Fairfield University business students helping Connecticut working families by assisting with free tax preparation and financial education services

Fairfield University business students helping Connecticut working families by assisting with free tax preparation and financial education services

Students of Fairfield University's Charles F. Dolan School of Business are taking part in a federal program helping area working families and individuals who have low to moderate incomes with tax preparation and financial education opportunities. The Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is free and educates people about tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which can provide significant refunds that can help people build their assets. By providing a tax service that most lower income families cannot afford, VITA volunteers also make families and individuals aware of federal and state income tax credits they might otherwise miss out on.

Last year, VITA volunteers prepared more than 2,500 tax returns for Bridgeport and Stratford residents. (*See below for site locations.) VITA is a win-win for taxpayers and students. Last year, the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit for a single person without children was $412, for example, while a married couple with children were entitled to receive as much as $4,536. Fairfield students gain experience working with taxpayers while using cutting edge tax preparation software.

The 20 Dolan School students, mostly senior accounting majors, will prepare tax returns at VITA's 11 sites located throughout Bridgeport and Stratford. The students take the elective course, Federal Income Taxation II, which has a service-learning component.

Assistant Professor Kathleen M. Weiden, Ph. D., CPA, incorporated service-learning into the course last year to help provide students with real world experience in accounting and the community with a crucial service. It proved to be an invaluable learning experience in 2007 – the first year of Dr. Weiden's students took part. Service learning is inspired by the Catholic Jesuit educational mission of Fairfield University that calls for the dynamic integration of academic excellence, social responsibility, and faith that promotes justice.

Dr. Weiden said many working families don't claim the tax credits they are entitled to. "Many taxpayers eligible for these credits are not aware of the helpful deductions. Our students have been educated about them, and the money makes a big difference in these peoples' lives."

The VITA program in Bridgeport and Stratford is run under the auspices of the Greater Bridgeport Family Economic Security Coalition, a group of organizations that provide a wide spectrum of social services.

According to Ellen Carter of the Connecticut Association for Human Services, last year the Coalition's VITA sites returned $6.35 million in tax credits and refunds to people in the community, saving filers at least $277,000 by having their taxes prepared at VITA sites across Bridgeport and Stratford. The Fairfield University students are among more than 70 IRS trained volunteers working at sites this year. VITA clients will receive information on local homeownership and financial education programs, and the Coalition will offer free seminars and community dinners to help people develop savings, set financial goals and become educated consumers.

This Federal Income Taxation II course was developed in collaboration with the Office of Service Learning at Fairfield University, which supports the development of service learning courses. The Office of Service Learning is an integral academic component of the Center for Faith & Public Life at Fairfield University. It provides resources and links for collaboration among students, faculty, staff, community organizations, and international partners - with a particular commitment to the Bridgeport Area - and works with established local, regional, and national initiatives. The taxation course is also considered a United States Diversity course, in that it exposes students to both economic and ethnic diversity in the population.

*The Greater Bridgeport VITA sites are located at the City of Bridgeport Social Services Department; Family Services of Woodfield (FSW); Stratford South End Community Center; Franklin Elementary School; Calvary Temple Christian Center Inc.; ACORN; Casey Family Services; Career Resources; Hall Neighborhood House, Inc.; Burroughs Community Center; and Ralphola Taylor Community Center.

Posted On: 02-14-2008 10:02 AM

Volume: 40 Number: 182