About 25 students studying accounting at will be getting real life experience they can't get in a classroom, as they participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
The students will be the elderly, non-English speaking individuals, and low-income families and individuals prepare their state and federal tax returns this tax season. The program is conducted in conjunction with the Notre Dame Alumni Club of DuPage County.
"North Central College has been working in conjunction with the Notre Dame Club for about 10 years on the VITA program," said Alli Purcell Hayes, a C.P.A. and an assistant professor of accounting at North Central. "All accounting students are encouraged to participate in the program, and whether or not they choose to help, they must pass two certification exams offered through the Internal Revenue Service."
Preparing for the certification exam is a very detailed, rigorous process, taking about 24 hours to complete.
"Students are given four to five weeks to study and pass the certification exams. We had a little less time this year because congress had not finalized some of the tax laws for 2010," said Jessica Andersen, a North Central student, participating in the program for her second year. "Last year I spent about two hours per day, every day, for two weeks to pass the exams. Once you pass the certification exams for the levels required of the volunteer site, you only have to take recertification exams in the following years."
Hayes likes the VITA program because it teaches her students skills that students can't learn in the classroom.
"This program really teaches them people and communication skills that may initially put them out of their comfort zone like how to be patient and polite, that will help them develop personally and professionally," says Hayes.
North Central College students will be available to help clients with their tax returns at the from .
The Notre Dame alumni club members interview clients as they arrive to verify their earnings and check for appropriate identification and proper tax information to complete the tax filings, then the students work together in groups of two or three to complete the filings. North Central faculty are on hand to review all the filings.
"The best part of VITA is meeting the individuals who really need our services," Andersen said. "They come in with all of their tax documents and information and tell you their stories, hoping that they are giving the volunteers everything we need to prepare the return properly.
"They look worried when they come in, but almost everyone leaves looking relieved. The moment that worried look shifts into a smile is when we tell them how much their refund is. Even those who end up owing walk away without worried looks because their return is complete and printed, ready to be sent off in the mail. The people who cannot afford tax preparation services are sometimes the ones who need it the most and the volunteers really get to see their work go to good use."