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Relief at a taxing time

Photo by Heratch Ekmekjian

Tax-filing season can be a whirlwind of confusion and stress, and lower-income filers often count on their refunds as a significant financial boost to get them through the year. That’s why Northeastern University accounting professors in the College of Business Administration spent part of their weekends this tax season preparing tax forms, free of charge, for those community members with the greatest need.

Since 1994, Northeastern has hosted one of the Community Tax Aid of Boston centers spread across the city. This year there were five sites, which operate on a first-come, first-serve basis, and those eligible for assistance include individuals who earn less than $30,000 or married couples earning less than $40,000.

This year, volunteers at the Northeastern center began assisting clients on Saturday mornings in February. First, clients are interviewed and matched with volunteers, who then fill out their tax forms by hand. The documents are then reviewed and presented to the clients to file. The Northeastern tax aid site prepared returns for 86 taxpayers, helping them claim refunds that collectively totaled more than $132,000.

“This is an important way we can provide vital services to low-income and elderly taxpayers in the surrounding community,” said professor Timothy Rupert, who manages the Northeastern site annually and coordinates volunteer training.

Cynthia Jackson, associate professor of accounting, has joined Rupert at the Northeastern site for more than a decade. She said the community-service program makes a significant impact for low-income residents by ensuring they receive the tax credits they’re qualified for, and allowing them to save the money they might otherwise spend on tax preparation.

“Throughout my career, I’ve wanted to give back to the community and make a difference,” she said. “It’s wonderful seeing people so excited when they get their refunds.”

This year, assistant accounting professors Michaele Morrow and Brian Hogan also volunteered at the Community Tax Aid center in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood.

Rupert said another rewarding aspect of the program is building relationships with residents who seek their assistance year after year. He said one woman from Jamaica Plain has been coming for 10 years, but she recently adopted a special-needs child. Volunteers made certain she received the qualifying tax credit.

“It’s fun to catch up with these people, and they’re so appreciative,” Rupert said. “You get a great feeling from it.”