Community Accounting Aid & Services is ready and willing to offer no-cost accounting and tax assistance to Connecticut residents who qualify. So why can’t they get any takers?
It’s not too often that an organization has this problem: A dearth of people willing to accept free stuff. But that’s the case for Community Accounting Aid & Services (CAAS), a not-for-profit CPA group that since 1974 has been helping economically disadvantaged small business owners, not-for-profit organizations and individuals in Connecticut with their accounting, tax and financial management needs.
“It’s similar to state programs, where if you meet certain income guidelines, you get assistance,” says CPA Richard S. Merrick, the principal of Merrick & Associates in Manchester and the president of the board of CAAS. CAAS is a statewide organization, and the only one of its kind in the United States. “There’s no other organization this large that does as many cases as we do in the country,” Merrick says. Indeed, many states, universities and charitable organizations offer free tax help—as does the nationwide Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program conducted in cooperation with the IRS—but few offer the extensive services CAAS does.
CAAS works like this: Typically, someone who has been tracked down by the IRS over back or unfiled taxes, or needs tax information to qualify for some sort of benefit, will go to an IRS office to get information or plead their case. If the person qualifies for assistance, the IRS will refer them to the University of Connecticut Law School to try to come up with a payment compromise. Such an agreement often involves preparing and filing old tax returns, and for those duties UConn Law turns to CAAS. CAAS also gets referrals from organizations that deal with the populations most likely to be in need of its services.
Individuals can also visit the CAAS website, print out an eligibility guide and submit a request for assistance. CAAS Executive Director Jack Collins reviews applications, then tries to match a CPA from among the more than 350 volunteers statewide with the applicant based on their location.
In addition to tax preparation and financial advice, CAAS also offers adult education and training sessions on tax filing, business organization, access to governmental agencies, record-keeping, accounting, QuickBooks, understanding financial statements, preparation for audits and basic financial literacy. It has also, with the help of other professionals, written a book, now in its eighth edition, called How to Grow and Run a Small Business in the State of Connecticut. “It’s everything you wanted to know about being in business in Connecticut, but were afraid to ask,” Merrick says.