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Volunteers help decipher forms

Maureen Mullen | Wednesday, February 22, 2006

With April 15 looming on the not-so-distant horizon, the Notre Dame Tax Assistance Program (TAP) is committed to helping taxpayers in the South Bend/Michiana community file on time.

TAP is a tax program that began operating during the early 1970s with the initial goal of helping Indiana taxpayers file for special Indiana credit. TAP currently functions “to provide free income tax return preparation service to low-income individuals on a regularly scheduled basis at convenient locations,” reads the official mission statement found on TAP’s Web site.

TAP is a program supported by student volunteers, certified public accountants and faculty and staff volunteers, the Web site said.

Matthew Adams, chairperson of TAP’s student administrator group, said Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students familiar with U.S. tax law are eligible to work as volunteers for the program upon completing a two credit pass/fail course. The course is a four week personal income tax preparatory course taught by Professor Kenneth Milani, who has been involved with the program since its beginning.

In addition to gaining academic credit and valuable experience in accountancy, student volunteers are doing a true service to their community, Adams said.

“We are doing real tax work for our clients,” Adams said. “It is a very satisfying thing to know that something you learn in the classroom can have such a positive effect on a person’s life.”

The service-learning program is offered to clients “100 percent free of charge,” he said.

TAP’s Web site explains the program is equipped to serve both domestic clients and international clients – two population groups with very different needs.

Domestic clients may qualify for TAP if their yearly income is $35,000 or less. These clients are largely from the Michiana area and can receive the tax program’s services by visiting one of the several local TAP offices. Offices are located on the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s campuses as well as local public libraries and city centers, all of which are listed on TAP’s Web site.

In addition, the program is equipped to provide individual on-site help – either at home, extended care facilities or social service agencies – to taxpayers unable to visit a regularly scheduled TAP location.

The Web site also describes the service TAP provides to international clients, or nonresident aliens. Eligible persons are international faculty, researchers and visiting scholars as well as international students and overseas students. Volunteers aiding international clients must have training in U.S. international tax treaties as well as U.S. tax law requirements that are imposed on legal residents and nonresidents.

Last week – the first full work week for TAP volunteers – nearly 300 tax returns were completed, and Adams said the next few weeks will be busy.

“Even if you can’t get someone a refund, you sure feel good knowing that you saved them the money of having their taxes prepared elsewhere,” Adams said.