Law students offer free income tax assistance

By Jarrod Thacker

The UK College of Law’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program will begin helping students and the community with their 2010 income tax returns on Monday.

VITA is a national program established by the IRS, intended to assist individuals and families that earn less than $49,000 a year with income tax returns for free.

About 20 years ago, UK law professor Douglas Michael took the initiative to begin a branch of the program in Lexington when there was no similar service available.

“People were paying hundreds of dollars for private tax preparers in order to receive the benefits … so the IRS started this program in order to get volunteers to help low-income people file their taxes,” UK tax law professor Jennifer Bird-Pollan said.

Bird-Pollan is currently acting as director of the VITA program while Michael is teaching overseas in London.

Bird-Pollan equates the importance of the program to the generous benefits that low-income individuals can receive. They are often deterred from obtaining these credits due to having to file taxes in order to be eligible for them. She mentioned that some credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, are “potentially worth thousands of dollars for a family.”

The VITA program currently has 45 volunteers, and is comprised of undergraduate, graduate and law students. The volunteers are required by the UK College of Law VITA program to pass three certification exams from the IRS: Basic, Intermediate and Foreign.

“It is a nice way (for students) to practice skills that they are learning in class,” Bird-Pollan said. “People are also very grateful; this is a service people would normally be paying hundreds of dollars for, and instead they get it for free by someone who knows what they’re doing.”

Those interested in receiving assistance from the program should schedule an appointment online, on the UK College of Law website, where available hours are listed.

Participants will also be required to bring their Social Security card or ITIN, all income documentation and the prior year’s tax return, if available.

The UK College of Law Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program will run until the IRS deadline of April 18.