Tax Assistance Program provides relief in a cruel season



As a disgruntled community endures tax season, with its avalanche of arcane regulations, camouflaged deductions and illegible forms, it is consoling to remember Albert Einsteins observation thatthe hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.Nevertheless, the near incomprehensibility of tax law, so often a staple of middle-class comedy, can be an intolerable burden for beleaguered citizens with low incomes.

An awareness of that burden and a determination to lighten it are the principal earmarks of the Vivian Harrington Gray Notre Dame-Saint Marys College Tax Assistance Program (TAP), now in its 35 th year.

The program, in which volunteer tax preparers provide assistance with state and local tax returns to taxpayers whose incomes are below $35,000, helped file 3,462 tax returns last year. There is no charge for the service, which is funded by the Mendoza College of Business and supplied by the Internal Revenue Service and the Indiana Department of Revenue. A few program volunteers are certified public accountants from national, regional and local firms, as well as accountancy faculty members from Notre Dame and Saint Marys, but most are undergraduate accountancy students.

It seems as agreeable an arrangement as can be made in such an unpleasant season.

A win-win-win situation is a rarity,says Ken Milani, Notre Dame professor of accountancy and TAP director.However, the TAP provides this outcome.Low-income Michiana-area taxpayers are the primary beneficiaries of the TAP since they receive free income tax preparation service, but students also benefit from the program since it provides them with practical experience.A third group, involved faculty members, complements classroom activities by working with students on an interesting and challenging project.

The TAPs initial goal in 1972 was to help strappedIndianataxpayers file for a temporaryIndianastate tax credit. With the expiration of that credit a few years later, the program evolved to include assistance with federal tax returns and, for the student volunteers, academic instruction in tax return preparation. In subsequent years, it has become an important and memorable lesson for Notre Dame business students entering public accounting and tax practice, joining the variety of other service/learning opportunities that distinguish the undergraduate education on which the University prides itself.

In the early 1990s, the ranks of Notre Dames international students, researchers, visiting scholars, and faculty began to expand, and the TAP expanded and adjusted accordingly.

International people have to deal with visas, immigration rules, and tax treaties,says Tom Bullock, international tax services coordinator for the TAP.Many people come from countries where the tax system is simply a bill from the government: No discussion, just pay it. Our system, in which employers act as tax collecting agents for the government, seems strange to them. Different types of taxes, such as income, retirement and health, are confusing for many.For American citizens, these things are just another part of the scenery. Graduate students and visiting scholars coming to Notre Dame from other universities often speak of the load off their minds that the TAP provides.

Last year, more than 800 such people were served by the program and more than 1,400 tax returns were prepared.

In 1999, Notre Dame received a generous donation in memory of Vivian Harrington Gray to help endow the TAP. A schoolteacher in northwestern Wisconsin, Mrs. Gray had helped support two sons and a grandson while they studied accounting at Notre Dame, and after her retirement, she, too, had volunteered to assist low-income individuals prepare their tax returns.

When and where

The Tax Assistance Program provides service in 11 area locations including the Center for Social Concerns and ND Downtown. The International TAP meets inLaFortuneStudentCenterand the Mendoza College of Business.

Domestic service begins Saturday, Feb. 11, and ends Thursday, April 13. International service begins Monday, Feb. 13, and ends April 13. A complete schedule of times and locations is available at or 631-7863. Various University events such as spring break will interrupt service.

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