Tax season can bring stress upon many households – especially those that are defined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as low-income.
Many low-income households simply cannot afford to have their taxes prepared professionally. Luckily for those in the greater Hamden area that find themselves in that situation, members of the Quinnipiac chapter of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) group are here to help.
Professor Matthew Maron, who is the program coordinator, explained what the organization does for the local community.
“We are at the Keefe Community Center in Hamden from 3 to 8 [p.m.] preparing tax returns for the greater New Haven and Hamden community,” Maron said. “We have a lot of taxpayers who in no way can afford to have their taxes prepared professionally.”
Maron explained that while the IRS defines “low-income” as $54,000 or less, some residents in Hamden who have taken advantage of the program’s resources do not come close to the $54,000 threshold.
“We have a lot of single or unmarried taxpayers who have children – they’re trying to support a family on $20,000 or $15,000 of income… it’s a great feeling to help them out,” Maron said. “It’s their obligation to file taxes, so this is helping to ease their burden.”
Maron explained that the program typically involves between 50 and 60 students per year.
Erik Gullestad and Morgan Trifon, both senior accounting majors who have participated in the program, explained their involvement in the process.
“I joined last spring after taking Professor Maron’s class as a preparer, and then I was elected to be the vice president of Beta Alpha Psi, which is the honors accounting society on campus,” Gullestad explained. “I worked with Morgan and Professor Maron to get the current students [in accounting]signed up to be preparers.”
Trifon, much like Gullestad, also joined the program as a preparer.
“I’m no longer a preparer, but this year, I am on e-board as the director of community service activities,” Trifon said. “My position works hand-in-hand with Professor Maron for the program. The main portion of my e-board position is the VITA program, so I have helped him set up the program, register all his students, get them all prepared.”
While Maron estimates that 90 percent of accounting majors volunteer to do taxes in the VITA program, preparing the taxes is not always a simple task for students.
“I had a couple of tax returns last year that went way beyond just the average W-2 and a few thousand dollars of income,” Gullestad said. “People with rental properties and all sort of tricky tax situations. Getting real, first-hand experience was the biggest benefit as a student doing VITA because it takes you out of the classroom to work with a real client doing real work.”
Trifon explained how valuable the experience she has received in the program is to her.
“I think the whole [program] was really valuable for me because I’m actually not staying in tax – I’ll be in audit for my job, but being able to apply the knowledge I learned in the classroom was different,” she explained. “It’s real world experience, and although I’m not staying in that particular field, I think being able to apply the knowledge I learned in [Professor Maron’s] class was very beneficial.”
Gullestad described that there are other benefits to participating in the program.
“Another rewarding thing as a student is to see how much it matters to the people we help out,” he said. “[For these] people, an extra $50 or $100 on their tax return makes a huge difference for them and you can see it.”
Like Maron, Gullestad has taken note of the impact the program’s actions have had on the local community.
“We’ve had people who have come in and had their taxes done somewhere else and they don’t file,” Gullestad said. “They come to us and they see what we can do to get them a larger return because of what the students and Professor Maron know, and the other CPA’s – and seeing how grateful they are and how we help the community is a great part of the experience.”
Maron said that the Quinnipiac chapter of VITA has won awards for its work through Beta Alpha Psi.
The program has recently completed 526 tax returns for those in need in the greater Hamden area, according to Maron.
“Last year, between federal and state tax returns, we generated about half a million dollars in returns, and that goes back into the community, so that’s a really good feeling,” he said.