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Making tax time less taxing
Student volunteers offer filing help to international students  

Apr 20, 2009  
By Jeanna Packard  

"Ok, sign here," said Daniel Wolz, a senior accounting major, pointing to a line on the tax form.

Wipa Da, a graduate student, flipped through the papers that covered the table in front of her looking for her pen.

"Ok, sign this again, and this one," Wolz said. "This one needs mailed to the office. This one can't be stapled and it will go to this address. They are all due on the 15th, and now you're all done."

"Thank you very much." Da said, leaning back in her chair with a sigh of relief.

After three eight-hour sessions and one long evening, the students and faculty who volunteered to help international students complete their tax return forums before April 15 could rest easy knowing the more than 200 tax returns they completed were signed, sealed and sent.

The annual tax event on April 10 -- hosted by Beta Alpha Psi, the national honors fraternity for financial information professionals -- was part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, which is sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service and serves a variety of tax return needs. At Ohio University the program assists international students on campus with their tax return forms.

Three sessions are held every year, dispersed between February and April. This year, Beta Alpha Psi hosted an additional three-hour evening meeting Tuesday, April 14, because of an overflow of participants. 

Carolina Novella, a first-year graduate student from Spain, was one of the students who got some tax help.

"I wouldn't have been able to do it without them, not at all," she said.

Volunteers participate in two to three hours of training and take a test sponsored by the IRS to become a qualified tax volunteer, said Jennifer Bagwell, the program's co-adviser.

After the training, the accounting students are able to guide the international students through the CYNTAX software, which is a tax preparation and planning software purchased by the International Student and Faculty Services office.

"It's $5, but I think that it's worth it," Novella said. "I know how to do it for free in Spain because I'm used to them, but if I would have had to do it [here] by myself I would have had problems. This has relieved a lot of stress, simplified life!"

The accounting students gained something, too: a better understanding of other countries customs and laws.

"It was interesting learning things about international tax law from the students," said Brittni Downs, a junior accounting major. "Each country has its own set of rules and treaties that have to be applied to each individual's situation."

Participating in the event is a great resume builder for the accounting students. It gives them hands-on experience with tax returns -- allowing them to put classroom knowledge into practice -- and it helps prepare them for today's global economy, said Connie Esmond-Kiger, director of the School of Accountancy.

"The students really like doing this program," Esmond-Kiger said. "Once they see the benefit to the international students, they always work to make sure the program continues year after year. Their enthusiasm for doing this work is amazing."

It's challenging work, but at the end of the day everyone had benefited.

Esmond-Kiger recalls the most hectic day of the program was in 2002. A flood of international students had come to them for help, and had to wait in the rain for hours because the line of people stretched outside Jefferson Hall, where the tax returns were being completed. She and the students prepared more than 700 tax returns by hand that year.

Pre-registration and the CYNTAX tax software have streamlined the process.

"I think that the international students appreciate our help and are relieved to have help in preparing their returns," Bagwell said.  "It is a fairly time-consuming and scary process if you don't have help and don't know what you're doing."


Updated at 2:48 p.m. April 20, 2009.


Related Links
School of Accountancy:  http://www.cob.ohiou.edu/accounting/ 
International Student and Faculty Services:  http://www.ohio.edu/isfs/  

Published: Apr 20, 2009 9:03 AM  

Volunteers help international students file taxes 
Student and faculty volunteers from the School of Accountancy help international students file their taxes. This tax-preparation session on April 10 was one of four such events held this year.


Carolina Novella and Jennifer Bagwell 
Program co-adviser and accounting instructor Jennifer Bagwell (right) assists student Carolina Novella. More than 200 international students received tax filing assistance this year through the program.


Photographer: John Stoops  

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