Fresh faces on the front lines of tax compliance


by David Doremus

Nick Foss of South Riding, Virginia, is one of the fifth-year Accounting students who are assisting local residents with the preparation of their 2023 federal income-tax returns.

SUMMARY: Master of Science in Accounting candidates answer the call to provide no-cost, tax-preparation services to income-constrained members of the local community.

Fifth-year accounting student Nicholas Foss says the JMU College of Business’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is the perfect way to take classroom material on the federal tax code and translate it into practical experience.

“What makes the program even better is that we can help the community while doing it,” said Foss, of South Riding, Virginia, who earlier completed his undergraduate studies at JMU and now looks forward to receiving a Master of Science in Accounting degree this May.

In this, the ninth consecutive year in which VITA has been offered at JMU, Foss and 21 other students enrolled in the graduate-level ACTG 696 class are again teaming with School of Accounting faculty members to provide free tax-preparation services for community members who have annual household incomes of $68,000 or less.

“JMU does a great job making its classes as impactful as possible,” Foss said. “In the VITA program we’re working on an actual, tangible final product, instead of just taking tests.”

Foss also praises the collaborative character of the VITA program. He and his fellow student-preparers interact face-to-face with the taxpayers they assist, and work together to ensure that sometimes obscure IRS schedules and other tax documents are filled out completely and accurately.

Foss has already been tendered — and has accepted — an offer of full-time employment after graduation with EY, one of the world’s “Big Four” professional services networks. He says that, in his own experience, the emphasis on collaboration at JMU has been present from the outset.

“Every class I've ever taken at JMU has had an element of teamwork to it,” Foss said. He cites JMU’s distinctive pedagogy as something that has “really helped” him as he prepares to embark on his career.

Jonathan Arteaga, a senior majoring in International Business, contributes to the VITA effort in a different way than Foss and the fifth-year Accounting students.

Arteaga, who grew up speaking Spanish in his childhood home, volunteers to provide translation services to VITA clients who would otherwise have to contend with a language barrier in addition to the complexities of the federal tax code. He says there’s tremendous satisfaction “in seeing the comfort level go up” each time such clients come in and discover there's a friendly person on hand who can speak their own language. 

This year, the clients to whom Foss, Arteaga and their fellow students are providing assistance must again struggle with newly implemented changes in tax law.

“The good news is that there are fewer changes for 2023 returns than we saw for the 2022 filing year,” said Irana Scott, site administrator for the VITA program at JMU and an associate professor in the School of Accounting.

Among the changes this year are increases in the amounts that can be claimed as standard deductions. Also this year, low and middle-income workers who earned $63,398 or less in 2023 may be able to claim the earned-income tax credit, depending on their filing status and number of dependents.

Services are available by appointment only and can be scheduled online. Assistance with questions and special concerns can be obtained by calling 540-568-7776 and leaving a message, or by emailing

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Published: Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Last Updated: Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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