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Two students post in academic quad
April 04, 2024



With spring comes many harbingers; birds singing, flowers blooming, weather warming — and tax season.

Since 2019, Curry College has been easing the burden on local taxpayers by making it possible for a group of accounting students in the School of Business and Computer Science to become certified to serve in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Established by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, VITA offers free basic tax return preparation services to low- and moderate-income individuals and others who qualify for the program. Eligible participants include those for whom English is not their first language, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

To become IRS-certified volunteers, tax preparers must pass three certification exams. The first two exams focus on the code of conduct for VITA volunteers and the intake/interview and quality review process required at the sites. The third exam offers a basic or advanced level of certification, though Curry students take the advanced exam, which requires the highest level of knowledge of tax preparation at the VITA sites. This year, 13 Curry students — three juniors and 10 sophomores — qualified as VITA volunteers, and have been working since early March to help local citizens prepare their taxes.

To get ready for their VITA work, students learn the TaxWise preparation software in the fall through Associate Lecturer Janet Peterson’s one-credit VITA class. The course also teaches the students about deductions and credits and trains them for the three certification exams, on which test-takers must score an 80% or higher to qualify as volunteers. The students gain further knowledge through a Personal Income Tax course, taught by Associate Lecturer Jeff Leafer.

“When the students are ready to work with the public, we stress that this is very serious. These are real people and real money,” says Peterson, who is in her third year teaching at Curry.  “Many of the clients get a refund, and they really need the money.”

For the past two years, due to COVID restrictions, returns were completed virtually, through a secure online Dropbox and through email and Zoom communications. That approach unfortunately limited the number of returns each student had the opportunity to process and did not allow for the in-person exposure to those they were assisting. To amend that situation, this year Curry partnered with the Boston Tax Coalition (BTC), which sponsors VITA sites in convenient, accessible locations all around the city.

“We partnered with BTC for two reasons,” Peterson explains. “First, the students are going to prepare a lot more returns. Second, they are helping the local community, so being face-to face with the clients is an invaluable experience.”

The first two students to report to the VITA site at Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, Massachusetts, were Matt Tilden ’25 and Josh Hendrigan ’25. The two accounting majors are actually doing a VITA internship with BTC, completing 16 hours to earn their credit, after which they will be paid $20/hour for additional work.

Tilden shares that, through working with mentors at Codman, he already has learned a great deal about tax preparation, including the intricacies of the various forms and procedures required to help each client. He also notes that he has developed improved communication skills, which aids him in the dialogue required for engaging with the public. So far, he has helped a variety of individuals, including a college student who was also a military veteran.

“I was able to get a refund for him, and he was really grateful for the help,” says Tilden. “The impact helping out low-income taxpayers has had on me is quite surprising. I learn so much from the clients, especially [seeing] the amount of hard work they put into their jobs.”

For Hendrigan, the VITA program has offered further clarity regarding his future career, and he plans to pursue a job in tax preparation after college.

“I’m very grateful for this program,” he says. “[Working with people] is definitely something I want to do in the future. That’s the thing I’m most interested in right now, and it’s because of this program.”

Curry is one of only a few Boston-area colleges participating in the VITA program, joining students from Babson College and Northeastern University in volunteering to assist the local community.

“It’s important for the community to have access to volunteers, because to get a tax return prepared is probably at minimum $400,” Peterson says. “For the students to realize that this is an expensive item, and that they’re really helping these people out, gives them important perspective.”