Filing taxes is routine for most Americans, but for a group of SUNY Oswego students it's a crucial part of their education. Each year, seniors and graduate students in the college's honor society for accounting and finance majors prepare free tax returns for mostly lower-income residents.
John Runge is a graduate accounting student and coordinator with the college's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA). He recently helped file returns for people at the Hamilton Homes complex in Oswego, an affordable housing community.
"When I started here, not only did it help with a resume boost for a tax internship, but it definitely gave me some great first-hand exposure to tax returns and understanding a 1040 and all of the different tax documents," Runge said. "You get to see mostly pretty simple returns here, so it's good practice."
Charles Spector, a professor emeritus of accounting at SUNY Oswego, helps oversee the program. He says these students are all qualified and trained to handle the returns, in part because they have had to pass an IRS certification exam. And, Spector says, there are multiple safeguards in place.
"When people come in here to have their returns done, there will be three students involved," Spector said. "The faculty members go over it too before it gets sent in."
Spector says the VITA program has helped file returns for about 300 people every year since 1999, including Oswego resident Virginia Davis.
"I appreciate the free service," Davis said. "It was very helpful. [They are] a very pleasant group of people."
Runge says helping people like Davis is his favorite part of VITA.
"People come in here and the year before they will tell you that they paid $200-$300 to get their return done at H&R Block of Jackson Hewitt," Runge said. "So, when they get a decent-sized refund and they realize $200 of it is not going to someone else, it puts a huge smile on their face."