Free tax preparation offered to low-income families

Low-income families in the San Fernando Valley and greater Los Angeles area can get their taxes prepared for free through an Internal Revenue Service-funded program at Pierce College.

Through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), Pierce students and community volunteers join together to provide free tax preparation services to low-income families and individuals with annual incomes of $50,000 or less.

VITA is open to the public and will meet in BUS 3218 every Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. until April 13.

The Business Administration Department, the IRS and the California Franchise Tax Board have worked together for nearly 40 years to provide this service to LA residents.

“It’s free. The state provides state materials, and the IRS provides the federal stuff,” Assistant Professor of Business Administration Robert Foster said. “It’s ideal for single moms and students.”

Foster and his team of IRS-certified tax preparers, which includes Business 10 students work together every Wednesday and Saturday to ensure that clients’ taxes are properly prepared by the April 15 tax filing deadline.

Some of the preparers in the group are in the beginning stage of their tax experience, but there are also preparers who volunteer annually and have many years of experience with VITA.

“Once the student prepares the taxes, they get the tax return checked by one of our experienced volunteers,” Business Administration Department Chair David Braun said. “They check to make sure that the student has done everything exactly the way it needs to be done.”

Upon arrival, clients are required to bring their W-2s and fill out personal information sheets so the preparers could be thorough while coaching their clients through all of the details to ensure the largest refund possible.

“I’m going to try to make it easy for the people. The people we’re helping are supposed to be poor [so] we’re helping the community,” said Hugh Laughlin, who has been a VITA volunteer for 22 years.

Clients are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis due to limited space in the lab.

So, depending on the complexity of the tax returns, the number of preparers available and the space available, clients are expected to be there from 45 minutes to one hour.

The program has prepared over 15,000 tax returns for LA residents, Braun said.

This year alone, they are on track to help over 300 low-income families complete their tax returns. Many of them are returning clients, according to Foster.

“It will be my second year coming here. I know it’s reliable and a good service so it’s trustworthy,” said Anastasia Smirnoff, one of VITA’s clients.

For more information contact Foster at (818) 710-4397 or Braun at (818) 719-6479.