One night per week during tax season at the Curris Business Building, you’ll find a group of students helping community members file their federal and state tax returns — all free of charge. They’re part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which helps low- to moderate-income families with their returns every year.

The program has been around for about 50 years, and it involves community giving and providing students with real-world experience. Anyone who makes $66,000 per year or less is eligible to seek help from the student volunteers.

“Majority of the students who participate in VITA are taking the CPA exam review course. The tax preparation experience will enhance their learning; it will also help them gain a better understanding of the tax laws in the Regulation section of the exam”, said Cathalene Bowler, Associate Professor of Accounting and the VITA Site Coordinator.  

That was the case for Carson Ehrenberg (Accounting, ’22), who volunteered for the program for two years. Ehrenberg will be starting with Deloitte this summer; he mentioned the program as one of the real-world experiences that helped prepare him for his career.

He was intimidated when he first started, but Bowler and other volunteers were helpful whenever he had questions. He also used training materials provided by the IRS and Bowler. Ehrenberg mentioned he had a wide range of tax returns to prepare, including a few from small business owners. That experience is invaluable.

“You learn a lot, whether you realize it or not at the time,” Ehrenberg said. “Now in CPA review, there’s a lot of things that I learned through VITA that I can recall, which will help me on the exam. You get to work with people, too, which is nice. You also get to meet new people. And you get a real-world experience of what it’s actually like to prepare a tax return for a client.”

Bowler said there are tangible benefits for participating. The IRS sends a Volunteer Certificate to each student that they may add to their resume, and she throws a pizza party at the end of each tax season to say thanks and celebrate. The time involved is usually just a couple of hours on one weeknight throughout the tax season.

“I try to keep it a friendly environment, yet maintain professionalism,” Bowler said. “Then it makes it a little more appealing, and we like to have fun with our clients, too. We try to help them relax and come into a welcoming environment. So feel free to come out and join us next year.”

For other students thinking of getting involved, Ehrenberg has some advice.

“I’d say do it, even if you don’t feel like you’re prepared or ready for it,” he said. “Dr. Bowler and the professors do a good job of getting you ready. You’ll learn along the way, and it’ll be a really good experience.”

Learn more by reaching out to Bowler or heading to this website.