Chaminade accounting majors took on a taxing challenge this January. They studied carefully IRS publications and forms, took federal exams, and got themselves certified by the IRS to do tax returns and give advice on budgeting strategies. Referred to as “the Chaminade tax gang,” these certified students are led across the island by their Chaminade accounting professor, Wayne Tanna, in the pro bono preparing of tax returns for the needy. Each student will do a minimum of four tax returns (many do more) as part of Tanna’s service-learning accounting class project.
Tanna and various other accounting faculty have been offering this service-learning project since the 1980s. This is one of Chaminade’s longest running service-learning projects, started before the university referred to it as service-learning.
Tanna shared some numbers. Consider that the average tax return preparation fee at a commercial tax preparer is close to $300. Of course, there are computer programs, which need computers and servers, which also cost money. Consider that the Chaminade tax gang work with the working poor and the working homeless, people who are due refunds but are intimidated by federal forms, are not familiar with the intricacies of ,say, Earned Income Credit (EIC), or do not have a computer, and just do not have the funds to otherwise file for refunds. The Chaminade students are able to assist these people in taking care of their legal and civic duties as U.S. citizens (i.e. filing their taxes) and then receive refunds. With their certifications, the Chaminade students can also provide basic tax and budget planning information. In the past, refunds to the needy have helped make ends meet or gotten some off the streets with enough money for rental deposits.
“By my count, we have helped the community to receive over $7,000,000 in tax refunds and credits over the past 25 years that I have been doing this with my classes. We have also saved the working poor and homeless communities hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees that again they cannot and really should not have to pay,” said Tanna.
The newest “Chaminade tax gang” engaged with clients for the first time this year on January 29, at the State Capitol, partnering with VITA Hawaii. To qualify for the free service, clients had to have household incomes of less than $55,000. Walk-ins were welcomed in between scheduled appointments on a first come, first served basis. According to Tanna, his students will have 18 additional opportunities to prepare taxes. From Kalihi and Waianae to Palolo Valley and Ewa, there would be people to serve and numbers to crunch. His students remained eager to serve with calculators in hand.
“We do this as it is the best way to connect academic learning to the actual practice (of accounting) AND to demonstrate civic engagement as a part of our Marianist traditions,” Tanna remarked.
For more information on how to get free tax help in Hawaii, visit VITA Hawaii.