Accounting students help taxpayers meet the deadline

4/11/2007 7:00:00 AM

Put together an associate professor of an accounting department, a former relief pitcher for the University, 60 qualified students, some dedicated staff and a lot of Washoe County residents who really need help and people can save thousands of dollars.

Richard Mason is the associate professor and acting chair of the University's accounting and information systems department and a member of the Nevada State Board of Equalization. He was looking for a way students could get practical experience in their field and help out the community at the same time. "Kelly Hugunine from Community Services Agency got in touch with us and the entire accounting department got on board and wanted to help in some way," Mason said.

"Now the students are doing 20-30 tax returns a day with each return averaging approximately $1,800 to $2,000. When it's all over, we estimate they will have completed more than 400 returns."

It's the first year for University involvement in the program, known as the Taxpayer Assistance Program of Nevada. The goal is to help lower income taxpayers receive their refunds for free with the help of the students.

"The students have all been through IRS training and are registered with the organization," Hugunine said. "They sit down with the clients, and before the return is electronically filed, it is reviewed by experienced tax preparers and our finance director, Gary Jansen."

Enter the former Wolf Pack relief pitcher who is in a late-inning stretch working with both clients and students to beat the April filing deadline.

"A lot of people may be filing their first return or having difficulty with the rules and the language," Jansen said. "With the University's help and a grant from Health & Human Services, we can help these folks find their Earned Income Tax Credits, low income credits, breaks for dependents and lifetime learning credits: often things of which they're totally unaware."

Judy Prunier is fighting a debilitating illness and has two children. She saw some information about the tax program in a newsletter and went to Community Services to check it out. "I'm so happy and so relieved," she said. "I don't know anything about taxes and I didn't have the money to get it done. And I really felt like I was helping out the students in a way, because they are getting the hands-on experience. I just couldn't be more grateful that it all worked out and I will be getting a refund."

"Students also benefit because they can earn community service credits for their student organizations, and Mason allows those participating in the program to skip the first mid-term exam.

"I've actually learned the material much better by applying it," senior accounting major Rachael Crocker said. "It's problem solving and we're helping people who can't afford expensive tax advice. I just worked with a family with four kids who weren't aware of the Earned Income Credit as well as a few other things, and now they'll get back $5,000. It was great."

"As word gets out, we just get busier," said Jansen. "But we're so proud of the University and these students for stepping up to help out their community in such a viable and important way. The impact on these families is amazing."

For more information on the Taxpayers Assistance Program, call (775) 786-6023.


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