Accounting Majors Gain Hands-On Tax Prep Experience Through AARP Program
SUNY Plattsburgh accounting majors will once again make themselves available to help North Country residents file their federal and state taxes free of charge as part of the AARP-Tax-Aide Tax Internship Program.
According to Dr. Mohamed Gaber, distinguished service professor and chair of accounting, accounting students have been providing this service for three decades. This year, nine majors will volunteer for 675 tax hours in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.
AARP-Tax-Aide leader and trainer Carrie Johnson said by the end of the tax season, which begins with leader training in August each year, volunteer tax preparers will have seen nearly 4,000 clients between mid-January and mid-April.
College Credit, Career Opportunities
The internship opportunity, which gives accounting majors the chance to earn college credit, stems from the partnership between SUNY Plattsburgh’s accounting department, the AARP-Tax-Aide Program and Internal Revenue Service, Gaber said.
“The focus is to provide our accounting majors an experiential learning opportunity that will be instrumental in building their professional career.”
Gaber said SUNY Plattsburgh accounting students must pass “a rigorous IRS tax examination as well as a code-of-conduct and ethics examination and get the required training provided by AARP-Tax-Aid site supervisors.”
Once students pass all required exams and attend mandatory training sessions, they start working with clients and file their returns electronically. For the 2018 tax year, student volunteers, working alongside other volunteers, were able to secure more than $4 million in refunds.
“One can imagine the great economic impact on the local economy as a result of getting back such sizeable tax refunds,” Gaber said. “Such volunteer contributions may help in the vitality of the local economy surrounding our campus communities and the region.”
‘A Great Experience’
Nick Vilardi is a senior accounting major from Clifton Park, N.Y., returned for a second year volunteering for the AARP program.
“The first year was an incredible and very rewarding experience in which I learned a lot and met many great people,” he said. It was in his income tax I class that he first heard about the program, when representatives from AARP-Tax-Aide and offer them the chance to apply for an internship there.
“I took up this opportunity knowing it would be a great experience, and after being accepted as an intern, I knew I wanted to come back the following year.”
Students earn college credit in the internship, which senior Aric Stoll from Fort Montgomery, N.Y., said was a nice surprise.
Stoll volunteered to garner tax preparation experience and found something else as well.
“I feel like I’m making their (clients) process of having their taxes prepared a lot easier and less stressful,” he said. “Communicating with them about personal life and sharing stories also lessens the stress or hassle that can sometimes be associated with our type of environment.”
Junior John Husch from Stony Brook on Long Island agreed. As a first-time tax volunteer, Husch said that although he is looking to learn more about tax software and tax law, “I also wanted to help the community with their taxes.”
“People love the service and are almost always friendly. It makes me feel so good. I love helping older people and usually, they treat me like I’m their grandchild, which is a good thing,” Husch said. “I love talking to them, and they love talking to me about themselves. They always want to know if I’m going to college, what my major is. I can tell that they care and aren’t just trying to fill the quiet. Some of the older folks don’t really have anyone else to talk to, so they can go on for hours, which is perfect because I love talking to people.”
“One of the best aspects of this program is that it benefits everybody involved,” Vilardi said. “As volunteers, we are able to help all of these people who come into the site to have their taxes filed and help them understand what we are doing step by step. Some people who come in don’t know much about how filing taxes works and what goes into it, so it is very nice to able to help them.
“It is also beneficial for me because it gives me the opportunity to learn more and more about tax preparation. Every individual has a different situation in regards to how to approach their return: some can be straight forward, and others can require much more thought and legwork. It is also a benefit that everybody who volunteers at the site are great people who are very pleasant to work with.”
Nguyen Tuong Khanh Nguyen is a junior from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was excited to volunteer this year to get real-world, hands-on experience in tax prep.
“I can apply the accounting tax principles and rules that I learned in class to real-life tax returns,” he said. “And by doing tax returns for clients, I can understand more about the in-take questions process and tax software. I really appreciate this wonderful accounting volunteering opportunity.”
Husch said accounting faculty told him the Tax Aide internship was the best for accounting majors to participate in, and the experience proves it, he said.
“This will help me immensely next semester because I’ll be taking income tax I, which will lay the foundation for the tax work I will be doing,” he said. Additionally, the site, housed in a corner of the Clinton County Senior Citizens Center on North Catherine Street in Plattsburgh, is visited by IRS agents who make sure volunteers are properly credentialed, and sometimes it leads to good networking opportunities.
“One time the (an agent) did come down, and I was the only student at the site, and she came right over to me and asked if I would ever want to work for the IRS,” Husch said. “I said, ‘I would love to work for the IRS.’” He told the agent he is currently taking an auditing class. She handed him her card and told him “to call her, even though I have one more year; it’s always good to get the ball rolling.”
For Nguyen, the fast-paced environment at the site is good preparation for his future.
“By doing tax returns for clients at the site, I understand further and remember many of the federal tax and New York state rules,” he said. “I feel helpful to the people that need my help.”
Stoll said the skills learned on the job give students “an advantage over competitors in the job market.”
“And I find my own social skills to be improving as well, which will undoubtedly help me down the road,” he said.
Marcia LaPierre is one of the AARP-Tax-Aide leaders and trainers and said the students “are an invaluable help here.” The line of people waiting for the free service guaranteed a long wait, “but they would have a lot longer wait if we didn’t have the students. And we’re providing them with tax preparation experience.”