Making Taxes Less Taxing

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The mere mention of tax season can induce anxiety in most taxpayers, but a few economics majors are stepping in to alleviate those worries and gain hands-on experience by volunteering as tax assistants. Through the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO), these students get to work with real-world clients to prepare their taxes for them.

“I was aware of the tax-assistance programs that are offered at CVOEO, so I connected with them about eight years ago,” says Jane Knodell, Ph.D, professor of financial history and economics in the Department of Economics. The CVOEO was really interested in getting more volunteers, and the program grew from there.

Knodell teaches an internship class for economics majors every other year. Students from that class who intern with CVOEO receive three credits for 10 hours of volunteer work per week plus classroom work. In the off years, economics students may still volunteer with CVOEO and receive one credit for about four hours of work per week. “Our students provide very meaningful assistance to local residents of modest means,” Knodell says, adding that they learn not only about both the federal and state tax systems but also about the realities of making ends meet on a limited income.

Ally Tocchio, a second-year economics major, currently participates in the program. “It was a perfect choice for me because I wanted to be more active within the economics department and utilize their connections with such programs,” she says. She adds that she also wanted to become more involved in the local community and use her skills to directly help Vermonters economically.

According to Mike McClintock, the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) site coordinator at CVOEO, the organization has been offering free tax assistance since 1980 through the IRS’s VITA program. He’s been in his role for the past nine years, during which students from Champlain College, Saint Michael’s College, and UVM (from both the College of Arts and Sciences and the Grossman School of Business) have been participating. “Students generally make up at least half of our volunteers,” McClintock says. “We couldn’t do anywhere near what we do without them. They’re essential.”