Feb 3, 2009

Law students ease the pain of filing, assist tax filers with simple income returns

by Matthew Coleman, News Reporter

 Paying taxes can be a daunting experience, even for those who have made it their respective careers. In an attempt to help alleviate the stresses associated with the season, the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) clinic has made its debut on Liberty’s campus. It began last Wednesday in the law school at North Campus and will continue through Feb. 10.

The IRS created VITA to help those who lack the proper know-how to successfully complete their taxes. It gives certified volunteers the authority to offer their assistance to those who earn $42,000 a year or less.

“We actually do the tax return for them,” third-year law school student Tim Todd said. “They come in with all of their documents and all of their tax information, and we complete their tax return.”

The law school currently has 26 certified graduate students, about 10 percent of the school, who have passed the mandatory test given by the IRS, according to Todd. Arranged in a hierarchal structure that starts at basic and ends at advanced, there are different tests that must be taken by the volunteers to prove their knowledge about the tax system. This helps create a wealth of knowledge within the VITA clinic that prevents the volunteers from being stumped by a question, according to first-year law student Nate Hibben.

“There is a test for different scenarios that could arise within the course of the clinic,” Hibben said. “So when one person may not know the answer, there is a chain of experience to work up until the answer is finally found.”

In addition to the testing process, Hibben gave a three-hour training presentation that helped to further the knowledge of the volunteers, according to second-year law student Doug Wilson.

The participating students receive no compensation, money or credit hours for their time. It is done solely as an act of goodwill and a method of community outreach, according to Todd.

The free clinic runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. There will be three to five certified graduate students offering their aid to both walk-ins and those who call in and make an appointment. The process of filling out the online paperwork and sending it in takes about an hour, according to second-year law student Adam Birr.

While the program is designed around offering tax support to those who need it, VITA is not for everyone. It was created to help those with more simplistic means of income and uncomplicated investments, according to Hibben. Those who are in the best position to make use of VITA are the elderly, students and lower income workers who cannot afford professional help.

“Generally, students are eligible for tax breaks, especially students with a family,” Todd said.

Students of Liberty are both welcome and encouraged to utilize this program. The volunteers working for VITA provide the professional help and assurance granted by other tax firms without charge.

For those interested in doing their taxes through VITA call 592-5300 or log on to law.liberty.edu for more information.

Contact Matthew Coleman at
mcoleman@liberty.edu.

 


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