Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A word of caution when working with VITA depot computers

The standard VITA depot imaged laptops require a lot of Windows and Microsoft Updates before they are ready for use - otherwise, there is the danger of being exposed to new malware and computer exploits.  It takes the better part of a hour to update the required patches.

On January 12, 2009, there was a message on one computer that the date and time was off.  On looking at the time, it appeared to be January 19, 2009.  The natural tendency of someone who is familiar with the workings of a machine is to set the time correctly and check that the timeserver is tell properly, and to correct the time zone.

Anyhow, that is what I did.  After restarting the machine, it was not possible to log in. The error message was different from the usual error messages displayed when an incorrect password is provided.

On going through the documentation on how to get started, somewhere at the end, there was a warning not to adjust the time because it would cause problems with the disk encryption. (Now you tell me !)

A talk with the depot technician revealed that we should NEVER adjust the time.  Having the computer think it was a week later than the correct time would certainly cause problems with TaxWise when the date was printed on returns.  There was no simple fix that could be made at the customer site even by an experienced IT technician.  They could only fix it at the Depot with extensive troubleshooting steps to determine what might have caused this to happen.

I was also told that the time zone would take care of itself. I hope that statement is correct.  Since the default setting is Central time, and VITA/TCE sites are usually not open within 3 hours of midnight, the dates would still be correct for returns prepared  in the Continental United States.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Santa Clara County VITA Site Coordinators Close-out meeting May 7, 2009

Santa Clara County VITA Site Coordinators Close-Out Meeting 5/7/09 Below are comments/reflections of tax season 2009 and recommendations for tax season 2010:                       This past tax season went reasonably well. Tax Wise Online was better than previous years. Offer the volunteers a pre-season ‘practice lab’ before customers. It is advantageous for the site screener to start the shift early to expedite customers. It is good practice to confirm the inputted SocSec Card number at quality review. More volunteers at the sites this year was good –when there was sufficient equipment to use. It was suggested to publicly post the rates of rejections/acceptances for site customers to see. In addition to a follow-up phone call for those customers needing to come back, it was suggested to also send a letter on IRS letterhead. Intake sheets need be properly completed in order for preparers to use as interview technique. Reference materials were often underutilized for qualification status. Wording on EIC worksheet for unmarried/under18 needs clarification or put into a 2-parter. TWO reporting feature and notice of acceptance is confusing. Perhaps have a separate intake and QR sheet section. TWO specific training would be helpful for volunteers. Having volunteers arrive 20-30 minutes before opening helps improve site operations. Increase opportunities for practicing, espec for new volunteers on items such as 1099 misc, etc. Process-based training was greatly improved. Consider offering condensed/early training for returning volunteers. Increase emphasis on training that practices actually completing returns. Try to open a few sites earlier in the tax season (by mid-January). Look into being part of the IRS/VITA disability initiative. End all training by around Jan 20 to give time for volunteers to be deployed and ready to go. th >See how to add comments

Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 7, 2009 Site Coordinators Meeting

United Way Conference Room May 7, 2009

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What is reasonable for coordinators to expect from new volunteers?

The VITA program requires volunteers preparing taxes to obtain annual certification through an open book test administered by the IRS. Given the expectation of the limited range of returns that VITA volunteers prepare, it does seem too much to ask those who are already qualified to prepare returns professionally to have to go through the whole training process.

What is a reasonable performance to expect, why, and are we seeing that?

Since volunteers are trained in Tax Law, TaxWise software, interviewing taxpayers and completing tax returns, what are reasonable expectations for a new volunteer with Basic Certification?

I consider the following to be reasonable:
1) The ability to fill in a W-2 form without errors, especially W-2s with special requirements for individual States (in my case, California)
2) The ability to recognize that 1099-Misc income generally goes neither on line 7 nor line 21
3) The ability to recognize that returns with pre-tax retirement contributions on W-2s is beyond the scope of their training unless they understand the Retirement Savers’ Credit
4) The ability to recognize why we enter bank account information twice rather than cutting and pasting the numbers thereby guaranteeing they are the same
5) The ability to independently and correctly complete a 1040 with filing status single with only W-2s and interest or 1040-EZ equivalent.
6) The ability to recognize that creating an e-file successfully means that a certain level of correctness and completeness of the return has been achieved but that the return may not be perfect and that it assigns a DCN to the return in preparation for transmission, but does not transmit the return
7) The wisdom to not ask questions or request information when the answer will not make a difference to the tax return. (A prime example for California State returns is to spend time trying to draw out landlord information when the tax obligation is 0, and taxpayer does not qualify for renter credit)
8) The ability to explain why it is necessary to identify and associate a taxpayer with picture and tax IDs presented by the taxpayer rather than on handwritten lists of numbers, or paper copies of prior returns

What do others think? Any additional basic abilities you think are necessary and reasonable to expect? Please add your comments to this posting.

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