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Students help file tax returns

Carly Landon | Friday, February 18, 2011

Beginning Feb. 12 and running through April 18, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students will provide free income tax return preparation to low-income and disabled taxpayers in the South Bend Community through Notre Dame’s Vivian Harrington Gray Tax Assistance Program (TAP).

The program has run annually since it was founded in 1972 by Ken Milani. This year, Milani stepped down and Ed Hums, Mendoza Professor of Accounting, took the reigns.

“Milani took over a small struggling program and over time built it into a program that last year did over 3800 tax returns for people in town and on campus,” Hums said.

The TAP now involves more than 90 student volunteers as well as several faculty members and local accountants who staff nine area service centers, Hums said.

“We target people of modest means so in other words tax payers with incomes less than $40,000 which is approximately the average income in St. Joe’s County,” he said. “We will do free federal and state returns for these individuals.”

Hums said the program also provides tax return assistance to international members of Notre Dame’s community.

“In addition we will have a number of students who will work on campus with our international students to do tax returns for the international students and other members of the international community to assure that the proper returns are filed with the state and federal government,” he said. “That is it also in compliance with their immigration status.”

When Milani started the program, his aim was to give back to the community and this remains TAP’s primary goal, Hums said.

“It’s a community service. I think number one when Milani started the program he wanted it to be this. Ken is a very giving and caring person who realized that a lot of how you got to where you are comes form folks of modest means,” Hums said.

Although Hums is new to directing the program this year, he has worked with Milani on TAP for the past two years. He also had Milani as a professor back in 1973.

“I’m in the process of taking over and it’s the same situation for myself. It’s an opportunity for us to give back to the community because they did a lot for each of us,” Hums said.

Hums said the program aims to bring Notre Dame and the South Bend community together.

“I always remind our students that students do not meet or know people in the South Bend community, and people in the South Bend community do not meet and know Notre Dame students,” he said. “This is one of the areas that I think the program allows us to come together and break down those barriers.”

Both undergraduate and graduate students may participate in the program. Students who have taken or are currently enrolled in tax program class at Notre Dame are eligible to apply for the program. Hums said most students involved are accounting majors.

“When we go out, we have the class experience, the homework, and IRS certification. But all the certification and all the classroom examples are nothing compared to doing those first couple returns,” Hums said. “You will know more about these people than anyone else because you know their income, their assets, you know everything”

Student involvement in the program is purely voluntary yet provides invaluable experience, Hums said.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for students because it’s a challenge for students to work one on one in a real situation. You never know what he or she is going to come up with,” he said. “We develop interpersonal skills, ability to think on your feet, and teach students how to really be accounts.”