Since 1999, the students at the LSU Law Center have offered a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program where volunteers provide free tax preparation services to foreign students, teachers, and researchers and their immediate family members (spouses and children under age 21). The LSU Law Center’s VITA site is the only VITA site in the Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Lafayette area where volunteers prepare federal and Louisiana state income tax returns for foreign students, teachers and researchers from the community as well as the Baton Rouge campus of LSU.
The students who volunteer in the VITA program are qualified to prepare the tax returns. All student volunteers must participate in a training program and pass a test to receive certification from the IRS to prepare the returns. Foreign students, teachers, and researchers who are eligible to receive services at the Law Center’s VITA site are not permitted to file Form 1040-EZ, 1040A, or 1040 to report their federal income tax liability. Many of the taxpayers who receive free tax preparation services at the Law Center’s VITA site are eligible for benefits under tax treaties between the United States and their countries of residence. The Law Center’s VITA volunteers know the special tax rules that apply to foreign students, teachers, and researchers, as well as the relevant information in each treaty that might reduce the tax liability of such taxpayers.
“The Law Center’s VITA site is operated by the supervising coordinators,” said Professor Susan Kalinka, the Law Center VITA coordinator. The group receives both basic and advanced training to be eligible to prepare the most complicated of income tax returns. At least three to five supervising coordinators will be present every evening that the Law Center’s VITA site is open to answer questions asked by the first-time volunteers and to prepare the more difficult tax returns.
Serving as supervising coordinators this year are students Allison Lewis, Theresa Chatelain, Scott Guidry, Tatiana Vorobieva, Anthony Lascaro, David Conachen, Kristi Wagley Richard, Andrea Knouse, Drew Smith, Hershel Chapin, Tara Segal, Stephanie Hullett, Andrew Nyombi, Joshua Lewis, and Brad Trevino.
The program has been highly successful. Each year, the Law Center receives numerous calls from taxpayers who received services in prior years asking when the Law Center’s VITA program will be available again during the current year. In 2008, 50 law students participated in the program and prepared federal and state income tax returns for 227 foreign taxpayers (a total of 454 federal and state tax returns).
Below is the pertinent information taxpayers seeking free tax preparation services at the LSU Law Center’s VITA site should know:
March 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26 (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings) from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
LSU Law Center, 1969 building, first floor lobby
East Campus Drive
Rules for eligibility:
Must have an F, J, Q, or M visa
Was in the U.S. for five or fewer years, as of December 31, 2008 (e.g., first entered the U.S. in 2004 or later).
Teachers and Researchers:
Must have a J or Q visa
Was in the U.S. for two or fewer years out of the six years preceding and including 2008. For example, if a teacher or researcher first entered the U.S. as a student, teacher, or researcher in 2007 or 2008, the teacher or researcher is eligible for the tax preparation services offered at the LSU Law Center’s VITA program.
What to bring with you when you come:
3. Form W-2 (if you received one)
4. Form 1042-S (if you received one)
5. Form 1999-MISC (if you have one)
6. Form 1099-R (if you have one)
7. Form 1099-G (if you have one)
8. Form 1098T (if you have one)
9. Copy of your 2007 federal income tax return (if you have one)