Reaching Others University at Buffalo - The State University of New York
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UB undergraduate Kamarah Caven figures she's logged hundreds of hours in the classroom tackling the basics and finer points of accounting. But she’s never sat down with a real, live client to put all of that knowledge into practice.

That changes today. 

"Yes, I admit I am a little overwhelmed," Caven says, taking a seat at a table where UB accounting students provide free tax-preparation services. "But I’ve had good training and there is always someone nearby to help me if I have questions."

By April 15, Caven and her fellow students will have met with hundreds of people from all over Buffalo, helping to prepare tax returns for individuals and families with annual incomes below $50,000. Last year, 126 IRS-certified students from the School of Management provided nearly 2,200 hours of tax service, preparing more than 900 tax returns and bringing $1,353,406 back into the Buffalo community through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. 

This year, the students expect to do even more.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS

The free service runs from February through mid-April and is coordinated by the UB chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an international scholastic and professional organization for financial information professionals. To become certified, students attend a one-day training session and must pass basic and intermediate exams, as well as a standard of conduct (ethics) exam. The student site directors also take advanced exams.

From there, it’s all about gaining experience.

“At first I was just plugging in numbers, but over time I’ve developed a more conceptual understanding of what I'm doing," says Luwei Jiang, a senior who started volunteering when she was a sophomore. "The experience has really helped me on my exams and I've learned a lot about customer service.

“We aren’t just doing taxes,” she says. “We have to make people feel comfortable and trust us.”

By IRS estimates, the free service can save taxpayers between $100 and $300 in preparation fees. It can be especially valuable to low-income tax filers by helping them apply for earned income-tax credits that can provide a needed boost in annual income. The tax credits, which can reduce or completely eliminate income taxes by refunding taxes already withheld from wages, can mean as much as $5,028 for a family with two children.

Cumulatively, School of Management student volunteers have brought more than $4 million in tax refunds back into the Buffalo community over the past four years by preparing more than 3,000 tax returns. Approximately $725,000 was from the Earned Income Credit, helping families who need it most.

“Despite their class loads and other responsibilities, our students have been working virtually every weekend since February to make this program the outstanding success it has been,” says Arjang Assad, dean of the School of Management. “We could not be more proud of them and the impact they are making on the community with this initiative.”

BUILDING CONFIDENCE AND COMMUNITY

For students, linking course concepts to real-world applications is a key benefit, according to UB’s Beta Alpha Psi president, Matthew Silver, who will receive his Bachelor of Science degree in accounting in May and his Master of Science degree in accounting next year. “We learn in class through textbooks and exams, but in the VITA setting, we actually see how it all plays out on someone’s tax return,” he says.

“I can see a noticeable difference in the confidence level of our students after they go through a season of VITA,” says Kathleen Nesper, assistant professor of accounting in the School of Management and faculty adviser to Beta Alpha Psi. “They are more self-assured and professional, and it makes a difference when they talk with prospective employers.”

Danny Chen says working on the VITA program helped him land a job. After he graduates in May with a Master of Science degree in accounting, he’ll be a tax analyst for IBM. “It was what we talked about most during my interview,” he says.

Chen volunteered as a tax preparer in his junior year and a reviewer in his senior year.  This year, as a master’s student, he is a site director and co-chair of the program.

“IBM was really impressed with my growth and progression,” Chen says. “I sharpened my leadership and communication skills, and developed the ability to work under stress.”

Chen says a number of his fellow master’s students volunteered because it’s their last year in Buffalo. “It’s a good way to give back to the community that has been their home for the past five years.”

Members of the community are thrilled with the free service. “My preparer was excellent,” said one community member. “He was professional, informative and even gave me advice for itemizing my expenses next year.”  

For more information, visit mgt.buffalo.edu/freetaxprep.

Danny Chen says working on the VITA program helped him land a job. “IBM was really impressed with my growth and progression.  I sharpened my leadership and communication skills, and developed the ability to work under stress.
Beta Alpha Psi: Setting Standards of Excellence

Offering free tax preparation services for hundreds of community members is no easy task. It takes time, know-how and organizational skills. But the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at the University at Buffalo is in good hands. The program is led by UB’s Zeta Theta Chapter of Beta Alpha Psi (BAP), an international scholastic and professional organization for financial information professionals.

Members

UB’s BAP chapter has 90 members, with a minimum 3.4 grade-point average in their declared concentrations.

Members

Nation’s largest student VITA program: School of Management students in BAP were recognized by the IRS in 2012 for having the largest student-run VITA program in the country, based on number of tax returns prepared, number of volunteers and amount of refunds.

Gold chapter award: UB’s BAP chapter received the KPMG Gold Chapter award in August at the organization’s international conference in Baltimore. The award is given to chapters that continually demonstrate and exemplify the highest values of BAP: leadership, scholastic success, lifelong learning and development, service and ethical behavior.

The honor was bestowed on only nine chapters out of 296 worldwide. UB’s chapter has won the award for four consecutive years — a distinction held by only one other chapter in more than 90 years since Beta Alpha Psi was founded.

Best practices award: The UB chapter also took first place in the 2012 Best Practices competition at the BAP regional meeting in Stamford, Conn., and earned recognition as a Superior Chapter.

Diversity award: UB’s Zeta Theta chapter took third place for the Ernst & Young LLP Diversity Award, which judged chapters based on the impact on diversity and inclusiveness within BAP and/or their respective school or community.

Members

Doing good: Chapter members host an annual blood drive, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and call School of Management donors to express appreciation during the school’s “thank-a-thon.”

Reaching the next generation: In one new initiative, Project FYI (For Youth Inspiration), BAP volunteers visit underserved high schools and community colleges and encourage students to pursue a four-year degree in accounting, finance or management information systems by having them participate in an interactive fraud case.

The students act as fraud examiners for a fictitious company and have to sift through documents and interrogate “employees” to uncover a fraud. The program has been a huge success and is up for a best practice award this year.

Assisting refugees: Students developed and presented financial literacy workshops to two local community organizations, VIVE Inc., the largest refugee shelter in the U.S., located in downtown Buffalo, and Heal International, an organization that assists refugee families in opening successful small businesses.