As the tax deadline of April 15 arrived, I was probably one of the only people who was sad to see it come and go. This tax season, I had had the opportunity to participate in the University of Notre Dame/Saint Mary's College Tax Assistance Program.
The program is a joint effort of the two institutions, and provides free tax services to individuals below a certain income level. The services are offered at a number of locations around the community, many of which are branches of the St. Joseph County Public Library system. Actually a credit-bearing course in Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, the course and the program are taught and administered by professor Kenneth Milani, with the assistance of professional specialist Edward Hums.
I had had an eye open for a volunteer program that would be worth my time and energy. As it turned out, Milani and I had a mutual friend in Claude Renshaw, a retired accounting professor at Saint Mary's, and he suggested to me and to Ken that I might want to participate in the program. (Milani and Renshaw write the Tax Talk column in Sunday Tribunes from January through April).
Having had some background in finance and accounting, but none in taxes, I was slightly intimidated by the prospect of participating in a college course for the first time in more than 40 years. The class was held twice a week during January and February, and the material was voluminous. Also required was a series of on-line courses conducted by the Internal Revenue Service, culminating in a somewhat difficult test. The pressure and self-imposed stress were worse than I would have imagined, but I managed to pass the exam and qualify to be a volunteer.
Beginning in late February and continuing through April 15, I spent two or three days a week doing taxes at various county library branches. The work was interesting and challenging, especially given the fact that all the returns were done on paper and by hand. With the multiple locations, dozens of volunteer participants and other complexities, the university has chosen not to try to computerize the process. And, as Milani and Hums like to say, the lack of computers requires the students to actually have to think.