Students Provide Tax Assistance to Community Members
by Ric Burrous
Dealing with the Internal Revenue Service is a little less daunting for Indianapolis residents these days, thanks to helping hands provided by students from the Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
The law students, along with graduate students from the Kelley School of Business, are working with people in need with tax help through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance grant program. VITA is a student-run pro bono organization that offers help from IUPUI law and business students. Tax preparation training is provided to the students.
VITA is an IRS initiative designed to promote free tax preparation service of underserved Indianapolis residents. That might include low-to-moderate income individuals, people with disabilities, the elderly and those with limited English language skills.
According to IU McKinney Professor Carrie Hagan, director of Civil Practice Clinic who also heads up the law school’s program, VITA tries to offer convenience. Sites often are located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other places near peoples’ homes.
Professor Hagan believes VITA fills an important role. “Without it, folks might not properly be able to file their taxes, nor would they learn of important benefits of filing, such as the earned income tax credit (a federal subsidy for low-income working families with qualifying children),” she said.
Working with the program is good training for law students, as well. “VITA offers a solid route for students to work one-on-one with real clients, a skill that they can transition into practice once they get licensed,” Professor Hagan said. “They also learn a great deal about tax law and benefits available for low-income clients.” The students also make local connections and learn about the workings of the IRS.
IU McKinney student Daniel Spungen considers the program to be good career training.
“Many of us will go into private practice,” he said. “Much of our job will involve client counseling; this gives us more low-risk client experience to help us hone our skills.”
The law school has been involved in tax preparation assistance for many years, though the program was dormant for a time until Professor Hagan re-launched it in 2009.
Hagan believes VITA is mainly a service opportunity, one that her students find fulfilling.
Spungen finds helping others do their taxes “really rewarding. The goal is that one day these individuals may gain enough knowledge from our help that they may be able to file their taxes on their own,” he said. “It's great when you can get someone a refund and see the joy on their faces.”