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Volunteers help people handle tax concerns

April 12, 2016

Justin Jones has become a source of hope for taxpayers.

McKinney School of Law student Justin Jones enjoys working with people in the community, helping them file IRS tax returns through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

April 15 used to be a day that made taxpaying Americans nervous, but thanks to some student volunteers from the Robert H. McKinney School of Law and the Kelley School of Business, the IRS tax deadline has become a little less intimidating for Indianapolis residents.

Through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, law students use training provided by tax experts to help prepare tax returns that help people save money.

The program was designed by the IRS to help underserved Indianapolis residents by training student volunteers to navigate the nation's complicated tax system. The students' volunteer work helps the elderly, people with disabilities and those with limited English-language skills, as well as those with low to moderate incomes.

In the McKinney School of Law, VITA is a student-run organization. According to Justin Jones, one of the McKinney volunteers, the experience is good training for him and fellow students -- and invaluable for clients.

"VITA provides volunteers an opportunity to work directly with members of our community," Jones said. "Low- and moderate-income taxpayers are able to have their taxes prepared by a certified tax preparer for free. This ensures that they receive the largest refunds for which they are eligible. That can save taxpayers hundreds of dollars in fees."

The students derive benefits as well.

"As VITA volunteers, we gain valuable skills, including client interviewing and tax law knowledge," Jones said. And best of all, neighborhoods get much-needed help.

"The community benefits because low-income taxpayers are able to save money and gain a better understanding of their taxes and finances," he said. "It's nice to help people handle the varying levels of complexity in the returns they file."

For example, they can help taxpayers use such tools as:

  • Earned income tax credit
  • Lifetime learning credit
  • Saver's tax credit
  • Child and dependent care credit

"We become familiar with reading and comprehending complex statutory laws, which makes McKinney students well-positioned to assist taxpayers in navigating the complexities of the Internal Revenue Code," Jones said, who also volunteers for VITA at the John Boner Neighborhood Center, part of the Indy Free Tax Prep network of VITA sites.

Lawanda Ward, the director of the school's pro bono program, said the work with VITA clients is a key for students.

"It gives them practical legal experience," Ward said. "It puts them in position to network. Ultimately, we hope students get satisfaction so they'll want to continue [pro bono work] when they enter their professional careers. It helps them to be a better citizen all the way around."

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