Students team up with Legal Aid to offer free tax help

Wake Forest University School of Law students are teaming up with Legal Aid of North Carolina to offer free tax preparation for eligible people in Forsyth, Davie, Iredell, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties.

As part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, law students will provide free tax help to low- to moderate-income people – generally, $49,000 and below. About 40 Wake Forest students, who are IRS-certified, took part in training for the program.

"Taxes are a very intimidating task for many people," says Amber Nelson (’10), one of the student volunteers who is coordinating the free tax help. "For the most part, it puts our clients at ease to have someone else prepare their return and check it for accuracy. The primary focus of VITA training is on the deductions and credits that save our clients money and get them bigger returns."

The tax service is being offered at Legal Aid of North Carolina, 102 W. 3rd St., No. 460, in Winston-Salem. The entrance is on the side of the building facing the parking garage. Call (336) 725-9162 for an appointment, which are being taken for Thursdays and Saturdays through the end of March, according to Nelson.

“This is a unique opportunity to help families who are reeling from the national economic crisis,” said Gray Wilson, coordinator of the LANC Tax Assistance Project in the Winston-Salem area. “LANC is committed to helping eligible North Carolina workers claim the Earned Income Tax Credits as a means to help them weather the economic crisis and to allow them to build a better future.”

LANC offers its tax preparation assistance to low-income families – including eligible Wake Forest students – who are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credits.

Eligible North Carolina workers can also claim the North Carolina Earned Income Tax Credit when they file their 2009 taxes. The NC EITC will be worth 3.5 percent of the federal credit. For families with two or more children, the two credits combined can be more than $5,000.

According to EITC Carolinas, eligible workers leave an estimated $135 million or more in federal EITC dollars unclaimed every year in North Carolina, costing the state at minimum an additional $200 million in statewide economic stimulus. Many workers may be eligible for the EITC even if they lost their jobs during 2009. In addition to taxpayers who do not claim the tax credit, even more money is lost to working people when they use paid preparers and purchase costly rapid anticipation loans at high interest rates.

The eligibility requirements for both the federal and NC EITC are the same. Taxpayers who earned $49,000 or less may be eligible for free income tax preparation services provided by IRS‐certified preparers at LANC. Families earning up to $43,279 in 2009 ($48,279 for married filing jointly) may qualify for the EITC, depending on their number of children and their filing status. Single workers and those without children are also eligible. Workers who do not owe taxes or who are not required to file a tax return are also eligible for EITC, but they must file a federal return to receive the federal credit and a state return for the NC EITC.

Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to eligible, low-income residents. LANC serves all 100 counties of North Carolina through 24 geographically located offices across the state.

"One of the most powerful gifts we have as law students and attorneys is the power to make someone’s life a little easier," Nelson added. "My favorite client moments by far are the situations where I am able to take a burden off of someone’s shoulders. Taxes are confusing for most people. I am very grateful that Wake Forest law students have this opportunity to make tax season a little less stressful."