When COVID-19 prompted a mid-March campus “Terp” shutdown it also halted TerpTax, a 6-year-old, free on-campus tax-filing service. Maryland students – mostly Maryland Smith accounting majors and including both master’s students and undergrads – had been assisting student peers and low-income members of the surrounding community, as both walk-ins and by appointment, from 6-9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays in Room 3522 of Van Munching Hall.
“TerpTax clients panicked, but the TerpTax student volunteers calmly rebooted themselves, virtually, as in going online,” says accounting lecturer Samuel Handwerger, who advises the group.
About 40 of the volunteers continued assisting clients at the usual office hours, working remotely, via the TerpTax website. There were some 300 returns stacked up at that point, waiting to be complete. Fortunately, some assistance came along as the coronavirus also prompted the IRS to extend the income tax filing deadline by three months, to July 15.
“Most of the volunteers remarkably stayed on to help all the way into the summer months right up to the filing deadline,” Handwerger says. “We’ve served 488 tax filers during the extended, virtual period and 788 overall for this tax season.”
The service operates with the Master Service Learning Club (MSLC), coordinating graduate-student participation with the undergraduate-run TerpTax component to serve as an IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) chapter. The service benefits low-to-mid-income individuals and families, plus students, elderly filers and people with disabilities.
“About 75% of the returns we do are for international students at the university,” Handwerger says, noting that those filers often face greater tax challenges when it comes to tax compliance. “I think MSLC-TerpTax has developed a reputation amongst VITA sites in the area as being the go-to place for these special returns. For our school, this has proven to be a needed resource for our international visitors.”