to Assumption University’s Community Tax Assistance course (IDS 250), Amores and others are provided free tax preparation assistance, helping them avoid potentially costly mistakes.
Although the course officially meets from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, students spend most of their class time on site at the government-subsidized Plumley Village apartments in Worcester. They work with Plumley residents, using the tax-assistance program “Tax Wise,” to help make sure that all their financial information is entered correctly on their tax returns and that either the correct refund or amount due is calculated. They also double-check the accuracy of the returns, file them, and answer any questions the residents might have.
Through their work at Plumley, the accounting students are able to learn both how to file taxes and how people and companies are taxed. The course helps them gain real-world experience through aiding lower-income residents to file their tax returns.
That experience, suggests to course’s instructor, Associate Professor of Accounting Jennifer Niece, can help students become certified public accountants, a career path that can lead to becoming an auditor or a tax official as it gives students practical knowledge of both fields.
“I encourage them to put it on their resume and students have received interviews with accounting firms due to that experience,” Niece said.
An “interdisciplinary service” course, it also focuses on socio-economics as well as accounting. Through their work at Plumley, students see how other people, some of them in difficult circumstances, live and gain an appreciation for different walks of life. Additionally, several of the course readings are on welfare, poverty and other key issues.
There is a strong service element to the course as well, which Niece finds personally rewarding.
“It allows me to teach students the importance of helping others while also tying it to academics,” she said.
Adam Cabral ’16, who took the course, values the volunteer aspect. “We help people file their tax return and it puts a smile on their face and a smile back on your face. It makes you feel good.”
His time at Plumley also helped him better understand and appreciate the world around him. “The people at Plumley live on a lot less than we do but they still go to work, they still make do,” he noted.
Cabral also explained that the course has complemented the classroom knowledge he’s gained from his major.
“With the hands-on part you kind of get thrown into the fire and you have to learn on the fly and apply what you learned,” Cabral said.
For Eric Cyr ’16, the work can be strenuous – he might file up to four to five tax returns on any given trip to the center – but it is rewarding. “It feels good,” he mused. “At the end of the day you know you helped someone.”
Elvis Lopez, the director at Plumley Village, believes that the students’ takeaway is “not only the tax experience, but the people experience and understanding where tax law like the EIC, or earned income tax credit, relates to people and how that works.”
“If I were an accounting major, I’d take this course in a second,” he enthused.
Professor Niece agrees. “On the student evaluations, what I often see on their comments is that it is the best course they ever took,” she said.
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