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March 6, 2009
By Claudene Wharton
The U.S. income tax code can make it difficult for taxpayers to wade through the tax filing process on their own. University of Nevada, Reno students have teamed up with the Community Services Agency (CSA) to help local low- to middle-income taxpayers handle the challenging task.
“This year especially, with what’s going on in the economy, many people can’t afford to pay to have their tax returns done,” said Kelly Hugunine, CSA special projects coordinator and head of the local Taxpayers Assistance Program. “We don’t want people with lower incomes spending their money on their tax returns.”
More than 70 University students are volunteering their time to the project. The students, trained and certified through the Internal Revenue Service, use an online program to assist clients at the agency office, located at 1094 E. Eighth St. in Reno. Taxpayers can use the service on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., and Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“They do some training online and some in the classroom,” said Richard Mason, associate professor of accounting and information systems at the University’s College of Business.
Participating students are mostly juniors and seniors enrolled in Mason’s Federal Income Tax course. He adds a little incentive by allowing students who do the training and volunteer at least 12 hours to forego taking the midterm exam. Some students are members of Beta Alpha Psi, the campus’ finance and accounting honor fraternity. Mason often works side by side with the students, volunteering his own time.
“This is really what it’s about,” he said. “As a land-grant institution, we give back to the community. The students get a real sense of helping, and they’re learning through experience.”
Jordan Lupercio, a senior accounting major from Elko, was volunteering for the program for the first time this year, although she has participated in other community projects as a student.
“I think this is a great experience,” she said. “It helps us and it helps the taxpayers. This is experience that we’ll need throughout life — dealing with people, professionally and personally.”
Lupercio’s first client, single mom Melissa Alford, was put at ease by the student’s calm, helpful attitude.
“I was a little nervous at first,” she said. “I’m always nervous when getting my taxes done, but Jordan was really nice. I think this is beneficial for the students and for the people filing.”
Alford said that in 2008 she had to pay $200 to get her taxes done, and it was not a very pleasant experience. This year, Alford had a smile on her face while working with Lupercio, and displayed even a bigger smile when she found she would receive a sizable refund.
Hugunine said most of their clients receive refunds averaging between $1,700 and $2,000. Anyone with an income of $50,000 or less can get help through the program, partially funded through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. The local program has grown since its inception five years ago, serving more than 600 clients in 2008. This is the third year University students have volunteered.
“We really value our partnership with UNR,” said Hugunine. “It’s vital to the program. We wouldn’t be able to run it without them.”
Clients can visit the office on a walk-in basis, but are encouraged to call (775) 786-6023 for appointments.
“We’re very busy this year, often booking up a couple of weeks in advance,” she said. “We don’t always get to assist all the walk-ins, since we assist clients who have appointments first. In addition, when they call for an appointment, we can let them know what documents they need to bring.”