What is the difference between the in-class tax preparer training and the self-paced online training?
The in-class tax preparer training is highly recommended for new volunteers. During this training you not only learn tax law but also TaxSlayer, the computer software we use to file taxes (it takes a while to get used to!) The in-class setting is the ideal setting to ask questions and also to learn more about the program.
The self-paced online training, Link & Learn, covers tax law. This is highly recommended for returning volunteers who are already familiar with the using tax software and the VITA program. However, due to some volunteers’ schedules, self-paced online training may be the only feasible option.
Am I liable for the tax returns I prepare?
The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 protects volunteers from liability for negligent acts they perform within the scope of their responsibilities in the organization for which they volunteer. The Act excludes conduct that is willful or criminal, grossly negligent, or reckless, or that constitutes a conscious, vagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual potentially harmed by the volunteer. Basically, if volunteers are performing their responsibilities under the Volunteer Standards of Conduct, they are protected.
What do I do when I arrive at the site?
Volunteers may be asked to arrive at the tax site 10-15 minutes before their scheduled volunteer time (to allow for time to find parking and get settled). When arriving, please be sure to sign in with your Site Coordinator. If volunteering at a VITA site for the first time, please remember to bring your signed Volunteer Standards of Conduct (VSoC) Agreement and a photo ID so that the Site Coordinator can verify your identity. Each site you volunteer at (if more than one) will need to have a copy of your signed VSoC Agreement.
When taxpayers arrive, a Intake Specialist will distribute the Intake/Interview & Quality Review Sheet and ensure that taxpayers have the required documentation needed to complete the return. Once the taxpayer has been screened by the Intake Specialist, you will go over the Intake/Interview & Quality Review form with the taxpayer then enter the information into the software. When completing the return, your Site Coordinator or a volunteer certified at the appropriate level will conduct a Quality Review of the return. Once the return is completed, the tax return will get printed, reviewed and signed by the taxpayer and will be informed of their responsibility for the information on the return.
Do we file federal and state returns?
Yes, our free tax sites file both federal and state tax returns. When you fill out the federal return, the software automatically populates the appropriate state return.
How complicated is the average return?
The average return you will prepare will be relatively simple. The VITA program has limitations on what volunteers can and cannot prepare. These “out-of-scope” returns are considered to be too complicated and will be referred to a professional tax preparer.
How much time does it take to prepare a tax return?
It depends on the complexity of a return, as well as the experience level of the volunteer. New volunteers are usually getting used to process in the first two weeks of volunteering and typically get faster at preparation as tax season progresses. On average, it may take an hour to do a tax return. Simpler returns can be completed in a shorter amount of time and complex returns may take more time to do.
What if I have a problem with a return?
Volunteers will only prepare returns that are within the scope of their training. Your Site Coordinator will be certified at the Advanced Level and is able to provide assistance if needed. Please keep in mind that the Volunteer Resource Guide (Publication 4012) and Publication 17 can be used as reference materials. Please do not hesitate to ask your Site Coordinator if you are unsure about the complexity of a tax return or if something seems unusual or questionable regarding the tax return.
Although I have completed the required training, I am nervous about making a mistake. What ensures that I prepare each return correctly?
The program has several ways of ensuring that each return is prepared correctly. Taxpayers will initially be screened by Intake Specialists upon entering a tax site. The Intake/Interview & Quality Review process ensures that the information is entered into the TaxSlayer software is correct. The return will then undergo the Quality Review process by your Site Coordinator or a volunteer certified at the appropriate level. Before any return is submitted, it is printed and reviewed with the taxpayer. Basically, three sets of eyes review the return before it is submitted. Also, the tax software will not allow any tax return to be submitted if the information provided is incomplete or inconsistent.
What if I cannot make it to my scheduled volunteer time?
Please contact your Site Coordinator or VITA Program staff and notify them of your absence as soon as possible so that other arrangements can be made.
Can I have my tax return prepared at a tax site OR prepare my own tax return for free?
Usually yes – it’s one of the volunteer perks! Be sure to contact your Site Coordinator for your site’s rules about this.