NDSU Students Gain Experience By Giving Free Tax Services

Approximately 25 accounting students at NDSU are applying classroom lessons to real-world scenarios by helping students and community members prepare their taxes.

Through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, students are preparing and e-filing clients’ federal and state income taxes at no charge. The services are open to the community, with special emphasis on serving people who have low incomes, people whose native language is not English and international students.

Hamidreza Vakilzadeh, a graduate student in accounting, is one of five interns who oversee the process. They were trained to help undergraduate student volunteers, who are mostly seniors, complete the required certifications. The interns review the prepared tax returns for accuracy and provide guidance.

Vakilzadeh said the service is beneficial for everyone involved.

“This program helps us all (volunteers) gain experience about tax returns in real life,” Vakilzadeh said. “Volunteers do their best to make preparation of tax returns easier for the taxpayer. Sometimes taxpayers make mistakes, which can lead to penalties. The VITA program tries to lessen those mistakes.”

All of the volunteers pass Internal Revenue Service certification exams to ensure they adhere to the Volunteer Income Tax Service standards of conduct and have basic understanding of taxation. In addition, all volunteers take a Foreign Student Certification Exam.

James Clifton, assistant professor of accounting practice, has advised the program for 12 years. He said one of the program’s benefits is the ability to provide information in different languages. Many volunteers speak multiple languages and translators are available through NDSU’s Office of International Programs, he said.

Students also gain valuable perspective working with a variety of real scenarios. “Students can go from a very smooth tax return to one that is very difficult, depending how things fall into place,” Clifton said. “The real-world experience and volunteer work is a great resume booster and interview topic.”

The program, which is a branch of the IRS’ Taxpayer Services Division, was launched 15 years ago as part of a class. It shifted to a volunteer program to make sure students had the time and desire to do the work.

Vakilzadeh said something new this year is updated software and that everything will be done online. “The securities of the software has also increased so the probability of making certain mistakes has been reduced,” he said.

The income tax service will be available March 18 and March 25 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the NDSU Main Library located at 1201 Albrecht Boulevard.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation’s top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.