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Smart Service: Poole College Accounting Students Provide Free Tax Return Assistance

Wolf Sculpture at Reynolds Coliseum; photo by Roger Winstead.

While many undergrad students sleep in on Saturday mornings, senior accounting major Silas Cambio was up bright and early heading to Nelson Hall where he’d spend a few hours looking over tax forms and checking for possible deductions and credits.

Since 2004, Poole College of Management accounting students like Cambio, under the supervision of experienced accounting faculty, have volunteered their time in the months leading up to the country’s annual tax deadline, applying what they learn in the classroom as part of the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

“It’s a great opportunity not just for the community, but also for our students to gain real-world experience in tax preparation,” explains Richard Barnes, the Poole College accounting lecturer who oversees the program.

Poole College offers a handful of dates for community members who earn less than $66,000 in household income to receive assistance in preparing their online state and federal tax forms. Last year the college prepared around 120 tax returns — and hope to do more this year, with the new addition of weeknight preparation dates.

The service is popular with NC State faculty, students and other community members who could use help in preparing their taxes, without having to pay the fees of a CPA or other tax preparation service.

“Today, the average cost for tax return preparation is in the high $280s — so it’s definitely an expense at a time when family budgets are already tight,” Barnes says. “But more than that, it allows our students to get some experience in a supported environment where we’re on-site to help guide them in the process.”

Many students remember the experience years later, Barnes says. “I was just talking to an alum the other day who mentioned how volunteering with the VITA program was very formative for him, and that he still finds it useful in his current job at a large accounting firm in Raleigh.”

Cambio agreed.

“After graduation, I plan to work in auditing, but I still found this opportunity extremely helpful,” Cambio says. “I’ll have to know all areas of accounting in terms of taking the CPA exam. But more than that, I enjoyed it and the morning flew by.”