Tax assistance program at college winning for students, taxpayers

Student tax helpLast year 46 IRS-certified accounting students from SUNY Oswego’s School of Business brought $237,676 in tax refunds back into the community, according to the IRS.

And they’re hoping to top that by April 15 this year, said Chris Hill, one of two co-coordinators of the college’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and a graduate student in the college’s five-year accounting program.

For the 11th year, VITA students are providing free tax preparation and filing services to any local taxpayer, with weekly sessions in Oswego and Fulton. They began Jan. 31 and are scheduled to continue to April 11.

“We got really busy right at the very beginning—all the people with big refunds,” said Dr. Dean Crawford, a professor of accounting and adviser to the volunteers.

Aleithea Abbott, the other co-coordinator and also a graduate student in the college’s five-year accounting program, has been involved in VITA for three years.

“The hard work is well worth it when a taxpayer thanks you and you know that they will receive a badly needed refund,” she said. “In this economy, every dollar is necessary and critical to making that next rent, car or property tax payment, or even to buy groceries next month. It is our pleasure and duty to help our community in this time of need.”

Oswego’s chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, the national honor society for accounting and finance students, and the Accounting Society provided more than 550 hours of tax service, preparing more than 300 tax returns for individuals and families in 2008, according to John Mallon of the IRS.

Crawford started the VITA program at Oswego in 1999 because of its value in providing hands-on experience to students.

“The one thing we can’t duplicate in the classroom is sitting across from a real-live person with real-live dollars on the line,” he said. “For the first time our students have someone with questions relying on them for financial advice.”

Abbott said that when she began, “it was extremely nerve-wracking to know that I was responsible for doing the returns correctly. . . . Having a professor there to ask questions of when you get stuck made all the difference.”

Crawford noted that the program gives students hands-on experience that gives them an edge in the job market. “It’s a great resume builder because employers like to know they’ve got experience dealing with clients,” Crawford said. Abbott said she suspects her VITA experience helped win her the job offer she has accepted.

Crawford called the program “a win, win, win”: “The employers love it. The taxpayers love it. It’s great for the community.”

The Retired Senior Volunteer Program based on the SUNY Oswego campus also offers free tax preparation and, together, the School of Business and RSVP partner with the United Way of Greater Oswego County to raise awareness of the earned income credit program, a tax benefit for working people who earn low or moderate incomes. 

Last year, the returns the accounting students helped complete resulted in total earned income credits of $63,033 for 64 local clients.

Students will resume offering free tax preparation March 16 after spring break, from 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays at the Oswego County Workforce Career Center on Route 481 across from Mimi’s Diner in Fulton and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays in Rich Hall on campus.

RSVP volunteer tax aides offer free tax preparation at sites around Oswego County: St. Bernadette’s Church in Constantia, the Fulton Municipal Building, Oswego’s McCrobie Civic Center and the Phoenix Public Library. 

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PHOTO CAPTION: Tax time—Bonnie Travet of Fulton receives tax assistance from Brian Scripter, a SUNY Oswego MBA student, and Tiffany Chiu, a junior accounting major, recently in Rich Hall on campus.

CONTACT: Dr. Dean Crawford,

(Posted: Mar 04, 2009)