Filing taxes is easy with Liberty’s student-led VITA program

With taxes due April 17, Liberty University School of Law students are preparing by hosting a free tax filing service, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, at the law school for two weeks in February.

The program, which is held in the law school’s Mountain View Room, is for anyone who has a yearly income of less than $54,000. Participants must bring their tax forms, Social Security Card and a photo ID.

The tax clinic’s first dates were Feb. 5—10 and will also be held Feb. 12—16 from 4—8 p.m. and Feb. 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The program’s site manager, Nathan Freier, explained that about 16 of the 60 volunteers are undergraduate business and accounting students. Both the undergraduate and law school volunteers are certified by the Internal Revenue Service to prepare taxes.

“The IRS sends us a … booklet of training materials, and then (we) go through all the different likely scenarios that you would anticipate coming through (the program),” Freier said.

In just a few hours, volunteers are certified as basic or advanced preparers and can assist clinic participants with preparing their taxes. Both types of preparers help participants prepare their taxes, but advanced preparers take more difficult cases and double-check other preparers’ work.

“As soon as someone first walks in the door, they are given an intake form, and it essentially asks them … questions about their … finances,” Freier said. “Based on that information, the greeter will determine which preparer … will go ahead and take it, whether it’s a basic preparer or an advanced preparer.”

Freier said that the system is based on doing multiple redundancy checks—three sets of eyes view the tax forms before they are submitted to the IRS. The initial preparer enters the program’s participants’ information into a tax filing system. An advanced preparer checks the entries for error and sends the form to Freier, who completes a third check before sending the information to the IRS.

Between 500 and 800 people have attended Liberty’s VITA program each year to have their taxes done, according to Freier. Though many participants are Liberty students and faculty, the program is open to the public.

“I am extremely proud of the VITA program at Liberty Law School,” Dean of Liberty Law Keith Faulkner said. “Our law students are committed to community service and have engaged business school students in this effort. It is encouraging to see almost 60 students serving our Lynchburg and university communities and working to satisfy Liberty’s mission.”

According to the IRS, the VITA program is meant to help low- to moderate-income individuals receive help with their taxes, and VITA sites are located across the country. Liberty has been participating in the program since 2009.

“I wanted to be able to serve the community and add service hours to my resume and learn about the (tax filing) process because I’m 21 and don’t know everything about taxes,” Samantha Rozenblum, a first-year law student, said.

Undergraduate accounting student Shayna Fleenor said that she enjoys interacting with program participants, as many of them are Liberty students and alumni.

“It’s personal,” Rozenblum said. “You want to have utmost care with people’s personal finances.”

Though this program is put on by the law school, it is a student-led initiative. Freier explained that professors are willing to help students, but they want the program to be a product of the students’ work rather than their own.

“(Professors) help make sure we have the space (we need), they help make sure we have the advertising out to the community … anything we need … you name it, they’re very involved,” Freier said. “But, at the same time, they want to make sure that since it’s a student led initiative, they give us everything we need to succeed, but they also let us run it as a student-led initiative.”

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