Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quality Site Requirements Alert 2009-01


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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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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Posting Individual Return status on the Web

After returns are e-filed at VITA sites, there are processes in place to contact the taxpayer to get it resolved, with no process in place to inform the taxpayer if the return is accepted. Some sites mail out 9325 acknowledgements to advise their clients that their returns have been accepted. However, look at it from the point of view of the taxpayer. How can they be sure that the return has been filed and accepted, and would it be possible that their return has been lost and/or ignored?

At the same time, what are the alternatives? We could place priority on getting out the 9325s, or inform the taxpayer by email when the return is accepted. At one site, a simple solution provides the status of the Federal and State returns accepted or rejected, with a return code that is made available to the taxpayer when the return is prepared. That way, the taxpayer can look up the information without having to login, enter multi-charactered passwords correctly, or worry about cookies or popups. The link to the return is on the home page of