Students Help Community Members File Their Tax Returns
More than 50 University of Virginia law students are helping qualifying community members file their federal and state tax returns free of charge this year.
Volunteering through the Internal Revenue Service-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, the students began meeting with low-to-moderate income taxpayers in late January at the University's Michie Building North on U.S. 29 and are available by appointment through the final day to file taxes, April 18.
"Some of the clients have gone elsewhere and paid preparers in the past," said third-year law student Ben Grosz, president of the Law School's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Group. "What's really satisfying is when we can find opportunities like the Lifetime Learning Credit, or an income tax credit or other tax incentives they may not have been taking advantage of in the past."
The law student association coordinates the University effort with Madison House's Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope program, through which more than 40 undergraduates also volunteer at the Michie Building location. Last year the group completed filings for more than 400 clients, and they expect to do at least as many filings this year.
"That is now the biggest VITA site in the region as far as the number of returns processed and the number of clients served," Grosz said.
Starting two years ago University employees began getting a flyer about the program with their mailed W-2s and information about the program was posted online on the Human Resources website.
"We saw a huge increase in the number of clients coming and the interest as a result of that partnership," Grosz said. The association also directly reaches out to Dining Services and janitorial staff, who are often contract workers.
The volunteer effort has grown to match demand, as a group of 15 law student volunteers two years ago has grown to more than 50.
"We increased the days and hours of the clinic," Grosz said, and additional law and undergraduate volunteers also work at other sites, like the University Medical Center, Monticello Area Community Action Agency and Friendship Court, a public housing site in town.
Grosz, who worked at a bank for five years before coming to law school, said "volunteering to help others file taxes had a natural appeal and fit to me." He said he hopes the effort can help some clients stay away from refund anticipation loans, in which a taxpayer might pay as much as $100 in fees and interest to get their $2,000 refund a couple weeks earlier.
"Hopefully we can both save the time and money that they might be spending to get it prepared, but also make sure they are taking advantage of all the opportunities they have," Grosz said.
Appointments are available on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, as well as Saturday morning. Taxpayers are strongly encouraged to schedule an appointment, which lasts for about an hour, online. Taxpayers should be U.S. citizens or residents and have an adjusted gross income of $49,000 or less (including spousal income if filing jointly). More information is available at www.vitavirginia.org. Appointments can also be made by phone at (434) 982-0123.