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W. P. Carey School of Business: Volunteers help taxpayers claim refunds


January 08, 2007

A group of students and alumni from ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business are volunteering to help hundreds of low-income working taxpayers in Tempe and Guadalupe keep more of their hard-earned wages.

A unique partnership between the Tempe Community Council, the city of Tempe, the Internal Revenue Service, Newton Community Development Corp. and Tempe Schools Credit Union educates taxpayers and helps them claim their fair share of millions of dollars in earned income tax credits (EITC).

The Tempe Earned Income Tax Credit and Asset Development Initiative was founded in 2005 after a successful three-year pilot program in Tempe and Guadalupe brought more than $7 million in additional EITC back to area taxpayers. The program's goal is to educate low-income working taxpayers and assist them in improving their economic self-sufficiency through saving and accumulation of assets. The success of the program will bring long-term benefits to families and the community.

The business school volunteers serve as tax preparers. Some students who became involved in the pilot program have continued as volunteers after graduation. This tax season, there are 13 volunteer tax preparers from the W. P. Carey School : five students and alumni who served last year, seven new student volunteers and an ASU employee from the school's financial aid office.

Sanjay Gupta, the Henry & Horne Professor of Accountancy and Dean's Council of 100 Distinguished Scholar at the W. P. Carey School, has been involved as an adviser and champion of the program since the pilot was launched. He and other professors have recruited and trained student volunteers and supported the program's goals. Gupta and the W. P. Carey School of Accountancy recently received a plaque from Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman in recognition of the school's ongoing support of the effort.

“Serving the community is an important mission of graduate education, and the EITC program provides students with the opportunity to practice the technical aspects of the tax code and see how public policy works,” says Gupta, who is director of the school of accountancy's master's program.

According to Diane Bennett, the initiative's director, the W. P. Carey School volunteers' commitment to the program has a long-lasting impact on the taxpayers and the community. The project's target audience is people who are at or below 80 percent of area median income adjusted for family size. Families that don't know about and take advantage of the EITC are missing out on dollars that would help them meet basic needs and get ahead, and the communities were also missing out because much of the money would have been spent locally.

Bennett says that, during the 2005 tax season, the project served 538 taxpayers, resulting in $736,400 in federal tax refunds. Volunteers worked 1,390 hours during the tax season, a cost savings to the initiative of $41,700. Every one hour of volunteer service resulted in an average federal refund of $530.

The initiative will open a Tempe “super site” for the 2006 tax season. The location, at the Tempe Schools Credit Union, 2800 S. Mill Avenue , will offer 11 Saturday tax preparation sessions staffed with trained volunteer tax preparers and a translator. The site is handicap-accessible, is close to public transportation and has plenty of parking. A second site in Guadalupe will be located at 9050 S. Avenida del Yaqui.

For additional information, taxpayers can visit the Web site (www.tempe.gov/tcc/eitc.htm).