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April 7, 2010
By Claudene Wharton
For lower- to middle-income taxpayers struggling to fill out their tax returns, there’s still help available -- and best of all, it’s free.
More than 60 University of Nevada, Reno College of Business students have teamed up with the Community Services Agency in Reno to help taxpayers who make $50,000 or less get their taxes filed.
The University 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 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Saturdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
According to Gary Jansen, finance director for the Community Services Agency, the local program has grown since its inception six years ago, partly because of the students’ help, which began four years ago.
“The partnership has been very effective,” he said. “If we didn’t have the student volunteers, we couldn’t do nearly the numbers we’re doing,” he said.
Last year, about 750 people were assisted. Jansen estimates that the program will assist about 800 to 900 people this year.
“We have more people coming back who have received the assistance before, and people are also telling their friends,” he said. “And, with the economy being what it is, people are looking for ways to get their taxes done at little or no cost.”
Richard Mason, associate professor and chair of accounting at the University, has organized the students’ participation in the program and volunteers much of his own time to work alongside his students.
He adds a little extra incentive for students in his Federal Income Tax course by offering those who volunteer at least 12 hours the chance to forego taking two midterm exams. Students who are members of Beta Alpha Psi, the campus’ finance and accounting honor fraternity, also volunteer many hours for the program. In addition, Betty Cossitt, a CPA, instructor and advisor to Beta Alpha Psi, volunteers and has taken over much of the responsibility for the program this year. Mason says students have volunteered more than 700 hours this spring.
“This is a win-win for the students and the people they’re helping,” he says. “Service learning is a whole different way of educating them.”
Mason points out that his students not only receive training in and learn one tax software system, but they also get to learn by doing and get the experience of dealing with people and clients.
“I think they’re getting a real sense of helping people too,” he says, “especially this year, given how poor the economy is.”
Junior accounting major Alex Reyes, volunteering for the program for the first time this year, said, “It’s good – I enjoy doing it. And, I’m learning something new, something that’s useful.”
Reyes, who came to Nevada from southern California specifically to attend Nevada, Reno, was helping a fellow student at the time, Jerry Trigueros, who went to high school in Dayton, Nev. and received Pell Grants that helped him go on to college. Trigueros, a junior majoring in social work, lives near the University with his brother and tutors foster children part-time to help make ends meet. His brother, an alum, is a case manager for a foster group. Both are first-generation college students.
“My parents are from Honduras and only went through the eighth grade,” he said. “They are happy for us and try to help anyway they can. They want us to succeed.”
Trigueros was happy when a friend told him about the tax assistance program.
“I know I have to pay some, because I’m a self-contractor, so you don’t pay during the year as you go,” he explained.
Those still needing assistance are encouraged to call (775) 786-6023 to schedule an appointment, but walk-ins are accepted depending on the demand at the time. The last day to get assistance is April 13. Those seeking assistance should bring their social security card, a photo I.D. and all tax documents.
Claudene Wharton is a media relations officer in University Media Relations.