Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mary needs information on starting a free income tax preparation...

Subject: Program at my Church

I am interest in starting a free tax income preparation for low income family at my church this year.  Is there any information how I can get help setting this program up.  What are the criteria for starting a site under VITA program.  Please advise me and let me know how to go about accomplishing this . My phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx or e-mail xxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.com.  Thank you in advance for your help.

Mary xxxxxx

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The above email was sent to webmaster@vita-volunteers.org .  Although this response is not provided by the IRS, the answer is provided here in the hope that it may help others with similar objectives.

Dear Mary,

Your interest in setting up a center to help low income families prepare their income tax returns is commendable.    The VITA program is sponsored by the IRS in conjunction with the state income tax authority, and usually run out of an office of one of these organizations.  As a site coordinator I work closely with the SPEC Relationship Manager at my local IRS office.  When I first started volunteering at VITA, I was a preparer at an established site, and site coordinator at another small site.   I recently had the opportunity to start a new site during the off-season, so my experience is pretty recent, and it was a successful launch simply because of the supporting structure.

The IRS provides publication 1084, IRS Volunteer Coordinator's Handbook which is a guide and a checklist of activities to running a site successfully.  The 2008 Tax Year version is the latest one available at the time this is written, and it is expected that the 2009 Tax Year version will be available soon.  You can download a copy of it from the IRS web site or from http://www.vita-volunteers.org/info_for_coordinators.htm  which has some additional publications that may help.  However, while it is it detailed and comprehensive, a first look may be intimidating the first time you look through it.  So if you are trying to start a new site,  there are several pieces that have to be coordinated and fall in place.  One way is to sign up to be a VITA tax volunteer for the first season while you become familiar with the system and the support you can expect.

If you do want to get started either as a volunteer or as a coordinator, the most practical way is to sign up through http://www.vita-volunteers.org  online signup form and indicate your interest in the comments section.  The information is forwarded to VITA Headquarters, from which it makes its way to the IRS Office and the SPEC Relationship Manager who should try to get in touch with you.    You need to provide the name of the site, and the dates and times  all that is required is the name of the site and the days, dates and times it is expected to be open.   This will get your site onto the IRS database of VITA sites so that taxpayers looking for the service can be referred to your site, and will help provide a site identification number with which to apply for an EFIN (Electronic Filing Identification Number) - which is necessary if you plan to offer electronic filing of tax returns.

Of course, when the taxpayers come to the site you must be prepared for them.  You will need support from the place where you plan to offer the service, such as the Church which needs to provide the environment in which to function, and to offer a place for taxpayers to sign in, wait and be served.
Arrangements must be made for laptops or PCs to run Tax Preparation software and printers.  The IRS loans some equipment, and the rest are provided by volunteers, the hosting organization, or a third party such as the United Way.

You need to recruit volunteers for the site.  Volunteers may come from the IRS, non profit organizations, accounting students, or possibly from among the members of the Church where you plan to provide the services.   Regardless of the source of volunteers,  they have to be certified by taking an open book test either on paper or online.  Experienced tax professionals and returning volunteers should have no problem with the certification test and there are training classes offered for volunteers new to the tax preparation activity.

If you are planning to offer services for anything beyond the simplest returns, it is necessary to get trained in the tax preparation software - hand-preparing returns on paper forms and using calculators to add, subtract and multiply numbers and making sure that nothing is overlooked can be very challenging.

If you have the place, equipment and volunteers, you need to get clients or taxpayers to help.  That means appropriate publicity in addition to the listing in the IRS database.  There needs to be an information number for people calling in for details of the service - and that is best handled by someone who is available to answer the phone.  You need to decide whether to take only walk-in taxpayers,  or to take appointments or both.   Whichever way it is, balance is important.  If there are too many volunteers and not enough taxpayers, volunteers will lose their enthusiasm.  If there are too many taxpayers needing service and not enough volunteers, you need to deal with irate and impatient taxpayers.

If this is something you think you will enjoy doing, I encourage you to go for it - it may be time consuming but the feeling of accomplishment will be worth it.  If you are unable to spare that much time to the project, the better course may be to sign up as a tax volunteer.

If you have any further thoughts or comments, you may put it in the comments section, and the answers will be provided here.

Best wishes for a successful tax season.
Webmaster
vita-volunteers.org







Sunday, June 7, 2009

Joseph is finding it difficult to contact SPEC

To whom it may concern,

My name is Joseph xxxxx and I am currently a Junior at Yeshiva University in New York. I am an accounting major with experience in the accounting field, specifically tax returns. I am very interested in getting involved in VITA and becoming a volunteer but I am not exactly sure how to do so. I tried filling out the online form several times but I was never contacted.

Also, I am the president of the college's accounting society and I am very interested in planning either and event or a program with you. There are many students who would definitely be interested in getting involved and I was wondering if you could use any of there help. This could be a one day program to help you guys out in anything you need, or a long term program to become VITA volunteers.

Please get back to me as soon as you have a chance because I am extremely interested in getting involved.

Thank you.

All the best,

Joseph xxxxxx
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Answer from webmaster@vita-volunteers.org

Dear Joseph,

It is refreshing to see an enthusiastic volunteer willing to set up a VITA site, and following up when you are not getting a response.

According to the email and registration records, you made enquiries on 3/29/2009, 4/19/2009 and 4/23/2009 which was forwarded to VITA headquarters. Usually the vita-volunteers.org webmaster ignores such requests, leaving it to the national office to respond, but your determination to volunteer and your leadership qualities in wanting to start a new site is my personal opinion a good reason to respond publicly so that others with this question may also respond.

Vita-volunteers.org is run by a dedicated volunteer and site coordinator in the Santa Clara County, Ca which is close to San Francisco, and the purpose is to help volunteers in the local area sign up to volunteer. It was developed in conjunction with an enlightened Relationship manager who saw the value of getting online signups that could be directed by email immediately, since trying to find out how to volunteer was such a challenge.

However, soon many volunteers were signing up through the site, and the information directed to the Santa Clara County Relationship manager was not something that could be dealt with at the local level. Since the webmaster was a problem solver interested in helping out volunteers rather than deal with the bureaucracy, the practical solution was to direct those queries were directed to the VITA national office from which it was routed to the appropriate Territory Manager for action. It seemed a little silly to route it that way manually when the location of the volunteer was known, but contacting the National VITA office for the names of sites, site coordinators, Relationship managers and Territory resulted in the response that any queries should be directed to the National office.

A simple search on the web provided contact information on Territory Managers; since this information is supposed to be only for potential volunteers and coordinators who want to offer their services, but not to provide to individual taxpayers, I have extracted the names of the territory managers in New York State and presened them here for your reference in case you would like to contact them directly. If you are interested in the Territory Manager of a different state, please indicate by adding a comment to this posting. The contacts are as follows:
Albany Peter Stevens 518-427-4109 Peter.J.Stevens@irs.gov
Buffalo Peter Stevens 518-427-4109 Peter.J.Stevens@irs.gov
New York City Michael McCormick 212-436-1031 Michael.J.McCormick@irs.gov

The date of this information is not known, but there is also a listing of IRS offices in New York City which could be obtained through searching on the VITA Volunteers Custom Search Engine II on the website. As of April 17, 2009, here is the listing information.


CityStreet AddressDays/Hours of ServiceTelephone*
AlbanyClinton Ave. & N. Pearl St.
Albany, NY 12207

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(518) 427-4250
Binghamton49 Court St.
Binghamton, NY 13901

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
(Closed for lunch 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.)

Services Provided

(607) 721-0338
Bronx

1200 Waters Place
Bronx, NY 10461

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(212) 436-1000
Brooklyn625 Fulton St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(718) 488-2068
Buffalo130 South Elmwood Ave.
Buffalo, NY 14202

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(716) 961-5100
Elmira149 West Gray St.
Elmira, NY 14901

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
(Closed for lunch 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.)

Services Provided

(607) 767-1012
Garden City107 Charles Lindbergh Blvd.
Garden City, NY 11530

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(516) 683-5169
Hauppauge1180 Veterans Memorial Hwy.
Hauppauge, NY 11788

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(631) 851-4726
JamestownE. 3rd St. & Prendergast Ave.,
Jamestown, NY 14701

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.
(Closed for lunch 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon)

Services Provided

(716) 961-5100
Kingston153 Sawkill Rd.
Kingston, NY 12401

Monday - Thursday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
(Closed for lunch 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.)

Services Provided

(845) 339-5384
New Windsor300 Commerce Dr.
New Windsor, NY 12553

Monday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
(Closed for lunch 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.)

Services Provided

(845) 561-8990
New York (Harlem)55 W. 125th St.
New York, NY 10027

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(212) 436-1000
New York (Downtown)290 Broadway
New York, NY 10007

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(212) 436-1000
New York (Midtown)110 W. 44th St.
New York, NY 10036

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(212) 436-1000
Poughkeepsie191 Main St.
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
(Closed for lunch on Mondays 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.)

Services Provided

(845) 452-2220
Queensbury375 Bay Rd.
Queensbury, NY 12804

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
(Closed for lunch 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.)

Services Provided

(518) 798-6047
Rego Park59-17 Junction Blvd., Rego Park, NY 11368

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(718) 760-6019
Riverhead518 E. Main St.
Riverhead, NY 11901

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (Closed for lunch 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.)

Services Provided

(631) 851-4726
Rochester255 E. Ave.
Rochester, NY 14604

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(585) 263-5840
Staten Island10 Richmond Ter.
Staten Island, NY 10301

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(212) 436-1000
Syracuse100 S. Clinton St.
Syracuse, NY 13261

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(315) 448-0807
Utica10 Broad St.
Utica, NY 13501

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
(Closed for lunch 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.)

Services Provided

(315) 793-1952
West Nyack242 W. Nyack Rd.
West Nyack, NY 10994

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(845) 627-1487
White Plains210 E. Post Rd.
White Plains, NY 10601

Monday - Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Services Provided

(914) 684-7302



It is not clear where in the process of sending out emails there was a breakdown in communication, so the practical action to take is to call the appropriate offices to get the appropriate information. Please get back to the blog to document your results, even if there is no action, so I can try to find who else can provide the information.

If you would like to add your experiences to this blog, it may help other interested volunteers reduce the amount of frustration they feel at not being able to volunteer.

The information contained here was obtained through publicly available sources that came up through a search engine which has not been verified. The accuracy can and should be verified with the IRS, but it is provided as a starting point.

Best wishes,
Webmaster@Vita-volunteers.org




Thursday, March 5, 2009

How to find my login and password for VITA Certification site

Mary sent the following email to webmaster at vita-volunteers.org:
------------------------------------------------------------------
Dear Sir,

I hope you can help me. I took the VITA Certification tests, just completed the Intermediate level 2 nights ago and scored a 95. I did not get to print my certificate that night. I logged on tonite but forgot my password. I asked for a new password to be sent to me but I cannot locate it. It is possible that I had keyed in my e-mail address incorrectly when I signed up.

My name is Mary xxxxx xxxxxx(I may have set up my account as xxxxx xxxxx). My user ID is "xxxxxxx" and I thought my password was "xxxxx" but that did not work. Here are my e-mail addresses:

xxxxxxx1@aol.com
xxxxxxx2@aol.com
xxxxxxx3@aol.com
xxxxxxx4@aol.com
xxxxxxx5@gmail.com

I did not get the new password I requested on any of these e-mail addresses. Please help me locate my certificate as I am volunteering at a mobile VITA location this coming Monday.

Sincerely,

Mary xxxxx xxxxxx
Winston-Salem, NC
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Answer:

Mary, sorry to hear you are having troubles. I can sense the frustration you are having, but unfortunately the link and learn site is not under the control of the vita-volunteers.org webmaster. It appears to be under the control of an entity at webtechteam.com whose only email address I have is nobody (at) webtechteam.com which is a send only address and as the messages say, will not read any emails sent to it. Vita-volunteers.org was put up because the webmaster was having the kinds of difficulties you and others are having when trying to volunteer!

Here are some ways to solve the problem:
a) find your local IRS office and contact the SPEC Relationship manager or the Territory manager and ask for help
b) call the IRS Toll-Free, Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday, 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. your local time (Alaska & Hawaii follow Pacific Time)
c) if you need help in locating the local IRS office, you may be able to get help from the search engine at http://www.vita-volunteers.org/custom_search_engine_ii.htm
d) a final option is to fill in the registration form at http://www.vita-volunteers.org/2009_Online/2009_OnlineReg_nonSCC.htm as best as you can, and put your problem in the comment section. That information will get e-mailed to VITA headquarters and then forwarded to the appropriate Territory Manager.

Hope this helps! If there are any further questions, or if you find the answer, please add it to the comments at the end of the post. You do not need to provide an email address to post if you do not wish to do so.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Comments on Basic Level Certification for VITA Volunteers

There were at least 2 questions on the test for certification level that I feel reflects the distance in thinking of the people setting the exams from what is happening in the field.

The first has to do with the question about what to do if a taxpayer is unable to have sufficient funds in the checking account to pay the outstanding taxes. The correct answers include putting the charge on a credit card, setting up an installment payment, or suggesting paying through the savings account. In my judgement, the most helpful answer is the second one (setting up an installment payment) followed by advising the taxpayer to increase the withholding for the current year or sending in estimated payments as they receive the money. The first and third suggests a lack of sensitivity - credit card payments including not only a convenience fee, but also transaction fees and high interest rate, and if the taxpayer had a savings account with money, they probably would know better than to suggest this in the first place.

The second has to do with the form number required for splitting the refund into multiple accounts at financial institutions. As a site coordinator, I have found that to get in the information about financial institutions correctly for one account is very time consuming to get right, so doing it for 3 would be even more time consuming and prone to error, and require even more quality review time. While it may be convenient for the taxpyer to have it deposited in multiple accounts directly, how difficult would it be for the taxpayer to transfer from the original refund from one account into multiple accounts. I consider this form as nice to have, but not essential, and do not go out of my way to encourage its use, but while remembering the number of the form accurately may be a competency required of revenue officers, it does seem to have less value than some other training that would be of greater help to the taxpayers we are serving.

These are one person's opinion, and represents one perspective. No doubt you may disagree, and your views are welcome as comments to this post.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Will you do my 2009 Tax Return?

Question received by email:

I am 21 years old, full time student, part time work. Will you do my 2009 Tax Return? I live in Nassau County, New York.

Bxxxxxxx

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Answer: I will personally do your tax return if you will travel to my site in California! I imagine you are talking about your tax return for 2008 due on April 15, 2009. (We won't be doing 2009 returns until approximately a year from now.) Failing that, there may be VITA sites close to where you live where they could do your taxes, unless you make too much money or your return is complicated. One way to find the locations is to search in the VITA Volunteers Search Engine II at the top left hand corner below the banner of this page. If there are no suitable locations, the results page will provide more hints on where to find their locations.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Where to get Pub 4491-W 2008 Exercise Answers?

The answers to the exercises (not the certification test) can be obtained by going to the http://www.irs.gov website.   A copy of it, more  instructions on the practice lab, and changes/additions to training material are available at 
http://www.vita-volunteers.org/Training_Material/Tax_Preparation_Volunteer_Training.htm

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Do I need CTEC Certification to become a VITA Volunteer?

The answer is NO, you do not need to be CTEC Certified in order to do taxes as a VITA Volunteer.

On the other hand, being certified to do prepare and file taxes does not qualify you to become a paid tax preparer in California. Requirements for becoming CTEC Certified and becoming a paid preparer can be found at http://www.vita-volunteers.org/Become_a_Paid_Tax_Preparer.htm

Even if you are qualified to do taxes for money, you need to pass your certification as a VITA Volunteer for each season to do taxes.   No IFs, ANDs, BUTs or WHAT IFs!!  If you want to prepare taxes as a VITA Volunteer, you MUST currently be certified.




Thursday, January 8, 2009

TaxWise Collaboration

Andy sent the following message to the webmaster at www.vita-volunteers.org

------------------------------------------
Hello,

I am working with our local folks to configure TaxWise in the most reliable and easy to maintain manner. I was wondering whether anyone at your organization has implemented TaxWise using Windows Terminal Services… it would certainly simplify the process and allow use of additional computers with ease.

Do you or someone you know have any insight into this?

Sincerely,

Andy xxxxx
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Answers:

Dear Andy,
  1. No, we haven't tried using TaxWise with Windows Terminal Services, and do not know if it is supported. That is something that TaxWise support should be able to answer.
  2. There are cases when a networked version of TaxWise can be installed on a central server which exports the volume on which TaxWise is installed, and client computers can then connect to it across a LAN. In fact, in one of the sites, that is the arrangement for a network that is set up and taken apart each session.
  3. At one time, I personally set up a network behind a firewall to which people could log in and see the screen but the Taxwise ran as a client machine on the internal LAN. I have used logmein successfully for this purpose.
  4. Another option for what you are trying to do (which I think is being able to connect remotely) is to use TaxWise Online so that users can use the UTS servers to save their returns. However, this has all the advantages and disadvantages of a browser based application.

Hope this helps. Further comments may be added to the end of this posting and will be answered.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Problems logging in to LinkLearn website

Valerie sent the following message to the webmaster of http://www.vita-volunteers.org


I received the following e-mail from your office:
Valerie xxxxx,

Your account has been created in the LMS.

Login: Kxxxxxx3
Password: Sxxxxxx

Please save this message.http://linklearn.webtechteam.com/

I am still unable to log in. What do I need to do?

Valerie xxxxx


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Answer:
  1. Valerie, sorry to hear you are having troubles. I can sense the frustration you are having, but unfortunately the link and learn site is not under the control of the vita-volunteers.org webmaster. Vita-volunteers.org was put up because the webmaster was having the kinds of difficulties you and others are having when trying to volunteer!
  2. However, just to check it out, I tried logging in with your login and password at 11:42 pm Pacific Time on Jan 7, 2009, and was successful.
  3. One thing to check would be to make sure that your web browser has javascript enables and has cookies enabled. That should be fairly easy to do.
  4. If you still cannot get it to work, here are some places to try getting help:

a) find your local IRS office and contact the SPEC Relationship manager or the Territory manager and ask for help
b) call the IRS Toll-Free, 1-800-829-1040 Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday, 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. your local time (Alaska & Hawaii follow Pacific Time)
c) if you need help in locating the local IRS office, you may be able to get help from the search engine at http://www.vita-volunteers.org/custom_search_engine_ii.htm
d) a final option is to fill in the registration form at http://www.vita-volunteers.org/2009_Online/2009_OnlineReg_nonSCC.htm as best as you can, and put in the problems you are having in the comment section. That information will get e-mailed to VITA headquarters and then forwarded to the appropriate Territory Manager.

Hope this helps! If there are any further questions, or if you find the answer, please add it to the comments at the end of the post. You do not need to provide an email address to post if you do not wish to do so.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Re: VITA Intro and Intermediate course

This was an email message received by the webmaster of http://www.vita-volunteers.org
---------------

I did the beginers course self study using thetext books and completed the test. Should ISend in the hardcopy for evaluation or could Iuse the online test. What I'm asking are theOnline test questions the same as the textbook questions? It is a very interesting course. I Especially enjoy the book keeping work.

----------------
Answer:
  1. The online test questions are close to and similar to the paper test but not the same.
  2. You can do either one. However, if you sign up online and take the exam on-line you can get the results right away, and get a certificate printout right away and have yourself registered is some database. Not clear who has access to the database since so far the local IRS Relationship Manager does not seems to have access to it, and volunteers have to take their certifications to the Site Coordinator anyway.
  3. If you do the paper test and send it in, then you need to figure out where to send it and wait for the grade. This works best if you are in classroom training and take a test at the end.
  4. Hope this answers your questions. If you need to continue this conversation, you can add to this post by clicking on the Comment below this message.

question about the VITA online certification tests

Email from Angela..

Hello,
I found this e-mail address at http://vita-volunteers.org after having called the IRS and having had no luck finding an answer to this question. I'm a 2nd year VITA volunteer who passed the basic online test last year when I was an Americorps volunteer in Burlington, VT. This year I'm in North Carolina and would like to volunteer again. However, I can't sign in to retrieve the test results from last year because I forgot the login information. The program tells me to enter in my business e-mail address so as to reset my password, but that e-mail account no longer exists. What should I do, or whom should I contact?

Thank you for any help you can provide,
Angela xxxxx
--------

Answer:
  1. Congratulations on wanting to volunteer again. Your effort and enthusiasm is what makes it worthwhile maintaining the web.
  2. Yet, it seems almost impossible to find out information about what to do and who to contact with questions even from the IRS.
  3. The practical solution is to re-register again with your current email and new password and not worry about last year's results - which would keep track of your scores only, and not the test answers.
  4. If it is important to get access to your previous year's results, then it may be necessary to pursue this further. Some avenues to try include the Territory Manager in your area or the Relationship Manager.