Guest Contributor Teffany Henderson
Certified Financial Health Counselor
Each year, TAP files over 1,000 free tax returns for low-income residents of Roanoke. This work relies on the help of volunteers and this year we may not be able to offer this service if we do not have enough volunteers by September 30.
We often hear the same reasons why people do not sign up. Here are the two biggest myths about volunteering at the Tax Clinic—and why they shouldn’t stop anyone from helping out.
Myth #1: I don’t know enough about tax return preparation
Most people don’t – at first. Many of our volunteers begin with no prior experience in tax return preparation. As a result, volunteers are trained through Link & Learn Taxes, an online program used by the IRS. In addition, our tax site coordinator provides personal training to ensure you’re confident in your knowledge.
Sherman Witcher, a Virginia Western student and 2019 Tax Clinic volunteer, said “knowing almost nothing about tax return preparation, it was somewhat intimidating to dive in headfirst, but the IRS training modules are tailored to people who have little to no background.”
Likewise, Sofiia Melnyk also began volunteering with no experience. Melnyk moved from Ukraine in 2016, and did not know how the US filing process worked. She decided to volunteer to get accounting experience. After her training, she helped over 100 families file tax returns.
Each year, volunteers get the training they need to help our clients. All together, we help over 1,000 people file their tax returns without a single rejection.
Myth #2: I don’t have enough time
Schedules today are packed with work, making dinner, or soccer practice. Due to this, the TAP Tax Clinic offers an online training program. Link & Learn Taxes is self-paced, meaning you can complete it as you find time in your day.
“With the online modules,” Witcher said, “I could easily study the material without having to drive 40 minutes from Franklin County.”
Once the training is complete, you can offer as much time as you want to the Tax Clinic. “I was able to build my own schedule that worked with my college classes,” said Melnyk. Every bit helps. The Tax Clinic is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday, and runs from February 1 to April 15. We welcome any hours you can help.
Facts about being a tax-clinic volunteer
Research shows that volunteering has many benefits. Here are a few that volunteering at the Tax Clinic offers:
Fact #1: Help your community
This one’s obvious. The TAP Tax Clinic offers free tax preparation for low-income Virginians. Without the tax clinic, these clients may miss out on important credits or spend a majority of their refund on a paid service. While volunteering, Melnyk assisted a client who was overjoyed after discovering that she didn’t owe thousands in taxes, but in fact would be receiving a refund. “There were so many people who made me feel that my volunteering time truly mattered,” Melnyk said. “It was a rewarding experience.”
Fact #2: Connect with people and feel better
Volunteering is proven to lower feelings of loneliness. Beyond that, a study by Indiana University’s School of Philanthropy found that volunteering lowered stress, reduced feelings of depression, and elevated mood. In fact, the study found that volunteers spend 38 percent fewer nights in the hospital.
Fact #3: Build your resume, or put your skills to work
Volunteering at the TAP Tax Clinic will give you new skills and hone your knowledge of tax law. Professionals can earn licensing credits to boost their careers. Students like Melnyk and Witcher can get résumé-building experience. Specifically, those studying business, accounting, or finance can get out of the classroom and learn in a hands-on fashion. Depending on their program, students can even earn course credit from volunteering.
Further, Witcher found that his volunteer time at the Tax Clinic made his résumé stand out. “I think that students should seek to distinguish themselves from their peers, and TAP is a great outlet for doing so,” he said.