Accounting Students Ease Tax Stress for Neighbors in Need


There are many ways Ambrose students give back to the Quad Cities community: they volunteer thousands of hours annually building homes; tutor children; treat patients at a free clinic; serve food to the homeless; and more.

They also prepare tax returns through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for persons with low to moderate income.

The National Society of Accountants reports the average tax preparation fee in 2016-17 for an itemized 1040 federal and state tax return was $273. Without itemization on a federal tax return plus a state tax return, the fee was $176.

"Part of our mission is service and service learning, and with VITA, the focus is on family and individuals who make less than $57,000/year, but the average income is much lower," Accounting professor Janene Finley, PhD said. "Having VITA means they don't have to worry about paying a tax preparer."

SAU students prepare tax returns at three United Way sites: Friendly House, Scott Community College West Davenport Center, and the Bettendorf Community Center.

SAU Accounting students must complete ACCT 305 Income Tax Procedures I, a prerequisite class for the ACCT 402 Accounting Seminar. To become qualified to prepare returns, students also pass an advanced test, which is required by the IRS for all VITA volunteer tax preparers.

SAU students will help approximately 300 families and individuals

For the 2017 tax season

During this year's tax season, 11 students enrolled in ACCT 402, plus three students from the MAcc 620 Seminar, will each volunteer 35 hours at the VITA sites. In total, SAU students will help prepare tax returns for more than 250 individuals and families.

"They're gaining the valuable experience of preparing tax returns," Finley said, who teaches the tax prep courses. "It's also something they can add to their résumés."

Students also gain some soft skills because, for each tax return they prepare, they use quite a bit of conversational and relational skills.

"They sit down and interact with clients," Finley said. "This experience gives our students a better appreciation for what people go through in their lives."

At the conclusion of each session, Finley requires students write a paper reflecting on their experience. Then, at the end of the course, they write a paper about the entire 12 weeks.

"Before I started my first volunteer experience with the VITA program, I was nervous and not entirely sure what to expect," wrote junior Josh Morrissey in his reflection paper. "I was doubting my abilities to help these people file their taxes. I quickly found out that I was knowledgeable enough to prepare these tax returns, and that I should have more confidence in my abilities. Combining classwork and passing the advanced exam, I have everything it takes to be successful in this course."

SAU senior Nathan Wallace said he enjoyed getting to know his clients, talking about sports and making light conversation.

"All of the clients I served were very kind and had some good personal stories to share," he wrote in one reflection paper. "The best aspect of going to VITA is interacting with the people. The term 'lower-income individuals' may conjure an array of opinions and judgments, but I can say that the people who file at VITA have shaped my own opinion into one that is quite positive"

I was doubting my abilities to help these people file their taxes. I quickly found out that I was knowledgeable enough to prepare these tax returns, and that I should have more confidence in my abilities.

Accounting major Josh Morrissey

More Information

St. Ambrose University students have volunteered for the VITA program since at least 2004.

To qualify for free tax preparation through VITA in the Quad Cities, you must have earned less than $57,000 in 2017. Click here for more information on qualifying.

When you're ready for your tax preparation appointment, dial 211 or 563-355-9900, and use this checklist to see what you should bring.

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