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Business students volunteer as tax preparers for low-income families

March 9, 2016
KOKOMO, Ind. — Quick thinking by Heather McAdams meant $3,000 more in a local family’s tax refund.

McAdams and Brenda Bauder, both Indiana University Kokomo business students, volunteer at least four hours each week, helping low-income residents fill out and e-file their taxes online — for free. Families making less than $60,000 per year qualify, but the average income of those they serve is $15,635. Last year, the program saved families approximately $150,000 in tax preparation expenses.

“You’re helping people who don’t have a lot,” McAdams, from Peru, said. “I hate to see them pay for something they really can’t afford. This is a way I can give back and help. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people, using my accounting skills.”

Bauder, a Kokomo resident, said while paying $50-$70 to have someone file taxes may not seem like a big deal to some people, for their clients, it means less money in their pockets to pay bills or buy food.

“It’s truly a great community outreach,” she said. “You see the people who come in, and they are truly grateful for our assistance. At the same time, we are getting experience using what we learned in the classroom.”

Kisha Fairchild, free tax preparation coordinator for the United Way of Howard County, noted that McAdams recently used her knowledge of tax law to find an error on one client’s taxes, which meant the woman’s refund was $3,000 larger.

“That is a real difference in the life of that family,” Fairchild said.

Bauder and McAdams took the introduction to taxation class from Olga Korne, lecturer in accounting, during the fall semester, and are now using what they learned to help others.

“They learned a lot of theory, and now they can put what they learned into practice, while assisting low-income individuals and families,” Korne said. “This is a great opportunity to have actual experience preparing tax returns for real people.”

While they benefit the community, they also build their résumés, she said.

“The experience they are gaining can help them with their careers and employment, and also makes them better citizens,” she said. “Recruiters in accounting are looking for candidates who are engaged, have skills, and have some experience in the field.”

Bauder is considering a career in tax preparation or auditing when she completes her degree in accounting and finance.

“Tax preparation is a stable career, because everybody has to file a tax return,” she said.

Each student had to complete a 15-hour Internal Revenue Service certification class, and pass a final test before volunteering. They’re asked to work at least four hours a week during the season.

Volunteers are available by appointment at the United Way of Howard County Office, 210 W. Walnut Street, Kokomo. To schedule, call 2-1-1.

Volunteers prepared 1,700 tax returns in 2015, bringing $1.9 million in refunds into the local economy.

“That is money coming back into these homes,” said Fairchild. “That is a car repair that gets to be made, so Dad can go to work and keep his job. That is a senior who has money for a few more months to buy food and pay for prescriptions. These dollars make a huge impact on their lives. This is a valuable service our volunteers provide. They are making an enormous difference.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 03/09/2016