NMU students prepare tax returns for free

Northern Michigan University senior Alexa Olgren, who is studying accounting, prepares the tax return of Kevin Bray of Marquette. NMU students, as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, prepare tax returns free for qualifying individuals from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through tax season in the University Center trading lab. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Even though they probably don’t have an overabundance of professional work experience yet, some Northern Michigan University students are spending a good amount of time surrounded by W-2 forms.

These business-minded students are taking time this tax season to be part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, completing free tax returns for lower-income individuals and families in the greater Marquette area.

Kyle McGorisk, an accounting major and the VITA coordinator, runs operations in the trading lab in the University Center across from the Wildcat Den, where students prepare tax returns from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through tax season.

“It’s pretty convenient, honestly, just for individuals that are like, ‘What am I going to do this tax season?’ Come in, get your return prepared for free and then maybe learn a little bit about your return as you’re getting it prepared,” McGorisk said. “It’s an educational experience for both parties.”

The program, which he noted has been growing annually, is run through the NMU academic business fraternity, Beta Alpha Psi, of which he is vice president.

“Last year, we stood out among the programs because we had the most clientele come in,” said McGorisk, who estimated 160 returns were completed.

He said that’s relatively high since the group meets only twice a week for two hours each time, and usually there are 12 to 13 tax preparers on hand.

NMU’s VITA program serves walk-in clients.

“Anybody that has income less than $55,000 a year can come in with their tax information, and we will prepare it for free and submit it to the IRS,” McGorisk said.

The process is simple.

McGorisk said that after clients come in, they complete quality review intake forms with general information, with the preparer then entering the tax information in the system. A reviewer looks over each return and officially submits it to the IRS. A client then receives a printed copy of the return.

Tax returns usually are finished within 30 minutes, although it depends on their complexity, he said.

“It’s a really cool program, not only because we have individuals that take advantage of the free tax preparation, but it’s also great for the students because they get an opportunity to come out and learn about tax compliance in a professional environment, opposed to just learning about it in the classroom,” McGorisk said. “It really gives them a real world glimpse of it.”

As with a professional environment, though, there can be challenging tax returns.

“That’s actually probably the most exciting thing about it — is the fact that you never know who is going to have an outstanding return that you may have some questions on, but that’s also the cool thing about it,” McGorisk said. “No matter how complex your return is, we’re going to give you the best possible advice and preparation that we can.”

A complicated tax return might be just the thing to give an accounting student, for example, an edge when entering the working world.

“The students are learning as they’re doing it, so you really get a black-and-white representation of how tax compliance is opposed to a big tax firm … that tries to make it some a little more complex to confuse you, I guess,” McGorisk said. “It really depends on your outlook, but I think the coolest thing about it is how available it is to all our clients.”

Logan Turner, a senior at NMU, said he normally does his own taxes. However, one of his friends was a preparer Tuesday.

“It’ll save me some time but help him out too,” Turner said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.