Student volunteers provide free tax services

[ MUSIC ] Brian Lendecky
The class is called the Accounting Practicum. The main requirement for the students is that they have to complete 55 hours of community service, preparing tax returns for low-income families. This semester’s almost over. This is what we have left: Next week, Michael McDermott’s going to come in. He’s a local tax payer advocate for Austin. I want you to spend the group time talking about research papers. Most of my students have never even seen a tax form before this class. And, they get certified by the IRS. And now they’re out helping citizens of Austin get as much money back as they can, and being low-income families, every dollar helps for them. [ MUSIC ] Sarah Flowers
Today we’re at the Workforce Center, which is one of the sites where we have our Community Tax Centers set up. The general qualifications are that you have to make less than $25,000 a year if you’re single or $50,000 a year if you’re married. Brian Lendecky
A lot of people go into these tax centers, and they are just frightened. They don’t know what to expect. They don’t know if they’re going to owe $500, get $500 back. My students and the volunteers at the Community Tax Centers put them at ease. They know they’re getting the largest refund they can get, and it just makes the whole tax process that much easier. Sarah Flowers
To volunteer in your area of expertise, I think makes it even more rewarding. Come spring, which is the semester they offer this class, I immediately signed up for it. Walter Moreau
In Travis County, over $30 million goes unclaimed by working poor families. That $30 million is a phenomenal amount of money for just our county, for families that work and that have kids. They’re overwhelmed by the complexity of getting their tax return done, and you’re able to help them in a very tangible way. Ashley Clements
I love when people share what they’re going to spend their tax refunds on. Like, “Oh, my god! My car doesn’t work anymore. I really need a car to get to work.” And, you know, that’s always a good feeling. Ellen Wilhelm
They file their taxes so that they can get money. That’s a source of income for them. Sadie Qazi
You know, they’re depending on that refund to pay their bills and get food on the table. Walter Moreau
I think one of the big benefits of this program actually happens with the student volunteers. It gets them out of the university bubble, gives them a chance to interact with very hard-working folks. Zebede
Like me, many people cannot afford to pay somebody, or they cannot do it by themselves, so they need this kind of help. Rochelle Patterson
Well, it helps me because I don’t have the money to pay for the tax return preparation. I think it’s wonderful. Gina Reynolds
It was just real helpful and convenient and easy. William Tolden
Well, I did use other tax services in the past, but I’m retired now, so on this fixed income I have to budget. So when I can get something free, that’s fine. Tracy Gillespie
I’ve been using a CPA for like the past five years, and that’s about $225. You know, it adds up. I mean, you just come in, fill out your paperwork and wait to be called on. The wait wasn’t that long for me. And then, the lady who helped me was very patient ’cause we had to figure out my childcare expenses. Brian Lendecky
I have 265 students, and that is roughly 50% of the volunteers for the Foundation Communities’ Community Tax Centers for the city of Austin. Ashley Clements
Because so many of our volunteers are UT students, we could in no way hit the number of clients that we hit without the UT students. They are a critical component. [ MUSIC ] Student Volunteer
So, you said that your job is house keeping? Client
Ah, huh. Brian Lendecky
My students refer to these people they help as their clients, and they are. Actually applying your trade is the most important part of the learning process. Walter Moreau
We have a good number of IRS employees or former employees, and they volunteer, as well, as a way to give back. So, the students get extensive training. They have lots of backup and support. We have a quality review system to check everything. Evan Kiefer
We just try to explain each thing, why you get it, what the laws are and how it applies to them. Nicholas Williams
So I’m just going to staple most of these forms on to here. Client
Okay. Nicholas Williams
You’ll be able to keep it as a reference, and then you can keep the rest of them. So if the IRS ever audits you… Client
Uh, huh… Nicholas Williams
Then you’ll basically have all of the documentation. A lot of times when you’re in school, you’re really working towards bettering yourself and setting your career up for the future. And basically what this gives you an opportunity to do is give back. Evan Kiefer
It’s definitely something different. It’s not the same class structure, that you normally go and you just read the book. Nicholas Williams
You really get exposure to what’s going on in a lot of other people’s lives. And it really makes you thankful for what you have. Sadie Qazi
It gives you kind of a break from your studying and normal college routine, and it lets you get out in the community and experience Austin. Walter Moreau
I did taxes for a young couple in their 20s. They each worked two jobs, so they had four W-2’s. They had just had a baby girl in November. Their income was about $20,000 a year. They were also going to school part-time. They thought they were going to owe a couple hundred dollars. By the time we were done, they were getting about a $2,500 refund. Mom started to cry. You know, it was just a joyous occasion and an exciting opportunity for them. Dennis Webber
We all have to pay taxes. So, whether you’re a family or single, it’s your taxes. It can affect you in the long run, so it’s important that you get the right information. Definitely, next year this is probably where I’ll be — a little earlier than two days before. Gina Reynolds
I will continue coming here until I make over $25,000. Hopefully, that will be next year. Walter Moreau
You spend an hour with a client, and you really find out all about their circumstances. It’s a great little window into somebody else’s life. Sarah Flowers
I think one that really stood out to me is a guy who’s been serving in Iraq, and he had just come back, I think. And I told him that my brother was over there right now. And I just had a little bonding experience with him, talking about that, talking about his experience over there. [ MUSIC ] Ellen Wilhelm
My most meaningful client so far was a single mom, And she had to bring her daughter in, and her daughter was only two. And so, she had to wait with her daughter, and she was apologetic for how her daughter was loud and kind of running around. She said, “I’m a single parent, and I have no way to take care of her. I can’t pay someone to take care of her, so she’s just kind of with me today.” I mean, yeah, I’ll get an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ in this class. That doesn’t really matter. It’s more that the lady with the little two-year-old girl is hugging you, and her girl is sitting on your lap while you’re doing her return. [ MUSIC ]

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