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Free Tax Return Prep Provides More Than $1M in Total Value for Community

United Way’s Monica Conover (left) and Danielle Corea-Smith (right) worked with Stillman School professors Avery Newmark and Danielle DiMeglio and Graduate Assistant Abigail Giordano to offer the VITA Tax Lab on campus.

Thanks to an ongoing collaboration between Seton Hall University and the United Way of Greater Newark and United Way of Northern New Jersey (UWNNJ), a program called VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) was on campus again this spring to provide no-cost tax return preparation services for the campus community. Students enrolled this semester in the Tax Lab course, offered by the Stillman School of Business‘ Department of Accounting and Taxation, were available for free tax preparation by appointment and via walk-ins on both February 27 and April 5. During each one-hour session, the students sat with members of the Seton Hall community and, using a software package called TaxSlayer, filed their 2023 federal and state taxes.

“We’re thrilled to report that in partnership with VITA, Seton Hall student volunteers successfully filed 988 free tax returns, resulting in $960,000 in refunds issued this season,” said Danielle DiMeglio, C.P.A., M.B.A. “Combined with the $300,000 avoided in tax preparation fees, the total value to the community was $1.26M.”

Eric Mollo, an M.S. in Accounting student who participated in the Tax Lab, said, “VITA’s been a very rewarding experience and useful exercise in applying what I’ve learned in grad school. I do feel like I’m helping provide a service, while at the same time applying valuable concepts I learn in the classroom to real world tax work. I am so glad to have joined this program.”

Another M.S. in Accounting student, Courtney Misura, is a newcomer to the accounting field. “To be able to immediately gain valuable experience has given me the confidence to excel as I begin this new chapter in my life,” she said. “Nothing has been more rewarding than working with the public, especially in underserved communities, and assisting them with one of the most stressful things they need to do.”

Avery E. Neumark, JD, LL.M., C.P.A, visiting instructor in the Department of Accounting and Taxation who leads Seton Hall’s Tax Lab, shared, “As tax complexities escalate, we’re thrilled to offer our budding tax experts this real-world experience. They’re not just building skills; they’re making a tangible difference in the community.”

Seton Hall employee Breanna Drew took advantage of the free tax preparation service on April 5.

Danielle Corea-Smith, director of financial stability at United Way of Greater Newark, said, “Seeing the room fully packed with clients being served by IRS-certified tax lab students was so inspiring. Seton Hall has really put together a professional and free service for its community. In addition to the high-quality service provided, it’s also exciting to see how much learning and growth is taking place by Tax Lab students who have given freely of their own time — it really is a win-win for all.”

United Way of Greater Newark and the United Way of Northern New Jersey also offer free tax prep to provide online and drop-off tax preparation services in Newark and East Orange, which is one of the volunteer opportunities for Seton Hall students. 

DiMeglio added, “Our long-standing collaboration with VITA and United Way is a cornerstone of our community engagement. It’s a fantastic way for students to gain practical experience and earn elective credits.”

“To have someone tell you that getting a refund has made their day all thanks to you is very fulfilling,” added Misura. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful program.”

“I really enjoyed my experience at the Tax Lab event — the tax preparers were incredibly thorough and helpful, taking the time to answer every question I had,” said Breanna Drew, LMSW, assistant director, graduate admissions and recruitment at Seton Hall. “They made something that is usually daunting very seamless, and I hope that the University and United Way continue to offer this service for many years to come.”

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