OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Law VITA Tax Clinic continues to provide valuable work and service to the Oxford community, with this tax season bringing more success than ever.
Student preparers helped clients with 199 Federal e-files, 55 federal paper returns and 254 total returns this year, said Adrea Watford, student director of the clinic. These returns brought refunds totaling $212,145. Both the number of returns and the refund amount are up from last year.
“I think our number is slightly higher this year because last year was our first year operating as a full-service VITA site, and word about our service hadn’t had the opportunity to spread,” Watford said.
Watford serves as the liaison between the school and its Internal Revenue Service agent. She plans, organizes, supervises and promotes all aspects of the clinic.
The VITA program is an overall initiative of the IRS, with the law school’s clinic managing this particular site. The clinic serves Oxford-area residents with a combined household income of $52,000 or less. It files federal and state returns electronically.
“This is truly an amazing accomplishment for 12 students and one professor,” said Debbie Bell, a UM professor of law who manages all the school’s clinical programs. “It returns money to the community and provides a much-needed service.”
Student preparers also can be certified at three levels: basic, intermediate and advanced. In conjunction with their law school coursework, students are required to be certified through the advanced level. They may then receive additional certification for more complex returns, including those involving cancellation of debt, health savings accounts, military, international and foreign student certifications.
“This year, we had volunteers who received each certification, so we were equipped to prepare a multitude of returns,” Watford said.
At the clinic, clients were asked to complete an intake form. They then sat with a preparer, whose work was checked by a quality reviewer. Once that was complete, an e-file was created, the return was printed and the client authorized the e-file.
“This is incredibly beneficial for Oxford because there are several low-income residents who are intimidated by the tax filing process,” Watford said. “We were able to alleviate some of that pressure and make return filing easier for them.”
Besides the community service aspect, the clinic is one of the law school’s many programs to provide hands-on experience for students, said Donna Davis, an associate professor of law who helps supervise the clinic and teaches Tax I.
“The clinic gives these students an opportunity to build so many new skills,” she said. “They are applying and explaining what they are learning in a tangible way.”
The clinic requires dedication from its students, who engage in class time, plus certification, as well as the actual work hours spent in the clinic. This year’s group prepared returns two afternoons a week from February to April.
“This year’s group was fantastic,” Davis said. “I was impressed with their commitment, their willingness to work and their compassion. I am just so proud of them.”