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Students and professors prepare taxes for low income residents

Income tax preparation was made easier for hundreds of Chattanooga residents recently, with the help of 50 UTC students and their professors. This Tax Clinic, a service-learning project, began under the direction of Dr. Melanie McCoskey, Associate Professor of Accounting, in Spring 2001.

“For the first three years, we traveled around the City of Chattanooga to different housing developments and Big Brothers/Big Sisters,” McCoskey said. “However, we only did about forty tax returns each year, and it was a lot of trouble to take eight notebook computers, two printers, and tons of supplies to different places each weekend. So three years ago we coupled with the City of Chattanooga and the Urban League to staff a VITA site at the Brainerd Recreational Complex on Moore Road. VITA is an IRS initiative that stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.”

According to McCoskey, in 2005 the group prepared over 250 tax returns and generated over $450,000 in refunds; in 2006, more than 350 tax returns were prepared which generated over $650,000 in refunds; and in 2007, they prepared 418 tax returns and generated $753,000 in refunds, all for low-income residents. The group that runs the Tax Clinic represents a mix of students.

“Most are accounting students in UTC tax classes, some are honors students who enjoy doing taxes,” said McCoskey. We have some former students who also like to come back and work each year, Natalie Posey and Rhonda Dohle, for example, both MACC graduates.”

Along with McCoskey, Drs. Joanie Sompayrac and Kaye Sheridan are the three tax professors who review all of the returns before they are given to the clients.

Although additional VITA sites prepare tax returns until April 17, many of the clients the UTC group served received the Earned Income Credit, which prompted early filing for a quick refund.

“The clinic is mainly for low-income residents, but we don't really have an income limit per se,” McCoskey said. “However, most of our clients make $30,000 or less, although you may see some higher, especially when we have married couples and both are working. Most of our clients live near the Brainerd Recreational Complex, but some live farther away.”

The Tax Clinic provides students a way to do work based on their classroom knowledge, and at the same time help the community. According to McCoskey, service-learning is based upon an old Chinese saying, “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.”

May 1, 2007