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VITA, UM providing tax assistance

Thanks to a group of University of Mississippi law students, residents without the means to hire someone to do their taxes have a second option.

VITA, or the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, is a partnership with the University of Mississippi pro bono initiative that provides free tax assistance for clients who have an annual income of $54,000 or less. Volunteers are made up of second- and third-year law students who have been tax certified by the IRS and are under the direction of a faculty supervisor.

Last year, site coordinators Brennan Black and Austin Emmons said volunteers helped Lafayette Countians receive 272 refunds that totaled just over $200,000.

“We received $212,000 in refunds last year for people who, first of all, can’t afford to pay some one to do their tax prep,” Black said. “Helping them get these refunds that most of them are entitled to, it’s huge for people who just struggle to survive day to day.”

Services are offered at the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library on a walk-in basis only and help clients in a variety of ways. Even just talking with the students about tax returns can ensure that clients learn, whether it is about refunds, payments and why taxes need to be filed.

“What we offer is a more personalized experience,” Emmons said. “Services like Turbo Tax don’t do that. It’s being able to sit down and explain in layman terms the process of what clients need to do and what we are doing for them.”

Black and Emmons are both second-year volunteers for the organization and want to stay involved because of their accounting backgrounds and interest in helping people. As site coordinators, the two are in charge of ordering supplies, recruiting volunteers, marketing and ensuring everything the group does complies with IRS rules.

“I like it because you get the one-on-one interaction with the client,” Emmons said. “You can sit there and talk to them at each part of the process. You have to know what their family life is like. There may be some deductions they don’t think they have but just by talking to them you can find out if they are eligible for them.”

Black also said it’s a learning experience for them outside of the classroom.

“It’s interesting work that helps people,” Black said. “It is actual face-to-face interaction with clients that most classes don’t offer. It’s kind of a win-win.”