May 24, 2018
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College students pitch in with free tax help for Lewiston-Auburn residents

By Kathryn Skelton, Sun Journal

LEWISTON, Maine — One man was so excited he told Abdisalan Mohamed Ali that he’d go on vacation. Another couple didn’t realize they could still claim their college-age daughter — more money in their pockets.

“Some don’t even know they can get the earned income (tax) credit, so you teach them, take them step by step,” said Ali, 25.

Since late January, he’s done a lot of tax talk.

Ali is one of three college students joining the L-A CA$H Coalition and AARP volunteers to give free tax help to low-income families this tax season. In nine years, the programs have helped local people file for more than $15 million in refunds.

It’s the programs’ first time with students.

“If I don’t use my tax knowledge, I’m going to lose it, and what better way than to help people out,” said Joshua Minnich, 34, of Lisbon Falls, a senior majoring in accounting and finance at the University of Southern Maine.

He credited experienced volunteers with being willing to help the new guys.

“If you mess up … they don’t glare at you across the room; there’s really camaraderie,” Minnich said.

Many of the roughly 25 volunteers at the Lewiston Armory and Auburn Hall are retirees, said K.C. Geiger, the CA$H Coalition site coordinator. All have taken an IRS tax preparer’s training and test.

The service is aimed at families who make less than $58,000. Between the coalition and AARP volunteers, they’ve filed 1,800 returns and counting.

Geiger expects they’ll pass 2,000 by March 30, the last day of their season.

“We’re taking a problem off their shoulders,” Geiger said. “Free is a pretty good price.”

The students, Ali, Minnich and Eugene Field, 22, of Minot, have gained experience and made contacts that could help them after graduation, Geiger said. “That’s always a good door opener someday when they’re looking for work.”

Field, a University of Maine accounting major who will graduate in May, said that like the other two student volunteers, he learned about the opportunity through a professor.

“They [tax preparers] can charge pretty exorbitant fees, and you can just do this stuff for free,” he said. “It gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Especially the people who weren’t going to file in the first place, and they realize they got back a pretty sizable sum of money. They’re pretty happy about it.”

Ali, who’s earning college credit, said he’s enjoyed working with senior citizens and helping Somali immigrants who don’t speak English as a first language.

“Sometimes numbers get kind of stale. You don’t often see who you benefit,” Minnich said. “Some people come with a lot of fear and just uncertainty. They come not quite knowing what to expect, and they leave knowing everything has been taken care of and that they’re in good hands.”


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