Last year, when Cal Poly Masters Accounting Program graduate student Laura Sywyk worked in the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) for her senior project, she was given a case involving a recent Cal Poly graduate. The recent alumnus was faced with $28,000 in tax liability after his parents took money out of the college fund his grandmother set aside for him, causing tax penalties.
Sywyk worked with the IRS throughout her quarter in the clinic to get his liabilities resolved. After more than a year, Sywyk and her colleagues were able to reach a compromise. He paid $50 to relieve his debt.
The LITC helps low-income taxpayers in the community to both resolve issues with the IRS and understand their rights and responsibilities as taxpayers. It also serves as a hands-on learning experience for students.
The on-campus clinic is the only low-income clinic in the San Luis Obispo area.
According to Executive Director of the LITC Lisa Sperow, the two main goals of the clinic are to serve the community and to give students hands-on experience.
In Fall 2018, the LITC had 28 active clients, closed 10 cases and had $85,435 of liabilities reduced.
The LITC is popular amongst business administration students. The wait to join is more than a year long because it only accepts about 15 to 18 students per quarter.
“I’m always looking for students that have a real passion for helping low income and underrepresented people and bilingual students because a lot of our clients are Spanish-speaking,” Sperow said. “We also take outreach students or students that are interested in a legal career and want to have a hands-on pre-law experience.”
Business administration senior Alice Bonan, who worked in the LITC during Fall 2018, explained the work experience she gained from the clinic regarding professionalism and working with clients.
“In a classroom, you are always given set things to do, like, do this assignment, do this reading,” Bonan said. “It is definitely very structured. But then when you are thrown into a work setting, it is not structured. We were basically given the clients and told to figure it out.”
“We were basically given the clients and told to figure it out”
Bonan has a job lined up after she graduates at an accounting firm, but said she is interested in calculating environmental costs and helping businesses become more sustainable, partially due to her work at the clinic.
“It made me realize that I want a career where I can help people,” Bonan said. “I’ve always liked to make a difference in people’s lives, even if it’s a small, little difference, and it’s taught me that hopefully, in a career, I can make a difference like that.”
In October 2018, students from the LITC attended the calendar call session for the United States Tax Court in Fresno, California. They provided consultants to four taxpayers and took on a Fresno local as a client, moving forward.
The LITC also participates in various outreach events throughout the quarter, educating the community on basic tax information. Last quarter, the LITC was represented at Dia De Los Muertos, Farmer’s Market, Parents weekend and many other community-focused events.
Currently, the LITC has a $100,000 grant from the IRS, the highest grant they can receive, to fund the program. Sperow said she hopes to see an expansion of the program in the future where they can get more physical space to accommodate more students.
“Whenever we close a client’s case, they send us a little review, and this guy that just sent us one today that said, ‘You changed my life for the better, thank you,’” Sperow said. “We get letters like that all the time and that’s a really nice feeling to know that you really are helping people.”