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Attorneys partner to help with military tax returns

As tax season winds down, last-minute filers are rushing to complete their income tax returns before the April 15 deadline. But for many of the tax attorneys at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, one of the busiest parts of tax season happened a few months back.

For the fourth year, attorneys at the Baltimore firm participated in a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service, the American Bar Association and the U.S. military called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, or VITA, helping to instruct military service members on how to prepare their returns.

Elizabeth Shaner (Submitted photo)

Elizabeth Shaner (Submitted photo)

“The goal of the partnership is to train military personnel who are on various military installations across the country, to train them in how to prepare tax returns for other military personnel — for men and women serving in the military and their families,” said Elizabeth Shaner, an associate in the firm’s tax controversy group.

The attorneys’ pro bono efforts help lighten the burden of the IRS’ Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication unit, Shaner said. The SPEC division partners with community-based organizations to provide service to lower-income, elderly, disabled, military, Native American, non-English speaking and rural populations.

‘Predatory preparers’

But just as importantly, the work protects military personnel from being taken advantage of during tax season, said Brian Crepeau, a partner in the tax controversy group.

“There are a lot of predatory tax preparers that set up shop right outside military bases,” Crepeau said. “A predatory tax preparer service would possibly do the return wrong, and then also charge very high fees.”

There are also “quirky, somewhat complicated” tax rules for military personnel, Crepeau said, such as tax consequences for those who are injured, receive disability pay or combat zone pay, or have international tax requirements if they are stationed overseas. The Rosenberg Martin Greenberg attorneys prepare a detailed presentation that goes through tax return requirements line by line so military personnel understand each aspect, he said.

“That’s the biggest benefit — tax returns get done correctly, and these military personnel are not getting ripped off; they’re getting their tax returns done for free,” Crepeau said.

Fort Meade

Shaner and Crepeau were two of eight attorneys at the firm, along with several staff members, who worked on the firm’s sponsorship of the Fort Meade Army base this year. The process started in December, they said, when participating attorneys began studying the tax code to prepare for the year’s certification test.

Brian Crepeau (Submitted Photo)

Brian Crepeau (Submitted Photo)

Then, after becoming certified themselves, the attorneys spent about a week in January at Fort Meade teaching 30 volunteers from the military how to prepare military income tax returns. Those volunteers then became certified to prepare returns for other service members.

“We always spend an average of about 40 hours per attorney, between getting certified, traveling to Fort Meade and instructing,” Crepeau said.

The pro bono initiative has a personal element for many of the attorneys. Crepeau served in the Army Reserve as an undergraduate, and others have relatives who have served in the military.

“My father is a veteran, and I think we have other attorneys whose parents or family members are also veterans,” Shaner said. “It’s just a meaningful way to give back to a community that gives our country so much.”

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About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.