Hearing the word “taxes” may conjure negative thoughts to most people — but not our accounting students.
Last spring, 30 students in the College of Business volunteered hours of their time to help others prepare their taxes, for free. If you’re thinking, “Are college students qualified to do my taxes?” the answer is absolutely!
The students do this work as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Taxpayers with household incomes of $54,000 or less are eligible for basic return preparation services. Free electronic filing (e-filing) of eligible federal and state returns is available.
Students must pass multiple exams developed by the IRS and log many hours of training before they are allowed to start preparing returns. Passing the exams can be a daunting task so the college offers a one-credit class to assist in learning the principles of US income taxation. After passing the IRS exams, the students are scheduled for approximately eight weeks of tax return preparation at two hours per week. All sessions are held in the College of Business Gerdin Building.
“Last year, we helped prepare more than 500 returns. That’s a new record for VITA,” said Michael Bootsma, senior lecturer in accounting and dean’s teaching fellow.
“I think the total taxpayer contacts has to be closer to 550 taxpayers because some taxpayers just need help with a question and don’t need the full tax preparation service. Professor Bill Dilla had managed the program for approximately 15 years. He warned me last year that the tax returns we see each year are the complicated returns. The easy returns get completed by taxpayers at home with the help of an online program. It’s when things get complicated, that people come to us.”
The people who receive the tax help are extremely grateful, Bootsma said. “The Internal Revenue Code is complex. The average tax return is getting harder and harder to prepare without assistance,” he said. “The preparation gets to be extremely complicated for those who are not US citizens such as our graduate students and post-doctorate students from other countries.”
The students are scheduled to prepare tax returns for two hours each week.
“The volunteers soon find out these two-hour sessions generally last four hours. However, the volunteers really rise to the occasion each spring,” Bootsma said. “Many of these students also volunteer for extra sessions, which is a big help.”
Libby Bruns, who graduated last May with a Master of Accounting degree, helped prepare taxes as a graduate assistant. “I enjoyed helping people because I know how confusing it can be. This also gave me excellent work experience,” said Bruns, who now works as a tax associate with McGladrey.
“It really was a team effort. On busy nights everyone pulled together to help our clients. Professor Bootsma kept the students motivated during long sessions and he took on a lot of the complicated returns. He truly wants to help the taxpayers, which is why we do this.”
“She did an outstanding job,” Bootsma said. “I could not have asked for a better teaching assistant this past spring. She took ownership of this program and made many improvements. She also helped a lot of the volunteers through the process this year. I can see her in a management position very early in her career.”
Faculty members also pitched in.
“Jan Duffy and John Murphy were a tremendous help and I appreciate them volunteering. Jan Duffy volunteered at almost every session we had this spring which must be a record for a VITA volunteer at our program. Just like last year, the students and taxpayers alike were entertained by John’s gregarious personality. He made Tuesday nights as enjoyable as they can be when preparing taxes, sometimes for a couple of extra hours after our scheduled closing. Mike Prindle also volunteered for his first time. He was a great resource as well. We also had two community volunteers as well. One is a graduate of our accounting program, and the other is a local attorney. Their expertise was much appreciated by the students and faculty alike.
• 31 students volunteered (one was from outside the College of Business)
• Approximately 450 returns were completed
• 2 community volunteers
• Faculty volunteers: Jan Duffy, John Murphy, and Mike Prindle
• Libby Bruns was the graduate student TA
The Iowa State University College of Business offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in Accounting. Our Accounting major prepares students to analyze, synthesize, and report data so others can use it to make informed decisions. The Accounting degree helps students pursue diverse careers in business and accounting including auditing, consulting, public accounting, budgeting, and forecasting.
The median salary for Iowa State Accounting graduates is $48,000.
– 2014-15 Annual Report, Business Career Services
Learn more about Accounting at