EWU accounting volunteers prepare taxes

By Lorna Hartman, Staff Writer

Nineteen accounting students from Eastern volunteer at United Way this tax season, preparing tax forms for low-income taxpayers, non-English speakers and AARP members.

Seventeen are current students and two are alumni, according to program student coordinator Carrie Munns. “This is by far the most involvement we’ve ever had from Eastern,” Munns said. According to Munns, Gonzaga University students also volunteer.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is funded each year by a grant from the IRS to guarantee that the assistance can be offered free of charge, according to the IRS website.

“I’ve been doing this for three years now with United Way,” said Lee Ann VanLengen, who is in her final quarter in the Master of Business Administration program. “We just do this during tax season, Feb. 1 through April 15.”

She said that in some cases the people being served do not necessarily have to file, based on income requirements, but many file anyway to receive a return. “In the case of some older clients, they’re doing it out of civic pride, civic duty. It’s something they’ve done their whole lives,” VanLengen said.

Brad Dawson, a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance client, heard about the program from Munns. On April 8, Dawson went to the United Way office and met Eastern student Rachel Wenning.

According to Dawson, he just needed a straightforward 1040-EZ form filled out, the basic tax form. “I would use them again,” Dawson said. “I’m going back next year.”

Wenning, an accounting fifth-year senior, said that she did not join last year because she let herself be scared off by the training requirements. Now she regrets the missed opportunity.

“I so wish I had done it last year. I’ve missed the experience. Now I’m looking for a job, and if I had two years of experience on my résumé, I’d feel more comfortable and confident,” Wenning said.

According to Munns, volunteers do not have to be accounting majors, but they do have to certify through the IRS. “It’s a pretty significant time investment to pass that,” Munns said.

Since she took over her position last year, Munns has been trying to build the volunteer base, so she started advertising in EWU’s Beta Alpha Psi newsletter, a group that provides opportunities for accounting, finance and management information systems majors to get experience in professional networking and leadership.

Wanting to remove the barrier of the IRS training so more volunteers could join, Munns said that she began holding certification sessions herself and going through the material.

“She got us together for training sessions and worked with us through the material, and it really wasn’t as bad as I thought,” said Wenning. “Having her go through everything and explain everything was extremely helpful.”

Tara Dowd is the United Way site coordinator for the program in Spokane County. Dowd said, “This year so far we’ve served about the same number as [we served] last year all year long.” The increase was partly due to another site at the YMCA that closed.

According to Dowd, the United Way site increased its capacity after the YMCA closing. The United Way site is supported by additional Gonzaga University and EWU students. “We wouldn’t be able to offer this if it weren’t for the students,” Dowd said.

The income cutoff for this free service is about $50,000 per household, regardless of the number of people in the household.