It is not uncommon to hear students complain about how their high school never prepared them to file a tax return or taught them how their taxes even work. For students and other low-to-middle income earners, there is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) tax program here at McDaniel to help them learn.
This program has been a part of campus for the past 24 years thanks to Professor Susan Milstein. During her first sabbatical, she chose the VITA program as her sabbatical project.
“I decided whatever did, I kind of wanted to cover a win-win situation so that the students would be involved, I would be involved, the college would be involved, my accounting would be involved. I wanted to just do what I did well and kind of share the wealth in that way,” Milstein says. “I wanted to give back to the college and the community.”
The VITA program is offered by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In order for a student to be qualified to work in the program, they must pass with an 80 percent or higher on a test, which includes working with three complicated tax scenarios.
Many times, alum who either are CPAs or have other tax-related experience return to mentor the students during an 18 hour workshop they take in preparation for the test. Milstein said that the vast majority of students who participate in the program go on to become CPAs themselves or another tax preparation related line of work.
An economics and accounting major, junior Andrew Roberts has been a part of the program for the past three years. Currently he is an assistant of sorts, showing students at the VITA learning workshops how to file taxes. He describes the program as “a good opportunity so far as a volunteer standpoint”, and extremely beneficial from a personal finances view. Roberts is hopeful that he will be able to do his own taxes for as long as he possibly can, which would save him money every year. The program has also provided him with a “tangible skill” in tax work, which he believes is a great skill to set him apart from others in the workforce.
VITA has surpassed all of Milstein’s expectations in the 24 years that she has been leading the program. The participation has risen greatly; from only seven clients and three student workers total the first year, to nearly 15 clients every night the program runs.
Additionally, her students have always surpassed her expectations, especially “how many of them became so successful in the field of accounting and how quickly they pass the CPA exam. Almost every single one passes the exam on the first try.”
As an accounting professor at McDaniel for the past 33 years, Milstein had a few words of advice for students: “Join the VITA program! You will learn how to do your own tax return, save money, and not be taken for a ride by somebody else.” She also advised that once you make enough money to need a financial advisor, don’t hesitate to “get somebody who knows, who is a little bit smarter than you in the field.”
Milstein is proud of the program and especially proud of the students. It’s important to know how hard these students work and “how much they get out of it. Every one of them will tell you. They come back! Year after year, They come back, to be some sort of a checker, just to be around the students, and to teach them as they go, a mentor.”
Due to Milstein’s coming retirement in August, Professors Barbara Rowell and Kerry Duvall will take over the program next year.