Will Thomas, Accounting Students Assist at Free Tax Assistance Clinic

Published Friday, February 19, 2016
Will Thomas
Will Thomas

Southwest Minnesota State University accounting students are making a difference in the lives of low-income individuals by volunteering at the free tax preparation clinic, administered through Western Community Action.

This marks the 10th year that students have assisted at the clinic, as part of their accounting capstone class.

What does the clinic mean to low-income clients who are helped by the service?

Lori Lerohl, tax site program coordinator for Western Community Action, has seen first-hand how volunteer student help has benefitted clients.

“Last year, there was a mother who was leaving and I asked if she got good news (about a refund). She started crying and said with her return and the money she saved from not having to pay for her taxes being done, she was going to be able to buy her 10-year-old son his first bed, and that there may even be a few dollars left for her to buy a new mattress for herself. She said she’d been using her grandmother’s old mattress which was about 30 years old,” said Lerohl.

 How did the association with Western Community Action come about? “My first year at SMSU, I went to Western Community Action and asked about it, whether volunteering could be a part of the class, and we’ve kept doing it ever year,” said Accounting Professor Will Thomas.

Students undergo eight hours of training for the class. The clinic does take appointments, “but they like to keep space open for drop-ins,” he said.

Thomas feels there’s a big benefit to both clients and students.

“Clients benefit by having their return professionally prepared at no cost. These are fairly straightforward returns for the most part — they do not require complex calculations or detailed schedules. Even so, having someone else prepare their return in a professional setting provides peace of mind many people do not experience when they prepare their own return. It also gives our students practical experience outside the classroom where they can use what they’ve learned to help others,” said Thomas.

Lerohl is grateful for Thomas and his students. “Most of our clients could not pay for their taxes to be prepared. We are able lo help them pay much needed bills and feel a little more secure about their future. Without the help of Will and the students, we would not be able to help our neighbors. Ten years is a milestone that deserves to be applauded.”