Tax Time: Cash to Stash

Posted on 24 February 2015 by admin

Meramec interns provide free tax services for students

 

By: DALILA KAHVEDZIC

Art and Life Editor

 

STLCC-Meramec is partnering with the IRS and offering free tax preparation for its 13th year in spring 2015 through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

VITA provides students the benefit of having their taxes done professionally – for free.

“It’s good for us to get out to our community. It’s good for us to give to our students and our faculty,” Meramec Associate Accounting Professor Robyn Barrett said.

Those who want to use the service can be current or former students.

“Most of our students actually have W-2s, but we do have quite a few students that are non-traditional students that will come in and have several jobs or kids. All that is covered,” Barrett said. “We can do a very small business, but we can’t do bigger businesses or any type of rental income.”

Having a student-teacher combination in the room when taxes are being prepared helps the accuracy of the information being processed, Barrett said.

“We[Barrett, Accounting Professor Amy Monson, and a lab assistant] group the students into groups of two and they work together and we do that on purpose so that

way you got two sets of eyes that go over everything and then when they’re done, each tax return is reviewed by one of us before it’s filed,” Barrett said.

Students who prepare taxes take an accounting internship and receive the full three credit hours. “It’s considered an upper-level accounting class,” Barrett said.  “They have to pass at least one IRS exam in order to do the basic return, and if they want to do the advanced return, they have to pass the advanced exam as well.”

Accounting students have to pass a basic test to quality for filing tax returns, but they have the choice of doing the more advanced work which would include some of the more complicated returns such as stock and itemized deductions.

“There’s other small tests we encourage people to take, some of the smaller things like the military. If someone comes up with the military and you haven’t passed the military test, you can’t do it. There’s another one called cancellation of debt, which has become a lot more common lately for foreclosures and credit cards. If someone comes up with that and they [students] haven’t taken that test, they can’t do it,” Barrett said. “They only have to take the basic, but most of our students, I’d probably say 75 percent of our students, take the advanced test.”

Since this class is an internship, students must meet the required amount of hours to qualify for filing taxes.

“We meet from 1 p.m. until 5:45 p.m. every Wednesday, so if you miss that there’s out-of-class work, plus now we’re actually working on the computer on the IRS system so they have to make it up. It’s a big deal if you miss class,” Barrett said.

In the Spring 2015 season, 18 accounting student interns completed the IRS certification course taught by Barrett and Amy Monson and have been trained to prepare state and federal income tax returns.

If a student is interested in filing taxes, they need to consult with Barrett.

“Before someone were to get in, they have to come see me and I wouldn’t say for an interview but they just have to talk to me and then I will pull their transcripts and I’ll talk to their accounting instructors,” Barrett said.

There is a waiting list for both students who want to file taxes and also students who receive their certification to do taxes for others.

Barrett recommends students make appointments early to reserve a spot.

“It’s only on Wednesdays. We fill up very quickly because we take eight appointments every hour. Sometimes appointments are two hours, sometimes they’re one hour, so we get in 24 appointments a day. Most of them – I’d say 75 to 80 percent of them – are returning people and they start calling on Feb. 1 trying to get in,” Barrett said. “Sometimes we get cancellations at the end so they can always go on a waiting list.”

According to Markus Ahrens, chair of the Accounting and Legal Studies Department, throughout the first 12 tax seasons, 186 accounting student interns have prepared more than 5,500 tax returns.

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