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Students provide tax filing service

Katie McCarty | Thursday, March 21, 2013

Taxpayers nationwide often dread the April 15 filing date, but many Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students voluntarily participate in a unique service program to provide tax assistance to low income families in the South Bend area.

The Vivian Harrington Gray Tax Assistance Program is in its 43rd year of providing this service, and faculty advisor Edward Hums, a professor of Financial and Managerial Accounting in the Mendoza College of Business, said the program has grown this year.

“We have approximately 100 undergrads participating in the program,” Hums said. “It is a two-credit course and last year the program filed about 3,900 taxes.”
In order to be eligible to provide this service, students need to complete one course in tax, Hums said. Once enrolled in the program, students attend four weeks of classes and then go into the community to help local families with their tax returns for four to six weeks.  

Students in the program complete state and federal tax returns for free, and taxpayers must have an income of less than $40,000 dollarsper year, the median income in Saint Joseph County, Hums said. There are eight sites throughout the South Bend and Mishawaka area and one site in Plymouth, Ind.

“In addition to taxpayers in the community, the program helps international students here at Notre Dame,” Hums said. “Part of the tax return is also a report to immigration service, and we want to make sure students are in proper compliance with their visas.”

Senior program president Sam Matthew, said the initiative also focuses on service to the community beyond the monetary aspect.

“You’re doing their taxes and doing them a service, but we also become people’s companions,” Matthew said.

Matthew, who has participated in the program for the past two years, said he has worked with the elderly and people with physical disabilities who are unable to leave their houses.

“We benefit a lot from [the work], and it is really helpful for our education, but the bonds we form with the community are great,” Matthew said. “I really enjoy that part.”

Hums also stressed the role of community service in the program.

“It is very rewarding, and one of the oldest community service programs at Notre Dame,” Hums said.  “It always amazes me how students start out nervous at the start of the program, and then grow confident at the end.

“They grow in understanding, interview techniques and are very proficient doing the returns at the end of program.”