Accounting students save taxpayers over $250,000 in the VITA program

August 17, 2022

Through MCLA’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and the IRS, Business Administration students have saved residents upwards of $250,000 in returns this year. The program offers free tax preparation services to local residents in need. 

Students may assist taxpayers with disabilities or limited English-speaking skills, those 60 years of age or older, or individuals who make $57,000 or less per year. MCLA students complete both basic and advanced returns, including those with itemized deductions. In order to participate in the program students become IRS certified and work under the supervision of Associate Professor of Accounting, Tara J. Barboza, who is an enrolled agent with the United States Department of the Treasury and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Barboza said students interested in participating in the VITA program commit to training over winter break and then take the basic and advanced tax law exam to get IRS certified when they return in January. 

This year VITA was the only program that did live prep instead of drop-off, Barboza said, which was important for the students to be able to serve residents in a more personal way. 

Roughly 152 returns were prepared on premise for about five states. Those who worked at the Habitat for Humanity program in Pittsfield filed over 200 returns. Approximately $250,000 was given back in refunds through the assistance program and $30,000 was collected for the state of Massachusetts. 

“We’ve had phenomenal feedback every year,” Barboza said. “When the client leaves, they fill out a survey that averages 4.8 out of 5 quality of service received.”

She added that providing assistance in person gives the students a more insightful experience. In the surveys that student volunteers take about their experience, they commonly mention their growth in communication skills as they interview the clients. 

“For students, it's a fantastic opportunity if you have an interest in accounting. Most times in an internship you never see the client but here you’re working one-on-one. They develop incredible skills,” she said. “They’re asking really difficult questions regarding child loss, divorce, etc. They learn about interviewing and engaging with people in an empathetic way.” 

Paolo Kareh, an incoming senior and one of Barboza’s students, was recently nominated for a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) scholarship. Kareh participated in the College’s VITA program earlier this year which allowed him to offer tax filing services at no cost to residents and strengthen his ability to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). 

Kareh is a member of the MCLA men’s soccer team and is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting and Information Systems. 

“By the end of the tax season, my biggest takeaway from the program was the importance of communication with the clients and fellow volunteers. Our understanding of taxes was higher than those we were serving, so it was important we asked the correct questions to get an understanding of the client's tax situation and file their taxes with the uttermost accuracy,” Kareh said. “It also helps when there is a Certified Public Accountant such as Professor Barboza reviewing the tax returns who has the patience and willingness to help us learn.”

Because of Kareh’s outstanding academic status, Barboza considered him for the CMA scholarship.

“When I transferred to MCLA, I was uncertain of my career path, but over the last three and a half years, I feel I am in a position where I am happy with my potential career paths and confident I can grow after MCLA,” Kareh said. “I am still undecided on my exact career path, but my accounting concentration has helped me see and think of business from a different perspective.”

Schools are allotted 10 CMA nominations per year to students who are academically outstanding and commit to becoming a CMA and member of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).

“The CMA proves that the student has financial planning, budgeting, and decision-making skills. It’s an impressive designation that’s recognized globally for management accounting. This is a really great way to go because it proves that you have the skills to make those decisions,” Barboza said.

The CMA exam covers 12 core practices and helps students understand the “why” behind numbers instead of just the “what.” It also gives the student higher credibility and earning potential before entering the workforce. 

According to the IMA website, more than 20,000 students globally have received the CMA Scholarship, with over 2,000 colleges and universities participating and upwards of $35 million worth of scholarships awarded to pursue the CMA certification at no cost. 

“From a personal perspective, Paolo is motivated and outstanding. He’s a wonderful young man and a valued member of the MCLA community. That’s important to recognize,” Barboza said.