May 1, 2008
The Newspaper of the NYSSCPA
Vol. 11, No.8

Student Volunteers Cut Tax Prep Teeth at Baruch

By Valerie Lum, Trusted Professional Staff

For about 450 accounting students from Baruch College, March 20 was a day of giving and receiving.

For the students, the day offered an opportunity to hone needed tax preparation skills; for the rest, it was an opportunity to get their taxes done, on time, and for free.

Through the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at Baruch College, this give-and-take has been going on at tax time for the past 17 years.

The students had already spent months training and getting certified by the IRS to fill out the federal forms 1040, 1040 A, 1040 E and New York state forms IT 150 and IT 201.

Through the VITA program, selected Baruch students then take those skills to the streets, helping those with limited means.

The national program has helped thousands of New Yorkers, including the elderly and immigrants with limited English language skills. The program has designated certain locations to have volunteers who are fluent in Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Cantonese, according to a press release. The program produced 1.9 million tax returns nationwide in 2004, according to The CPA Journal.

Although the program helps young accountants beef up their resumes, program coordinator Them Tran said the true reward is the gratitude of those they’re able to help.

At the VITA workshop, Daniel Dayal, a nursing student from Queens, watched as volunteer Nina Chawengwongsa worked to prepare his return.

“I’m very impressed,” he said. “I love how she’s referencing everything when she’s in doubt.”

Dayal noted that he was charged more than $100 for a simple tax return at a chain tax preparation corporation last year.

Experience You Can Take to the Bank

Although the students spend a minimum of 30 unpaid hours over 10 weeks helping clients fill out tax forms at one of the six Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens sites, many said it was well worth it.

“It’s hard, especially when you’re a student, to get real experience as an intern,” said Chawengwongsa, who has volunteered with VITA before. “So this program was a good way to get that experience.”

Chawengwongsa added that her volunteer work has led from an internship at an advertising agency in Manhattan to a part-time job at the same company.

Tran has been with the program for four years and is expected to graduate from Baruch with a master’s degree in taxation. He said working with VITA helped him land a job as a tax analyst at a Big Four firm.

“They asked me a lot about running the program, my leadership skills and dealing with people,” Tran said. “They asked about my real life experience.”

David Cenedella, assistant professor in the accounting department at Baruch, recommends the program to many of his students.

“It’s hard to get your first job,” Cenedella said. “No one wants to hire someone with no experience.”

Jane Bernardini, a Baruch alumna and recruiter for a midsize firm, said VITA is an important learning tool and even arranged for her company, Anchin Block & Anchin, to donate six laptop computers to the program. She also said that when it comes to recruitment for her firm, many of the interviewees who have participated in VITA are looked upon very highly.

The training for the program is rigorous. After signing up, students have to pass a “pre-test” before they can even start the two-day training session. Then they have to pass a federal and a state open book exam. Then the volunteers must prepare tax returns for a minimum of three hours a week for 10 weeks.

To learn more about VITA at Baruch, visit its Website at www.baruch.cuny.edu/vita/.

Valerie Lum, staff writer, can be reached at vlum@nysscpa.org.

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