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Rowe School volunteers take on taxes

Posted by Miriam Breslow on March 3, 2017 in News

Last year's tax clinic volunteers, including organizers Melissa Logan (centre left) and Molly MacDonald (centre right)


For the past five tax seasons, Laura Cumming, an accounting lecturer in the Rowe School of Business, has been enabling her students to get some extracurricular tax practice. Each March, students from Cumming’s Canadian income tax class hold a tax clinic, completing and filing returns for other students and community members.

“It’s kind of cool to see everyone want to learn how to do their taxes,” says Melissa Logan, a fourth-year accounting student in the commerce program and one of two coordinators of the clinic. “Most of the time people groan about doing their taxes, but the students are really eager to do it. It’s cool to see this positive side of accounting.”

Molly MacDonald, also in fourth year accounting, coordinates with Logan. The students have been participating since second and first year, respectively, and coordinating since last year. They find the clinic rewarding: “We’re giving people the opportunity to have their tax returns filed when they otherwise might not do it,” says MacDonald. She’s speaking partly of students, of course, a lot of whom, she says, aren’t aware of the benefits of filing. But the clinic increasingly attracts community members, too, including residents of shelters such as Adsum House. Cumming notes that social media and word of mouth are probably to thank for the increasing number of community members who drop in to have their returns completed.

While it’s not necessary to be present while the volunteers complete returns, says MacDonald, “a lot of people come in for their appointments, so they can walk through the return with the student doing it.” MacDonald coordinates appointments with students and community members, while Logan coordinates the work of volunteers. “We have an exceptional number of volunteers this year,” says Logan. In fact, they’ve approximately doubled from last year to about 40. “We’re trying to get as many people through as we can,” she says. “The more the merrier.” She adds that she can tell when students are in class with Cumming because she receives rushes of emails from would-be volunteers at these times.

The accounting professor expresses pride in her hard-working students. “The third-year course load is demanding and they have the added stress of finding a third co-op work term, not to mention part-time jobs, athletics and other responsibilities,” says Cumming. “I’m very proud of them for donating their time and talent during a term that is very busy for them.”

Volunteering in the clinic does carry some perks, of course. Logan points out that completing return after return gives the students a solid grasp of basic tax situations that they can later apply professionally. They also gain volunteer experience and the satisfaction of helping their peers and community. As well, the students have the opportunity to meet professionals in the accounting field—firms like Ernst & Young and Collins Barrow send personnel each evening of the clinic to help out.

MacDonald, who will begin employment with Deloitte in Halifax in September, points out that she could continue to be involved with the clinic in this capacity. “We could be the experts that come in and network,” she says. “Have it go full circle.”

Since Logan and MacDonald are both graduating this year—Logan will be working with PwC in Toronto come September—this is the last year of the Rowe School of Business tax clinic for them. And they’ve got their fingers crossed that it will be their biggest. Last year they processed approximately 100 tax returns for the community. This year, with double the number of volunteers, “it would be nice to make that 200,” says Logan.

The tax clinic runs in the Rowe Building on March 13 and 14 and is open to those who meet the requirements: individuals must have a simple tax situation and an annual income of no more than $30,000. (This threshold is increased for individuals with dependents.) Appointments are still available; to book or to inquire about eligibility, please email molly.macdonald@dal.ca.