Accounting Students Navigate Pandemic in Providing Local Income Tax Assistance

April 7, 2021

Dr. John Carlson (center background) with two Albion College accounting students

Professor John Carlson (center background) with accounting students Noah Simmons, ’21 (left), and Jared Fife, ’21, during a VITA session in the Ludington Center.

By Jake Weber

For the second straight year COVID-19 has impacted IRS filing deadlines, but it hasn’t stopped the work of Albion College students and their dedication to helping others file their taxes. This year’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is on track to file nearly 80 returns, mostly for seniors in Albion and nearby communities.

John Bedient, associate professor and chair of economics and management, notes that while any students can participate in VITA, it provides an especially good learning experience for accounting majors.

“The big thing I see is how fast they learn from mistakes,” Bedient says. “They also learn that while they are slow and tentative at first, their confidence and speed improves quickly. Many feel confident enough to say to a friend, ‘Sure, I can do your taxes!’”

“When I was in high school, I gave my W2 form to my mother to file,” admits accounting major Jared Fife, ’21, now doing VITA for a third year after participating in 2020 from off campus as the pandemic took hold. He notes that the experience of preparing dozens of returns built his confidence for an internship with Ernst & Young, which turned into a job offer that Fife will take in early 2022.

Working directly with clients the first two years taught him additional lessons about working in the profession. Fife recalls a client whose return left him with a tax bill that would be difficult to pay.

It was a reminder that “I wasn’t just doing tax returns; this was a part of someone’s real life,” he says. Dealing with the upset client was “a good experience of how to explain these situations to people and how important it is to know what you’re talking about. At the end of the day, you need to be sure your client knows what to do going forward. That’s important, too.”

All student-prepared VITA returns are reviewed by Bedient or Dr. John Carlson, associate professor of economics and management, before they are given to the clients. Bedient notes that many VITA clients have low or fixed incomes, and many rely on tax returns to pay living expenses. “We even try to help them with follow-up problems that might not technically be our responsibility,” Bedient says. “We may be the only expert resource they have available.”

It’s this aspect of the program that brought Fife back for a third year. “We’re helping people in the community. We’re helping bridge the gap between the community and the College,” he says. “I think Albion is a place where people are interested in trying to help others. I’m all for that.”

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