U offers tax help to procrastinators

Yasuyuki Kobayashi

Today marks the most inconvenient deadline for procrastinating taxpayers.
State and federal income tax returns are supposed to be post-marked by midnight. But taxpayers who have put off filing need not despair: There is help. Even noncitizen students, who typically have a more complicated filing route than their American counterparts, have help at the University.
For the past four years, Gary Carter, an associate professor at the Carlson School of Management, has been helping international students in Wilson Library during tax filing season.
Carter said understanding the United States’ 55 different treaty provisions with various other countries is the most common problem for non-resident aliens.
Wilson Library is the only place in the Twin Cities where international students can get help filing their taxes, Carter said.
However, the 100 volunteers — working 10 at a time — who have been helping people file tax returns every Monday night in Wilson since February, aren’t enough.
“We have done as many as 100 returns a night,” said Carter. “We still turn the people away.”
Monday was particularly hectic for Carter and his troupe of tax experts. That evening 116 people signed up for filing assistance, and 82 people were helped by volunteer students. Carter stayed at Wilson until 11 p.m. to answer questions.
Sabrina Oesterle, a graduate student in sociology, was looking for help Monday night at Wilson. This is the first time the Germany native is filing tax returns in the United States.
Although she had already sent her returns in to the Internal Revenue Service, they were sent back because they were incomplete.
“It is always annoying,” Oesterle said. “It’s kind of difficult because no one knows specific questions for the international students. So, you cannot just ask the payroll office. They do not really know because it’s a special case.”
It’s not only international students who require face-to-face help during tax season.
The Minnesota Accounting Aid Service coordinates volunteers to provide low-income citizens — including students — with free tax assistance.
Sara Elwood, who has been volunteering once or twice a week through the service since January, said people become frantic as the deadline gets closer.
“A lot of people coming in are very nervous,” Elwood said. “They are just nervous because they don’t know how to do this.”
She said she had some clients who got frustrated because of their misunderstandings about the IRS’s specific rules, which apply to each individual differently.
Elwood said many people ask questions like “My friend makes more money than I, and he got a refund. But I have to pay. How come?”
She also hears a lot of questions from students about whether scholarships and fellowships are taxable.
Some students have an easier time filing because they use the IRS’s new TeleFile system, which allows taxpayers to file over the phone.
“It was easy,” said College of Liberal Arts senior Paul Schwinghammer, who used TeleFile for the first time this year. “I like it because it is easy and it gets your return fast.” It took Schwinghammer 15 minutes to file using TeleFile.
IRS spokesperson Eric Smith said about 700,000 returns out of 2 million in Minnesota had been filed by TeleFile this year.
“We are getting about as many returns filed as we usually do,” Smith said. “But fewer of them are coming in old-fashioned paper way. More of them are coming in electronically.”
However, some students took an even easier filing route this year.
“My parents took care of everything,” said Institute of Technology freshman Jennifer Kolenda, who was reading her textbook outside the Superblock in the spring sunlight Tuesday evening.
Now she is just waiting for the refund to come back.