Norristown, PA — A group of Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) accounting students are gaining real-world experience preparing federal and state income tax returns for lower income households.
Through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, eight MCCC students, along with Rita Mayhew, an Accounting instructor and the faculty advisor to the student Accounting Club, have been volunteering their time at the Montgomery County Community Action Development Commission (CADCOM) office in Norristown. Since February, five students join Mayhew every Saturday for three hours. Their services will continue through April 15.
“I’m extremely proud of the effort that they’ve put into this,” Mayhew said. “They learned the software. They’re talking to the clients. They have gained a lot of confidence.”
MCCC’s accounting faculty added a curriculum requirement that five percent of a student’s grade is based on successful VITA certification. Faculty do not mandate that students volunteer. However, doing so provides students with real-world learning to reinforce and build upon what’s taught in the classroom.
“Besides learning, they’ve had tax courses, but until you actually do the work and put it into practice, maybe it doesn’t all gel,” Mayhew said. “This group in particular, they’re just very focused on learning.”
For some MCCC student volunteers, including Jinman “Jean” Li, English is their second language. For Li, a Business Administration student who plans to major in Accounting, the tax return process was unfamiliar. In her native China, tax returns are not filed.
Li said she is excited about the opportunity to gain more accounting knowledge.
“I can help people and I also can get some experience,” she said. “I just feel so happy.”
Ken Haubert, CADCOM’s director of asset development, echoed those sentiments.
“They are the best there is,” Haubert said of MCCC student volunteers and their dedication. “This is our best year by far, in our partnership with the community college, thanks to Rita.”
In all, Mayhew estimates that students will have completed 200 tax returns – or possibly more – through tax season.
Last year, 1,565 total tax returns were filed through CADCOM’s VITA program, according to Haubert. This year, with more volunteers, particularly from MCCC, Haubert anticipates even more returns being completed.
In order to qualify for VITA tax preparation services, households cannot make more than $54,000. Last year’s average income for those served at CADCOM VITA sites was $19,600, according to Haubert. The free service saved clients $352,000 in tax preparation fees last year. This, when added to refunds of $2,626,325, generated a total community economic impact of $4,175,855 at CADCOM VITA sites alone, he said.
Haubert said student volunteers not only benefit his program, but the community and the students as well.
“They are dealing with personalities of clients,” Haubert said. “You have to use your tact and your interpersonal skills to make them feel comfortable.
In the end, he said, students gain “real life experiences.”
VITA services are available at multiple locations throughout Montgomery County. To find the location closest to you, dial 2-1-1 from your telephone and follow the prompts. To schedule an appointment at CADCOM’s Norristown location, clients may also call 610-277-6363 ext. 115.