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University students helping file tax returns

Students have helped taxpayers file for decades now, but this year is presenting all kinds of extra challenges.

SCRANTON, Pa. — The University of Scranton is in the midst of its spring semester, but it's hard to tell since so many classes are being held virtually.

But some accounting students are hard at work in person helping community members file tax returns.

We met with Professor Joseph Hammond and his students over Zoom. The university's been running this tax program for more than 40 years, but never like this.

"We can't; we're not sitting with them, so we can't ask them. And that's a problem because now we have to get an answer before we can continue and finish the return," Hammond said.

Everything must be contactless, so anyone wishing to participate in the program has to leave tax documents in a drop box at the University of Scranton police station on Mulberry Street.

Then the students get to work.

"The first return I did took me nearly three hours because I had to ask a question practically about every line, but now they're only taking me less than 30 minutes now," said junior James Greenfield.

They'll do about 1,000 tax returns before the filing deadline of April 15.

"Already, this is just completely taken what I've learned in class and tossed it on its head. I'm in the deep end now, and now I'm doing them for real," Greenfield said.

The students say on top of all the expected documents you'd need to file, people should also include whether or not they received a COVID-19 stimulus payment in 2020.

The students get more than the tax filing experience. It's a chance to work collaboratively in person during a once-in-a-lifetime semester.

"I have one accounting class that's in-person, and all my other classes are remote. I like being around people, and I'm really happy to just spend my day, not just in front of a computer screen," said senior Regan O'Hara.

"We don't know how business will be conducted going forward in the future, so getting an experience like this while we can is definitely something I think we will benefit from," junior Ben Koshinski said.

The University of Scranton's tax program is available to residents of both Lackawanna and Wayne Counties with a household income of $57,000 a year or less.