Accounting students at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management have spent more than 140 hours so far processing tax refunds for Tucsonans in need through a partnership with United Way and the IRS's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program.
The VITA program offers free tax help to people who make $51,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.
The Accounting Student Association has participated in the VITA program for many years, but this year, the number of volunteers exploded, thanks to the efforts of senior Alexandria Napier, current president of the club. "The IRS requires 30 hours of training for its certification program," she said. "But the off-campus training was a real barrier for students who would otherwise want to help."
Napier became a certified IRS trainer and, along with ASA vice president Brittany Langer (Eller accounting, '13), facilitated training sessions for her peers on campus.
"We were aiming for 10 students, but ended up with 35," she said. "Now they're out there prepping taxes at sites all over Tucson."
While the work offers students the opportunity to build professional skills by working with real clients and navigating complex tax issues such as the Earned Income Credit, Napier pointed to the program's immediate rewards.
"People who come often have to take time off of work or bring their kids, and sometimes end up waiting in line for 2-3 hours," she said. "A tax refund is a lifeline to some of these families. It's incredible and gratifying to be able to help a family making $20,000 a year get a $5,000 refund."
Napier also said the students are trying to educate families about predatory lending practices around tax refunds. "Many of these places lure people in by claiming that they will prepare the taxes for free, then they issue a short-term loan with 500-600 percent interest rates. Most tax payers receive their refunds within 21 days."
The Eller College is internationally recognized for pioneering research, innovative curriculum, distinguished faculty, excellence in management information systems, entrepreneurship, and social responsibility. U.S. News & World Report ranks the Eller undergraduate program No. 14 among public business schools, and three of its programs are among the top 20 — entrepreneurship, MIS and management.
U.S. News & World Report ranks the Eller MBA full-time program No. 44 in the U.S. The College leads the nation's business schools in generating grant funds for research. In addition to a Full-Time MBA program, the Eller College offers an evening MBA program and the Eller Executive MBA.
The Eller College supports more than 5,000 undergraduate and 600 graduate students on the UA campus.