Low Income Taxpayer Clinic
Legal Aid’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) helps people whose incomes are to small for them to hire a private attorney.
Legal Aid’s tax lawyers can help you with federal income tax problems. These problems can include disputes about whether you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, whether you are responsible for your spouse’s tax debts, and how to settle your tax debts.
Legal Aid does not prepare and file tax returns. We can refer you to organizations that can prepare returns without charging you any fees or costs.
When you contact Legal Aid, please be sure to have all of the following documents available. You may be asked to fax or mail copies to us:
- Your current income, including pay stubs
- Your Social Security number
- Any tax bills, letters or notices from the IRS
- Any letters or notices from the U.S. Tax Court
- Any letters you have written to the IRS
- Copies of the tax return(s) you filed for the year(s) in question
The Earned Income Tax Credit is a special credit for some working people. It can mean a tax refund to you or a reduction in the income tax you pay.
See Legal Aid’s Earned Income Tax Credit Brochure for more details.
When you sign a tax return with your spouse, both of you are responsible for any tax debt resulting from that tax return. That means you could be responsible for the whole tax debt even if you did not earn any money that year or if the debt is your spouse’s fault. You may qualify for innocent spouse relief which means you may not have to pay all or part of that tax debt.
If you don’t think you owe the tax debt because your tax return was correct, you can ask the IRS to review your tax return again. This is called an “Audit Reconsideration.” Ask the IRS to review your case by submitting new and relevant information to prove the items the IRS did not allow when it audited your tax return the first time.
- Make monthly payments through an “Installment Agreement.”
- Ask to be placed in “Currently Not Collectible” status because you face a financial hardship. Currently Not Collectible status means the IRS will not collect on the debt, except to take your future tax refunds and apply them to this debt, but the debt still exists.
- Offer to settle the debt by paying part of the tax. This is called an “Offer In Compromise,” and is based on your financial condition.
Detailed information about how to do each of these is provided in “Other Resources” below.
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) helps low-income people who have a problem with the Internal Revenue Service. Cleveland’s Legal Aid is one of 150 LITC’s across the United States, funded to provide representation before the IRS or in court on audits, tax collection disputes, and other issues. Cleveland Legal Aid’s LITC has a special focus on helping individuals with limited English proficiency.
Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics – including Cleveland Legal Aid’s – are not part of the IRS but they receive partial funding from the IRS via the LITC grant program.
Cleveland Legal Aid’s LITC is led by senior attorney Susan Morgenstern, who is nationally recognized for her advocacy on behalf of low-income taxpayers. Numerous other Legal Aid attorneys and pro bono volunteers handle tax cases. An example of a recent success story is that of Lorain resident and adoptive mother of two special needs children, Erin Smith.*
Legal Aid attorney Davida Dodson represented her in a divorce. In the divorce decree, custody of the children was split, but Ms. Smith had one extra day of custody with her children. That one extra day made Ms. Smith the primary caregiver, and hence Ms. Smith qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”). Having the ability to claim the EITC on her tax return meant additional financial stability for Ms. Smith, and provided her funds to tend to the needs of her special needs children.
However, after filing her 2011 tax return, Ms. Smith was contacted by the IRS, asking for additional paperwork and assessing her penalties for claiming the EITC in error.
Legal Aid attorney Camille Gill, in consultation with Susan Morgenstern, determined that Ms. Smith was not required to go through the hassle of this additional paperwork. The careful wording in the divorce decree was sufficient to preserve Ms. Smith’s EITC credit. Ms. Gill argued such and the IRS corrected Ms. Smith‘s account and refunded the penalties they had incorrectly charged her. Ms. Smith was credited nearly $2,400.
* client’s name changed to protect privacy