Federal Tax Issues and Analysis Course Spotlight with Professor Ronald Zullo

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This webinar features Professor Zullo, accounting and taxation lecturer in the Online Master of Science in Taxation program, discussing the content of the Federal Tax Issues and Analysis course, including how to read a court case, how to understand a court case, and how to brief it. This webinar concludes with a dedicated Q&A.


Angela LaGamba:
Hi everyone. Welcome to Northeastern University’s online master’s science and taxation webinar. My name is Angela and I will be your moderator for today. Before we begin, I’d like to go over some logistics for this presentation and address some commonly asked questions.

This presentation is in listen only mode. So, you’re able to ask questions by simply type them into the chat box on the right-hand side of your screen and hit enter. If you’re in full-screen mode, simply hover your mouse over the very top of the screen and hit the echat icon and then enter your question there. We’ll be addressing your questions throughout the webinar, but mostly during our dedicated Q&A session, which is found at the end of the session. The event is being recorded, so it can be viewed at a future time.

We’re very excited to have a full panel today. We have Professor Ronald Zullo and Michelle Yan with us. Professor Zullo is an accounting and taxation lecturer at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. His primary teaching interests include federal income taxation at the individual and entity level. And prior to joining Northeastern, Professor Zullo spent over two decades practicing in public accounting. He’s a member in good standing at the American Institute of CPAs, and is a licensed certified public accountant in the commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1933.

We also have Michelle, our enrollment advisor on Northeastern University’s online master of science and taxation. Her role is to help prospective students through the application and admission’s process. And I am Angela and I will be your host and moderator for this session.

So what can you expect in today’s webinar? We’ll be talking a little bit about Northeastern University and the online master of science and taxation program. We will then have the professor provide us with more insight on the federal tax issues and analysis course. And then Michelle will be going through some of the admissions requirements and tuition and scholarship information. Throughout the session you are encouraged to send in your questions, and you can just type those into the chat box and we’ll be going through those throughout the session and during our dedicated Q&A. With that, I would like to had it over to Michelle to get started and tell us a little bit more about Northeastern University.

Michelle Yan:
Thanks very much Angela. Let’s see if I can get the next slide. Thank you. Our MS and taxation program is part of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. It was established in 1922 and has a rich history, strong reputation for scholarly research and teaching excellence, building on high academic achievement, wide-ranging work and consulting experience, rich diversity and our extensive corporate ties. D’Amore-McKim School of Business faculty members are leaders in their field and regularly receive worldwide recognition and awards for their contributions to theory and the practice of management. If you have a global network of over 200,000 Northeastern alumni, spanning more than 15 countries, like China, Canada, India, England, Australia to name a few.

We are accredited by AACSB International. It’s one of the highest business accreditations found worldwide and most recently Northeastern University’s online graduate business programs was ranked no. 17 in the U.S. by the U.S. News & World Report. This also does include the online MS and Taxation program as well.

Angela LaGamba:
So, thanks Michelle for telling us a little bit about Northeastern. It would be great if you could also explain to us a bit more about the online master of science and taxation program.

Michelle Yan:
Absolutely. So, the online MS and Taxation program, it was designed with the working tax professional in mind and the coursework itself is 100% online with no residency requirements. The program can be completed as a little as 16-18 months and there are approximately 10 courses and courses are taken one course at a time.

Now, in this program we also do offer two tracks, two specialty tracks. Taxation of entities and taxation of individuals. The program is structured to increase your technical tax knowledge, sharpen your _________ skills, keep updated with tax laws and analyze complex regulations, related cases and rulings. Furthermore the GMAT, GRE is actually not a requirement for this program.

Now there are a variety of tax professionals coming into this program and I think sometimes with online programs, students are wondering how does the networking work? Am I able to interact with individuals in my class because it’s online? We do have students actually coming from public accounting firms, private industry. We have individuals coming from the IRS, as well as the

big four firms. So, it is a fantastic opportunity to collaborate on cases, treat ideas, learn from each other. You have an opportunity to work together on group projects as well, and this also will help develop very strong networking opportunities.

Now, this slide shows some results that we have compiled from the graduates of our online MS and taxation program. The survey was conducted in July, 2014. So, out of the students that we survey, 9 out of 10 alumni surveyed, rated Northeastern’s online MS and taxation, the educational experience as very good or outstanding. 9 out of 10 alumni are very satisfied or satisfied with our program. And 8 out of 10 alumni would certainly recommend our programs to a friend or colleague.

Angela LaGamba:
Thanks Michelle for walking us through the master’s program and to our audience, if you have any questions about the program itself, feel free to put that into the chat box and we will address that through the webinar. What we’d like to do now is to hear from you around why you’re considering an online master of science and taxation. Perhaps it’s around personal development. Maybe you’re looking for advancement opportunities in your current workplace, or you’re just interested in furthering your education with a graduate degree. Or maybe it’s all of the above. If you have any other reasons, you can also enter that as well. We do have a poll located on the lower right hand side of the screen. Or if you’re in full screen mode, click on the poll icon by hovering your mouse over it and clicking on that icon. So, we’ll give everyone a few minutes to fill that in.

And interestingly enough, it looks like most of our audience is saying that all of the above is the response, but we’ll wait until the final results come in. In the meantime what I’d like to do is to hand it over to Professor Zullo to talk to us a little bit about the federal tax issues and analysis course. Go ahead professor.

Ronald Zullo:
Thank you Angela. Hi everybody. I just wanna welcome you to the webinar and I wanna tell you a little bit about myself first and then I’m gonna talk a little bit more about the program. I am truly a CPA at heart. I came into the profession in the 80s and been a CPA for over 25 years and I’ll always be a CPA. But several years ago, I took an opportunity to teach one course at Northeastern. I never thought of myself as an educator, but taught a course at Northeastern, and then I started to realize how much I belonged in the classroom and how much I belonged in front of students. ‘Cause it takes a lot to understand this stuff, but it takes even more to be able to explain it.

And we’re talking about taxation, which I always liken to being just like a foreign language. I’m teaching you a foreign language and it’s not a simple foreign language. It has its own lingo, it has its own speak. So words that we use in plain English are often used most differently in tax.

So, I was an adjunct faculty from 2006 to 2013. I came on the faculty full-time beginning in 2014. In my role in the MST online course is essentially I teach one of the two entry point courses being federal tax issues and/or tax – I don’t teach tax research, but those are typically the two entry courses.

Before we get into sample course work, I do wanna talk a little bit about the program in terms of expectations. Now, a lot of people come into a program like this and say, well five weeks, it’s gonna be a lot easier, it’s a third of the material. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. What we have here and I think Michelle mentioned it earlier, you take one course at a time. And the reason you take one course at a time is because you need time to sleep, eat, re-hydrate and if you have a job. So, you’re going to need that time to do other things.

We’re looking at 15 weeks worth of material that’s really brought down to a five-week mentality and it’s not watered down in any way and it’s very, very intensive. And the best information you can get from students is when you see them later on or you hear from them later on. And what I’ve heard from students is I never realized how hard this was going to be. I thought the material was going to be cut back a lot and that there’d be some leeway given.

And as my colleague, Professor Gagnon always says, you’re not getting an online MST, you’re getting a Northeastern MST degree. So, there’s not a little asterisk or a little notation saying that you went through a different program. So, contrary to some beliefs and then in some cases hopes of students. This is all the material in a very much shorter amount of time. So, I’m looking for students to spend 15, 20, 25 hours a week on this course. Now that sounds like a lot, but when you think of it in terms of a 15-week course, it’s really just three hours a week, only it’s more in a shorter period of time.

And it also, when students ask me how much time am I gonna spend on this? It really depends on the background that you have. Now, we have sort of a baseline requirement that you have a certain amount of tax experience. But, if you’ve been in the tax profession 20, 25 years, you could spend less time on the course. But, I just wanna make sure that everybody is prepared.

And the real issue is when students fall behind and try to catch up. There is no catching up. It’s five weeks. You have a midterm at the end of week three and a final at the end of week five. And the material that we cover is very eclectic in terms of it covers some of the broad materials in the area of taxation, but it’s covered in a way where there’s some individual course work, there’s your individual readings, your individual projects. And of course your final and your mid-term, but then there’s also ample opportunity for group work. We have discussion boards where we try to bring in current topics and have you discuss them with one another. And then we jump in and try to redirect you and make sure that you’re on the right track.

But what we have to always remember is that there are students in this program that may have three or less years of bona fide tax experience working with somebody who’s been doing it for 25 years. Now there’s a nice mix there, but what we always have to remember is that we come to this course with different levels of experience. And in general, no matter how much experience you have, my experience is that you’re always learning something in tax.

I’ve been teaching since 2006, and virtually every time I run a course, whether it’s this course or an on ground course, I end up learning something because I get a question from somebody that is not what I would have expected. You know you can expect a lot, but you can’t cover all the bases. So, that’s the interesting part of what I do. Next slide please.

Okay, in terms of some of the things that we do, like I said, we do a variety of different materials. One of the things that students tend not to have experience with coming into a master’s program is something called the case brief. Now, if you’re watching the court television shows, they often talk about attorneys filing their briefs with the court. Those aren’t the kind of briefs we’re talking about. Those are called persuasive briefs. The kind of briefs we talk about here are you’re taking a court case and your summarizing it in a particular format. And when I say summarizing it, you have to remember that these court cases can be three pages, four pages, or they can be 50 or 60 pages. Especially when you get some of the judges that like to write long opinions.

So in dealing with tax work, we always start with the Internal Revenue Code. We call it the code or the IRC. That’s always your line of first defense, it’s always the first place that you go in the area of tax. When we don’t get our answer in the code, we go to regulations and then we go to other authoritative material. And in one element of the authoritative material is the court case. Now the court case could be a Supreme Court, it could be an appeals court, or it could be a local district court or the tax court.

In other courses we’ll get into the reasons why you may or may not go into a particular court at the lower level. You don’t just go to the Supreme Court. You have to apply and the case has to be important enough, but I don’t wanna get off on that topic.

So in general, what you’re gonna learn in this course, besides just your basic tax and your framework is how to read a court case, how to understand a court case and how to brief it, because the night before an exam or when you’re talking to your senior partner at your firm, you don’t wanna be sitting there reading him or her a 50-page case. You wanna have it boiled down to the one page. And in this course, we like to call it the one-page rule. Your case brief will be one page or less.

So let’s take a look at an example here. On the first bullet point here, we have the Internal Revenue Code. Under the Internal Revenue Code Section 61, the term gross income is all encompassing and all inclusive. Now a lot of you may be aware of this if you’ve had experience, but in terms of some of the nuances of what can be taxable, a lot of people don’t have any experience.

Well, there’s a case that I like to talk about and we do talk about this actually in the first course called the Cesarini case. And what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna look briefly at the Cesarini case and then we’re gonna try to construct or I’m gonna try to give you a little bit of framework as to what a case brief looks like. So, if I can have the next slide please.

Here’s a brief summary of the facts. There’s a lot to this case. There’s always different layers going on when we talk about a court case. But, I’ll put it in the framework of a show you all might see called the Antique’s Road Show where people find things or they discover something of value where they otherwise didn’t know something of value.

Well, here’s a situation where the Cesarinis purchased a used old beat up piano at a yard sale and they paid $15 for it. And several years later they took it apart, they lifted up the lid and they were cleaning it and they found approximately $4,500 in cash inside the piano. Now for reasons that you’ll learn more about in another course, they reported the income of their return, paid the tax. Then they filed an amended return taking out the income. And there’s a technical reason why they may have done that, but I don’t wanna get into those details.

But the point is they ultimately applied for a refund of the tax they had paid on the $4,500. They were denied a refund and they went to the district court, which is a lower court. And the court found that the $4,500 that they found in the piano was taxable and it was taxable in the year realized, which means it was taxable in the year found. So, even though they bought this piano in 1957, they didn’t find the money until seven years later in 1964.

And one of the things that they argued was it should have been taxable income in 1957 and this thing called the statute of limitations is closed. In other words, generally, if you filed the return and it sat for three years, the IRS can’t do anything about it and they can’t assess you on anything. So, what they’re saying is to the IRS is you should have taxed us in ’57, but you can’t because that year is closed by statute.

So what happened instead is they argued that this was found property, which is called treasure trove. And another way of looking at this is it’s called a windfall. So, the windfall theory says that, or used to say that if you find something, you didn’t earn it. They didn’t earn this money. They didn’t go out and work for it, they didn’t sell anything, they didn’t have any labor, they just simply found it. There used to be a theory in the early days of the tax code where one could argue that something that you found is not taxable, but it’s very clear. And a lot of people don’t know that what you find is taxable.

So long story short, they had to pay tax, they didn’t get a refund, they were required to be taxable on the $4,500. So, this is not a very long case, I’ve only given you a paragraph. It’s about three or four pages long. But if we go to the next slide, we’ll show you the basic format of the brief. Now this varies by instructor and it only varies in very subtle ways. But the way you put a case brief together is, like I said you wanna be able to use the case brief as a tool. This is what the case says in a page or less.

So the first section is fairly straight forward, the facts. So you summarize the facts of the case. The relevant facts of the case, similar to what is on the previous slide. And as a matter of fact, if I were doing a case brief, I would cut those facts down a little bit more. I’d put additional facts in because I didn’t wanna include the entire body of the case.

The next section of the case brief is the issue. And the issue is typically a question – think Jeopardy – it’s typically a question that can be answered with yes or no answers. Is the $4,500 that was found taxable to the Cesarinis? Answer, yes or no. Or the question could be framed differently. Are amounts found by the taxpayer taxable? Or another way of saying it, are the amounts found excludable from gross income? In which case, the answer would be no. So, the answer to the question doesn’t matter so long as the answer matches the issue/question.

The third section is the holding of the decision, and this is where you actually put in the yes or no. So, in my example, the issue is are those amounts found by the taxpayer in the piano taxable in the year found – that’s the issue – holding? Yes. The amounts found do constitute gross income based on the realization concept which is, again it’s the second paragraph of the previous slide. You can gob acknowledge and look at that at your leisure.

And then the rationale goes on to explain – in this case there isn’t a lot of rationale – but it goes on to explain that gross income includes all income from whatever source derived, including treasure trove. Interestingly enough in this case, they don’t cite the actual IRS regulation that specifically says that treasure trove is taxable. I find that interesting in this case. I’m not sure why they don’t do it.

And as you read court cases, you understand. I’ll sit here and critique them and say I don’t know why the court didn’t say this or that. But you gotta remember something, courts are different in their specialization and their understanding of tax. For example, tax court is full of judges that only hear tax cases. So, they have the ability to become tax experts. But if you end up in front of a district court judge, or when you ultimately go to appeals, the appeals court judge, those judges hear all kinds of cases from criminal cases to tort cases to property cases. They’re not tax experts.

So sometimes when you have a bad set of tax law, you wanna go to a place where the tax people aren’t that smart, and I’m being serious. You wanna go to a place where the tax people aren’t that smart. But, if you have a good set of tax law, you might wanna go to the tax court judge who has a better understanding of tax law.

So that’s about it. That’s about all I have on case brief. Now, during this course, what we ask the students to do is we assign you five case briefs and you can do as many as you want, but we’re only going to keep for grading the highest two. So, it gives you an
opportunity to practice, but it also gives you an opportunity to make mistakes. So, if I’m going to grad your highest two our of five, you know maybe you should do them all.

Now there are some students that will do very well on the first two cases, either through luck or experience and they won’t do the other three. I think when you have myself and my facilitator who currently is Mitchell Franklin, where you have us involved, it’s good to do them all just to get some feedback because we’ll give you feedback even if it’s not the one that we end up grading and counting. We grade them all, but we count the highest two.

So, case briefing is something that you will see throughout the program. You’ll see it in research and you may see it in other areas, but it’s really a tool. It’s not really an end unto itself, it’s a means to another end. And this is not true in this course, but I might be in a course or I have 30 cases that I have to read and I have to understand them all. Well, those 30 cases could be 1,000 pages or several hundred pages. What I’d really like is 30 one-page case briefs for study purposes. And then believe it or not, even 20 years down the road, keep ‘em in a binder, you may use them again.

It’s amazing, doing this for 25 years, how many times I go back to something I was looking at 20 years ago and somebody will say, well it’s tax law, it changes. Tax law does change all the time, but there are some basic tenants of tax law that never change. What is gross income? What is reasonable? What is ordinary and necessary? There’s all kinds of basic knowledge that doesn’t change. What I’m doing right now is I’m updating this course for the annual changes, so that when you all enroll in the fall, you’ll be – we’ll update the material for 2014 tax data.

Right now, we’re doing it at the 2013 level. And those are the things that change every year. But that’s 20% of the course. 80% of the course are the basic concepts of gross income. You can take this course now and you can take it in five years. The only difference would be some of the numbers. But many of the concepts wouldn’t change. So tax does change all the time, but there’s a whole base of knowledge that doesn’t become obsolete. Anyway, I think I’ve talked long enough. I’m pretty much over my time, so I will hand it back to Angela.

Angela LaGamba:
Thank you very much professor. And to our audience if you have any questions for Professor Zullo, please feel free to send those through the chat box. I see quite a few have come in and I encourage you to continue to do that. We’ll be getting to our Q&A session briefly. We do have another poll that we would like to ask you today. Michelle earlier had spoken a little bit about the two tracks that are available in this program, the taxation entity piece and the taxation of individuals. Please feel free to take a few moments to let us know which track you’re interested in. If you’re interested in both, you can also select that as an answer as well.

So, while we’re waiting for those responses to come in, I will now pass it back to Michelle to talk a little bit more about the admissions requirements for the program. Go ahead Michelle.

Michelle Yan:
Thanks Angela. So essentially in regards to the admission requirements, we are looking for individual students who have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. We’re looking for approximately a 3.25 GPA or higher on a 4.0 scale. We also are looking for either an undergraduate or graduate course in taxation with the grade of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale. And the other requirement is a minimum of two years of professional tax experience including one busy season. Or if you do hold the following credentials, like a J.D., a CPA, or CMP or are an enrolled agent.

Now in terms of the application requirements, we are taking applications for fall. Some of the documents that you need to put together in what the admissions committee will review, first of all is we need to see a current resume or a CV. We’re also looking for two professional recommendations. So, I do have these recommendations. They can come from your employer, managers, previous employers, colleagues or clients. I know that some students may – if they have their own business or CPA firm, two client recommendations are great as well. Or if individuals whom you’ve worked with, obviously that can comment on your tax work and tax knowledge.

The third document we’re looking for is an application essay telling us a little bit about your background, your motivations for pursuing the MS tax program. We also have a $100 application fee. The next document we also need are official transcripts. So, any coursework that you’ve done in the past, we do require all official transcripts from an undergraduate or graduate level.

Insofar as the information regarding tuition and scholarship, the tuition fees for Fall 2015 as you see on the slide, we’re looking at $1,476. That’s per credit hour. There are a total of 30 credits, so the overall tuition you’re looking at about $44,280 or close to about $45,000. I mentioned before that the application fee is about $100. Any type of additional fees on top of this would probably be

just your textbooks in course material. And I think that would range from $150 to about $200 per course. And again, we have 10 courses total.

Now Northeastern University in terms of scholarship is committed to supporting our veterans and the online program has recently become part of the yellow ribbon program. So if you do fall under this program, then it means that most, if not all of the tuition, will be covered by the government and/or this university. So, for more information, feel free to visit the website listed on the slide.

As part of our commitment to our lungs, beginning this fall as well, we have something called the Double Husky Scholarship. The D’Amore-McKim School of Business will now offer the scholarship to all Northeastern alumnus who have completed the degree program at one of our colleges. And in addition, if you do fall under this particular scholarship, the $100 application fee will be waived. Again, for more information, you can certainly visit our website, again, listed on this slide. And I would like to head it back over to Angela.

Angela LaGamba:
Thank you very much Michelle. What we’re gonna do now is go to our dedicated question and answer session. One of the first questions that we had come in earlier through the webinar was around the program itself and whether it can be completed part-time. So, I’ll had it over to Michelle to get started. Go ahead, Michelle.

Michelle Yan:
Thanks Angela. This program, essentially, it is considered a part-time program. So, it’s a 16-month program minimum, and courses are taken only one course at a time and each course is five weeks. So, this program, ideally, is specifically catered to working tax professionals. So, a lot of the students are coming into the program, they do work full-time. Many of them have kids, family, and of course you’re doing taxes and you have different tax seasons throughout the year. So, it’s specifically designed for individuals who do work full-time and are able to do this online MST on a part-time basis.

Angela LaGamba:
Thanks Michelle. The next question that we have is around the difference of the masters of science and accounting, versus the masters of science and taxation. So, Professor Zullo, I’m gonna hand it off to you and Michelle, you’re more than welcome to answer this as well, but professor, with don’t we start with you? So, what’s the difference between the masters of science and accounting and the masters of science and taxation program? Go ahead professor.

Ronald Zullo:
That is an excellent question. Right now, I am also teaching in the masters of science and accounting program where we offer a tax concentration. So, I’ll preface this response by saying it really depends on where you received your masters of science and accounting. What I’m kind of addressing is what we do here at Northeastern. In the masters of science and accounting program, you can go through an entire masters of science and accounting program with one introductory type of tax course. And my guess is that in other universities, you could potentially have no tax work in an MSA.

But if you do have coursework in an MSA program, my sense and my current experience at Northeastern is that it’s less of a volume and it tends to be on the less technical sort of code headed side. When you start looking at the MST program, you’re going down a path where you’re really becoming very specialized in the area of tax. And you’ve kind of made the signal, you’ve sent the signal, I wanna be a tax professional, and that is kind of what I wanna do for the foreseeable future.

So in an MSA program, there’s going to be some tax exposure and some tax experience, but it’s not as intense. I’m not saying it’s not as rigorous, but it’s not as tax intense. Now, I guess if I could ask you a follow up question did you get your MSA at Northeastern or was it received someplace else? You know, then I’ll be able to better answer the question.

Angela LaGamba:
Thanks professor. And to our audience member, feel free to send in your response through the chat box and we can provide that to our panelist. Looks like our audience member responded professor and –

Ronald Zullo:
Yes, I see it, I see it. Yep. So, not having any experience with that university, I don’t know the answer. I mean I’d be happy to talk with you offline as far as what courses you’ve taken, what tax courses you’ve taken in your MSA program and get a sense as to how in depth they are. But my understanding of most MSA programs is you can either move into the – sort of like a little bit of a concentration where we give you sort of a little bit more of a taste of tax than on the accounting side and that’s kind of what we do here, but I’d be happy to talk to you about that in more, if you’d like. And Angela will give you my contact information.

Angela LaGamba:
Absolutely. So, I’ll send that over to you so you have his contact information. And I’ll had it over to Michelle as well. Michelle, did you wanna add anything to that question? You know, Michelle, we did have a question for you from one of our audience members. They were wondering if you’d talk a little bit about the difference between the two tracks.

Michelle Yan:
Essentially the two tracks, taxation entities is more geared towards corporate tax. So, if students have not had an opportunity to take a look at our brochure information, the taxation entities focused a lot on corporate tax. So, there’s courses in advanced ______ entities, there’s courses in international inbound, outbound taxation. So, those are the courses that are part of the entity track, whereas the taxation of individuals, those are more focused towards – if you were working with individual clients and they range from courses like taxation, retirement, retirement plan, individual taxation. So, that’s more geared towards tax accountants or tax preparers who are more focused and want to learn more about individual tax. Now, sometimes I do hear students as well, are we able to take – to do a mix and match and end up taking courses from both the individual as well as the corporate track and yes, absolutely you can do that as well.

Angela LaGamba:
Thank you very much Michelle.

Ronald Zullo:
Michelle, can I jump in here a minute?

Angela LaGamba:

Ronald Zullo:
Okay, one thing I would say to the person who raised the question is you can go through your entire taxation career, 30, 40 years and never touch a corporate return, never work with entities. You can be in the area of high wealth individuals, individual planning, where you work with the shareholders and the partners of the business, but you never actually perform anything at the entity level.

On the other hand, you can go through your entire career working on corporate entities. So, a lot of people don’t understand that there’s the ability to get as narrow a focus as you want and there’s still plenty to do. So, I think that’s kind of the theory, and correct me if I’m wrong Michelle, but I think that’s kind of the theory behind having tracks. It’s where you’re interested in and where you think you might be able to provide value going forward in your career.

Michelle Yan: Absolutely. And that’s exactly a lot of times what students will ask. What do you think will be the direction for me to move into? And it really depends on each individual person’s career goals or what, perhaps, their firm or company has set out for them. And like you said, professors – it definitely is a mix of what are your __________ really want to move into and what you are interested in learning more about.

Angela LaGamba:
Great, thank you both very much. The next question that we have is for you Michelle. One of our audience members was wondering what’s the maximum amount of time that we have to complete the program and does it have to be completed within the 16-month timeframe or can it be completed over a 2-3 year period? Go ahead Michelle.

Michelle Yan:
That’s a good question. So, minimum time to complete is around 16 months time frame. Maximum time you have about four years. So, we definitely try to make it very flexible and I know a lot of students pose this question to me as well because obviously if you’re a tax account, you’re a CPA you do a lot of taxes during tax season, things might be very hectic during that time. So, we are very flexible and we do certainly accommodate for tax season.

If you feel that during certain times of the year that busy season is just way to hectic, we do allow students to take breaks during that time and then jump back on once tax season is over. So, I find that some students may decide that they may want to spread the course out a little bit longer between 2 ½ or three years. So, that we can certainly do.

Angela LaGamba:
Thanks Michelle. The next question that we have is for you professor. One of our audience members wanted to know will credits earned in the masters of science and taxation program count towards continuing education for EA or CPA designations? Go ahead professor.

Ronald Zullo:
What I can tell you is, again I’m speaking with my experience in Massachusetts and I’m guessing that states are the same. This is an area that is covered by your state licensing board. Now as a CPA in Massachusetts, when I was getting my MST degree, those courses did count towards my attendance at seminars. So, in other words, for everybody’s knowledge, when you become a CPA and an enrolled agent, you’re required to do a minimum amount of continuing education. It’s like continuing law units, continuing accounting CPE, you’re required to do that based on the licensing requirements of your state.

My guess, and this is not a firm answer, my guess is that in most states it will. It definitely does in Massachusetts. The EA is a federal designation, not a state designation, and my guess is that the IRS will allow the MST courses. One thing I might be cautioning you on is that there may be an upper limit as to how much they can count for. But my guess is that they will account for something. And I know in Massachusetts, they do count. But I would check with your state board.

Angela LaGamba:
That’s a good recommendation. So, to our audience member, feel free to check with your state board, or if you have a follow up question, feel free to send it through and we’ll be more than happy to answer it. The next question that we have is for you Michelle. One of our audience members was wondering if we complete the online masters of science and taxation program, how can we network and acquire resources for perhaps career services? Do we need to physically be on campus for those services? Go ahead Michelle.

Michelle Yan:
Thanks Angela. For the online MS tax program, there are a good amount of ways to network. As I mentioned before, some of the coursework within the program allows for students to communicate on the discussion boards. So, a professor may even post a specific topic online and need to answer this particular discussion forum and usually by the next day, they’ll say it came to respond to one of the classmate’s discussion. So, it kind of generates a discussion where students are able to go back and forth in terms of their topic at hand.

And the other areas of networking opportunities is a lot of students also have an opportunity to work in group work. And I think Professor Zullo might have a better answer to this as well. But what I gather from the online MS tax program is each of the courses are students enrolled in each of the courses are about 15, 18 students. So, they’re fairly intimate, fairly small. So, you do have a good opportunity to do the work with individuals within that course.

And within the group setting, sometimes they further group you down to three or four individuals. You have a great way to be able to work on case cites together. Most of the students in the program will communicate through emails, phone calls, conference calls. And the type of platform that you’re using. I know we haven’t covered that information today, but we use Blackboard as our student platform. There is an opportunity there for individuals to actually speak just like as we are now to each other online through a channel where you’re able to communicate that way.

So there are a lot of opportunities to network with fellow classmates. We have students coming from essentially all over the U.S., east coast to the west coast and I have many students also in the past who are – internationally as well, from Canada, Germany, Netherlands, you have a good amount of international exposure that way as well.

I’m just taking a look at the full question. Any resources regarding jobs, internships –.This type of a program is more catered towards working tax professionals. So, a lot of the individual students in the program, they do have positions and so forth available already. But we do have a career center that students are able to take advantage of while they’re in the program. And they do offer a lot of resources that the online students have certainly a lot of accessibility to as well. So, I would recommend the career center that we have. And Northeastern is also offered to the online students for the MST program as well.

Ronald Zullo: Michelle, can I just comment on collaboration?
Michelle Yan: Absolutely.
Ronald Zullo:
Okay, in terms of the earlier part of the question, which had to do with students getting to know each other and working in groups. In this particular class, we tend to group students in groups of three or four. Now, feedback that I’ve received from students is that many of the students are all in the same cohort. So, they’re kind of all moving through the program together, so you get to see the same people over and over again. And you sometimes get in the same groups with them. And that creates opportunities where I’m in Boston and I’ll know somebody on the west coast.

Or two offerings ago I had a student in Germany. So, when I was doing my weekly discussion it was some ungodly hour at the moment, so he was never able to be there live, but students find all kinds of ways to communicate with each other. They sometimes use the Blackboard platform, but they’ll also go out and find other discussion boards and do texting and phone calls. And what I’ve heard from a couple of students is I’m gonna keep in touch with these people. Not always. I’m not gonna lie.

There are bad group experiences. I’ve dealt with one. But there are – I never wanna work with this person again for the rest of my life. It happens. But most of the feedback that I’ve heard is these are the kind of people I’m gonna keep in touch with and I’m gonna reach out to them. And as you move through the program, you start to see some of the same people and the same names. And it’s not like being in a dormitory where you can look at your roommate and say hey do you have professor so and so? What’s going on in his class? It’s more about you have to do this in an online way. So, as long as you’re comfortable with technology, and I’m in my late 40s, so technology, I’m still dealing with some issues. But for people that are very comfortable with technology, it’s like being next door to them, even if they’re in Germany. So, take from that what you will.

Angela LaGamba:
Great, thank you very much professor. One of our follow up questions from students is around opportunities that are available to students after they graduate from the program. So, Michelle, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about – and also the professor, why don’t we start with you professor around what careers and what opportunities have students pursued once they’ve graduated from the taxation program?

Ronald Zullo:
Well, most of my experience with students, as Michelle pointed out, are working professionals. So, I’ve had students that have come to the program because they either don’t like what they’re doing, meaning they’re on the auditing or accounting side, they don’t like what they’re doing and they wanna demonstrate a serious commitment to move over to the tax side. Those are your bigger firms where they have a dedicated audit side and a dedicated tax side.

For other students its I’ve been working in tax for 5-7 years and I feel like I know how to fill out a tax return, I feel like I know how to do the forms, but I don’t understand the theory. I’m sort of acting like a monkey, I’m just putting numbers in boxes. So, I wanna gain an understanding from a theoretical point of view as to why I’m doing what I’m doing.

In terms of somebody coming out of the program looking for employment, I would say there are the traditional roles of working in one of the big firms or national firms in their tax department. But also if you have a strong accounting background such as the person who was talking about having an MSA and then wanting to get an MST, you could certainly escalate quickly through a mid to small size firm as somebody that can be on both sides of the situation.

Because when I got into practice, it was really just audit tax. Now they have audit tax consulting, business services, financial services, small business, medium business, large business. So, certainly an MST degree – let me say it this way. If you’re taking an MST degree for fun because I just wanna learn about the tax, I have no aspirations to work in tax. I don’t wanna work in tax. I think you’re making a mistake.

So, you should definitely have your eye on moving into a tax position or moving up in your current tax position. As much as I love tax and I get excited and I’m jumping off my chair right now, most people don’t find tax that exciting. So, if you’re doing this for fun, I wish you well, but I can’t really understand you.

Michelle Yan:
I think that’s an interesting point. I’ve encountered students in the past – I mean I know we’ve talked a lot about students who work in mid-size and large size and small size _____ firms. But I’ve also run into a lot individual students who have their own business. They’re just starting out, one or two years. They’ve developed a small CP firm themselves. And a lot of them are sole proprietors or small partnerships.

And the interesting thing with these type of individuals as well, I have a CPA, I’ve worked for the big four for about 15 years and now I’m off myself starting on my own, small CPA firm, I’ve been in here for about three or four years. I think the attraction to the MST program is yes you have all that experience which is obviously fantastic, you had your CPA license. But sometimes, some entrepreneurs may lack that ability to communicate with professionals of their kind.

So, some individuals may say well if you put even five CPAs in a room, give them a particular case, like Professor Zullo had in this particular webinar, you could very well come back out with five different solutions. And that’s the interesting part of having this MST program is students being able to collaborate and communicate with each other and sort of discuss what is the right way to do things? Is there a right way to do things? I think the interesting thing is what the MST program allows you to open up your way of thinking and perhaps create more strategies for yourself for that, you are able to service your clients better.

Ronald Zullo:
I couldn’t agree with you more Michelle. I couldn’t agree with you more. I couldn’t have said it better.
Michelle Yan: Thanks Professor Zullo.
Angela LaGamba: Okay, well thank you –
Ronald Zullo:
Obviously I’m not following up with what Michelle said, so I must entirely agree with it.
Angela LaGamba:
Well thank you both very much. The next question that I have for you Michelle, one of our audience members was wondering around to which and what is the process of applying for student loans or financing?

Michelle Yan:
So for student loans, for students wanting to come back graduate school or take this online MS tax program, we do work with FASA. And students are able to apply to something called Graduate Stafford Loans. Graduate Stafford Loans will offer up to a maximum of about $20,500 per year. So, you are able to apply to student loans through this particular channel. If you have any additional questions regarding financial aid, feel free to reach out to your enrollment advisor or send myself an email. My information is on there as well, and we can certainly talk more about funding options and future loan options as well.

Angela LaGamba:
Thank you very much Michelle. The next question that we have is for you professor. One of our audience members was wondering if you would have reached the same conclusion in the court case that you profiled today in the federal tax course. Would that have been the same conclusion as the court?

Michelle Yan:
In this particular case, yes I would have. But I wanna make it very clear that there are a variety of cases that we do talk about during the semester and I often go to the students and I say, now what do you think the right answer is? And this is a weird thing for the tax guy to say, but let’s put aside the tax law for a minute, what do you think the equitable or right answer is? And we’ll have a discussion and I’ll say well, in this particular case, I don’t agree with what the court did, but I understand why the law forces them to do what they do.

So in the Cesarini case, which I absolutely love this case. I make sure thatin any course that I teach I’m able to sneak it in, whether it’s graduate or undergraduate because there’s a lot of different layers. But in this particular case, the concept of what gross income is is very clear. And it’s pretty much that if you can’t find a way to exclude it, you can’t find a legal way to exclude it and you’ve been enriched in some way, you have gross income. And it’s that simple, but it’s also that complicated. So in this particular case, yes I would have come down in the same exact place as the court.

Angela LaGamba:
Thank you very much professor. That is all the time that we have for today. I just wanted to open it up to both you professor and Michelle to see if you had any final thoughts. Go ahead professor.

Ronald Zullo:
Anything I can do to help people, we are holding a session coming up this fall. The more information you have about how the program is structured and what the expectations are, the better off you are. The people that are afraid to ask questions, they’re afraid to come forward, they’re afraid to rely on us, I mean the way the course is taught, and maybe I didn’t mention this, the way the course is taught, it’s taught with myself, a lead instructor, then a course facilitator. And between the two of us, in those five weeks, reach out to us in any way that you need to. If there’s a way that we can help you, we will.

Now, that having been said, we’re not gonna relax the standards, we’re not going to make life easy for you, but if you don’t understand something and you’re just sitting there suffering, well I would ask you to not do that. So, utilize the tools that you have, the online material, the two dedicated instructors and 99.9% of the time we’ll be able to help you. If not, it’s probably an administrative question and we’ll refer you to one of the administrative people.

But don’t be bashful, it’s five weeks. Soak up as much knowledge as you can and stay on top of things. Biggest thing I can tell you is stay ahead, don’t relax. At the end of five weeks, you can take a break for a couple of days, depending on how your schedule is, but get the most out of it and be committed. Thank you, and I appreciate all this time that we spent together. Back to you Angela.

Ronald Zullo:
Thanks professor. I would like to thank all our attendees for coming to the webinar today.
If you do have any additional questions or would like to apply to the program or any questions regarding start term, feel free to email myself. The email’s up there, my extension is up there. So, feel free to let us know if you have any additional questions, if we weren’t able to answer any of your questions today.

Angela LaGamba:
Great. Well, thank you very much professor and Michelle for walking us through the course and the online master of science and taxation program. We’ve had some great concepts that we’ve learned about today and also some excellent questions from the audience. Like Michelle said, if you walk away from this webinar and you have some follow up questions, feel free to reach out to Michelle and we will get back to you and make sure we answer your questions. And again, thanks to everyone for joining us today and have a wonderful afternoon everyone. Take care.

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