Permission slips, notes from teachers and newsletters routinely fail to reach the parents of children they are sent home with, but one flyer their first grade daughter brought home got Maria and Brian Culligan’s taxes done for free.
Forty students from both the University of Wisconsin and Madison College volunteered this tax season, according to John Hoffmire, director of the Puelicher Center for Banking Education’s Center on Business and Poverty.
Maria Culligan said her husband Brian usually does their taxes using TurboTax, but with a new baby and a supply of questions, the task required more time than the couple could supply.
“We had so many questions that it was going to take Brian two or three weeks to do it…with TurboTax,” she said.
So the Culligans sat down at Emerson Elementary School with a University of Wisconsin student volunteer, hoping to have their tax-related questions answered. They didn’t expect to walk away with their taxes filed.
“They were very well prepared, and ready to have our taxes ready because we brought all the information they needed,” she said.
Culligan said the volunteers made the service helpful simply by being there to answer questions and act as a resource.
“If we had some questions there was somebody there to answer the questions,” Culligan said. “It was nice to see a face that you can ask questions to instead of a computer.”
Currently in its sixth year, Hoffmire said the program is sponsored by the Puelicher Center for Banking Education, in conjunction with Beta Alpha Psi.
To participate in the program, potential clients must have $49,000 or less of adjusted gross income on each tax form they need completed and also must schedule an appointment.
Hoffmire said the program started as a way for UW Hospital employees to have their taxes done, but quickly branched out to other businesses when demand increased.
“We had more institutions that wanted to participate and we have more volunteers each year,” he said.
Organizations participating this year include the William S. Middleton Veterans Affairs Hospital, UW Hospital and Clinics, Telephone Data Services Inc., Food Fight Restaurant Group and Emerson Elementary School.
In addition, the program also offers its services to UW students, although Hoffmire said spaces are limited each year and are already full for this tax season.
Hoffmire said he hopes the program will eventually expand to include all UW students.
“The average person in the U.S. who does their tax forms on paper makes about $800 worth of mistakes,” he said. “For us to go and do the tax form better…for free actually saves [students] time, it saves them money and it saves them headaches.”
UW students are not the only clients who avoid stress through the program.
“Just having someone there to ask questions, and they also tell you that maybe something might be wrong or how to fix it…was a great help,” Culligan said.