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February 3, 2006

UO law and business students offer FREE TAX HELP

It’s February — time to pull out that shoebox full of tax documents!

Are you puzzled by tax law or which credits and deductions to take? Need help preparing your return? You don’t have to do it alone.

Free tax return preparation help is on the way for single filers who earned less than $25,000 last year or families of two to four whose gross income is $35,000 or less. (Large families must earn no more than $50,000 to qualify for free help.)

WHAT: Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) 

WHO: University of Oregon Pro Bono Program law students, Lundquist College of Business students, and members of Beta Alpha Psi

WHERE: Room 455 (Accounting Suite), Lillis Business Complex, 955 E. 13th Avenue at Kincaid St. on the UO campus in Eugene. 

WHEN: Saturday drop in sessions beginning February 11:
    February 11         Noon-4 p.m.
    February 18         Noon-4 p.m.
    February 25         Noon-6 p.m.
    March 4                Noon-6 p.m.
    March 11              Noon-6 p.m.
    March 18              Noon6 p.m.
    (NO drop in sessions on March 25 or April 1)
    April 8                   Noon-6 p.m
    April 15                 Noon-6 p.m.

INFO: Law program coordinator or Business Program coordinator
For details about what to bring with you to the clinic, go to the IRS website and follow the link to “Free income tax preparation.”

The law school’s Pro Bono Committee has sponsored a volunteer tax help program through VITA for more than five years. It was started in 1999 by Valerie Sasaki ’01, now with the Portland office of KPMG LLP, the tax, audit, and advisory firm.

This year’s tax program coordinator Rebecca Fritch, a second year UO law student and Pro Bono program participant, is a strong believer in the importance of VITA and law student volunteer energy. She said, “I actually look forward to tax season — I like helping people complete what can often be a daunting task. I enjoy putting the client interviewing skills I learn in the classroom into practice in the real world.”

Vicki Rees, a 2004 graduate of the law school who now works as a business attorney with Hershner Hunter in Eugene, managed the UO program when she was a student. She remembers telling clients that, due to child care or earned income refundable credits, they could expect money back. “Most sighed with relief, many laughed out of nervousness and some cried. The program makes a critical difference in the lives of people who are on the edge financially,” Rees said.

Far beyond Eugene, law students working with the VITA program has made a difference in the lives of low and moderate income people all over the country. Law professor Barbara Aldave, who directs the law school’s Law and Entrepreneurship Center, first worked with the VITA program in El Cenizo, Texas, when she was dean of St. Mary’s University School of Law. Law student volunteers wanted to make sure that the Spanish-speaking citizens of the small border town got the earned income credit they were entitled to.
Aldave remembers a couple in their 50s, who worked as “independent contractors” on farms and ranches in the area. They earned less than $10,000 between them, and lived with their daughter and grandchildren in a house with a dirt floor. The woman’s dream was to put in a concrete floor.

Aldave and the law students reviewed the couple’s tax documents and finished the return. “I informed them they could expect a payment from the U.S. treasury of well over $3,000. The woman began to cry. When she composed herself, she said, ’thank you, thank you. I think we will have enough money to put in a window, too.”

-Eliza Schmidkunz


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