Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

Tax season is over and I stopped blogging near the beginning, so I haven't had a chance to share about my experiences. As some readers will know, I've worked with taxes the last four years as a part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The program is established by the IRS and includes training (online or book) and certification to assist taxpayers with their taxes. We use software designed specifically for the VITA preparers and have support from the software company.

Locally, the program is coordinated by the United Way, who provides laptops and additional "volunteers". I put the word "volunteers" in quotes as the people are typically Americorps workers. I don't know a lot about Americorps, but I think the workers get a small stipend (and medical benefits) for their work and have to provide a certain number of hours. They can use their VITA time as a credit for those hours.

This year I went through certification to the Advanced level (Basic-> Intermediate-> Advanced) and stepped up to Site Coordinator certification. (last year I didn't do Site Coordinator, but did Military, Cancellation of debt and Health Savings Account certification). I also stepped up to the responsibility of Site Coordinator 1/2 time at one of the sites where I work.

This year we had to take an ethics test as a part of certification. The ethics questions were VERY basic, but the scary thing is that you know someone has violated each of the codes they gave us.

As a part of the program, we're not allow to discuss any details about the taxpayers. I can tell you that this year was busier than the last two years. I also believe that I processed less W2-G (unemployment) forms than previous years. I think these two facts show that more people have jobs. They may be lower paying jobs than they had previously, but they have jobs.

I also think I did more past-year (2010 & 2009) taxes than in previous years. These are people who didn't file for some reason or another (one person said he was asleep that year - must've been a good nap!) and they want to get caught up. It makes me feel good to help people like this. As someone who pays a lot of taxes, I'm always anxious to help others pay their fair share.

There were some low points to the year. A few people seemed intent on cheating the system or making up numbers. One man came in the last day (we were slammed and a volunteer short) and wanted me to do his 2010 taxes. I was unable to help him. He honestly believed he didn't need to file, as he was retired. The IRS sent him a letter explaining differently. I felt bad for him, but simply didn't have time. I did do his 2011 taxes.

Lessons for next year is for me to start earlier. The site coordinator role was less intense (but more nerve-racking) than I imagined. But there was more training available that I could have used greatly. Also, I should have done the training on Cancellation of Debt (one case came in, I handled it after a lot of research) and Health Savings Account (three taxpayers needed help - two were family). These areas aren't so complex, but a refresher would have been good.

I also had a chance this year to explain to a fellow conservative IN DETAIL how the Earned Income Tax Credit works. It was an enlightenment to him that I had so much information and that some of his information was wrong. Any reader who wants to know more, or thinks the program is full of holes, needs to send me a note and I'll help them understand the details. I'm not justifying the program, I'm saying this is how it works and if you want to eliminate it, you have to say so explicitly (my biggest complaint with the "Fair Tax" and 9-9-9).

I plan to continue and to be site coordinator again next year (if needed). The work is very rewarding. I tried to recruit a couple of people this year and failed. Next year, won't you help? I'll be glad to help with training and information.


tax jobs London said...

So you are like a voluntary accountant or tax advisor?

Randy said...

Well, I'm not an accountant or tax advisor in my "day job", this is just volunteer work. Think of it as going through Turbo-tax or some other tax prep software.

The IRS believes that low-income tax payers shouldn't have to pay to fill out their taxes and we provide the help. We do taxes for anyone making under $50k (with some minor exceptions - very complex returns, etc).