October 29, 2018

New Volunteer

STARTING POINT: Attend Orientation

Our volunteers are awesome — find out why so many of them return year-after-year to volunteer with us! Attend orientation and get your questions answered before committing to volunteer! Each orientation will cover program results, timeline, benefits, roles, requirements, how to sign up for a site, and how to sign up for training. Be sure to register in advance for ONE of these upcoming sessions:

  • Tuesday, November 19, 2019 – 6:30pm-7:30pm – ONLINE ONLY, not in-person. (This means you get to attend from the comfort of your own home or office! If you register for one of the “online only” orientations, you will get the webinar link and call-in information in your confirmation email.)
  • Saturday, November 23, 2019 – 11am-Noon – IN-PERSON TICKET for a regional orientation in Santa Clara, CA. Hosted by the Santa Clara City Library VITA coordinators.

 

PROGRAM DETAILS

Click on a section header below to read more about the program!

Are you interested in any of the following?

  • A career in tax accounting or in a related financial service
  • Knowing how to file a tax return
  • Volunteering
  • Helping the Community

If you can check at least one of these items, you will find our tax volunteer program richly rewarding. Volunteers will gain practical knowledge and make a measurable economic impact on our local community.

No prior tax experience necessary! Training is provided.

This volunteer opportunity is a 4 to 5 month commitment. Training is held in November through January followed by volunteering from late January through April. Participants must first pass the IRS’ Tax Volunteer Certification Exam, which is released in mid-November and available throughout the training season.

TIMELINE: If you’re a new volunteer with no tax experience at all, here is what you can expect:

  • Short term commitment for 4-5 months and ends in time for summer break!
  • Being part of a unique team of incredibly passionate, supportive, and diverse volunteers
  • Engaging in meaningful volunteer work and really making a difference
  • Assisting people who need help – people who are truly grateful for your assistance
  • Gaining knowledge about basic tax law
  • Earning actual IRS VITA certification in order to serve as a tax volunteer
  • Returning volunteers have opportunities for leadership roles or specialty certification training.
  • Volunteers who are also “Enrolled Agents” (EAs) can get CE credits

Click here to learn about what we do and why this work is important.

New volunteers typically help out as Tax Preparers, Intake Specialists or Translators.

  • Interviews taxpayers using the IRS Intake/Interview & Quality Review Sheet
  • Provide high-quality tax return preparation to taxpayers who qualify for VITA assistance
  • Prepare only returns that are within their certification level(s) and within the scope of the program
  • Enter tax information into the TaxSlayer software
  • Obtain signatures for E-File authorization
  • Answer questions and/or use available resources to assist taxpayers
  • Adhere to Quality Site Requirements and Volunteers Standards of Conduct at all times
  • Maintain taxpayer privacy and confidentially standards
  • Welcome and orient the tax filers to the tax site
  • Provide taxpayers with intake forms and answers non-tax questions
  • Ensure the taxpayer has brought all required documents to verify taxpayer identity and complete tax return
  • Determine if the return is within the scope of returns we are allowed to do and determine which certified volunteer can prepare the return
  • Manage waiting and entry areas to maintain the flow of taxpayers according to site operational procedures
  • Refer taxpayers to Tax Preparers or Site Coordinators for tax questions
  • Inform taxpayers about other community resources if and when necessary
  • Aid taxpayers by working alongside the tax clients and tax preparers
  • Bilingual volunteers are always needed, especially those who can speak Spanish

Other positions at the site are usually filled by experienced volunteers. However, sometimes new volunteers graduate into these roles during the middle of tax season.

    • Conduct quality review process on tax returns
    • Check the data for any technical errors
    • Ensure that the tax law was correctly applied for the return
    • Verify and retain signed and dated Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement for all volunteers at the tax site
    • Ensure that the tax site is open as scheduled and adequately staffed
    • Supervise volunteers working at the site
    • Complete the Quality Review process for returns completed at the VITA location
    • Submit tax return E-files to the IRS in a timely fashion
    • Ensure rejected returns are either corrected or the affected taxpayer contacted
    • Answer taxpayer questions regarding tax or the client’s tax return
    • Must be certified at the Advanced Level through the IRS Link & Learn website
One of the common questions from prospective volunteers is “Do I need tax experience to be a volunteer tax preparer?” The answer is no, you do NOT need tax experience to become a tax volunteer. A liking for numbers and analysis does help though! In the Bay Area, many of our volunteers are engineers, nurses, lawyers, accountants, students, retired, or tax professionals. The vast majority of our volunteers are not tax professionals. Each training season, we have excellent instructors in our training classes who teach new volunteers how to help clients file their basic tax returns.These are the general requirements for becoming a tax volunteer:

  • All of our volunteers need to be comfortable working with a computer and the internet.
  • Be comfortable working with people.
  • Complete your IRS Volunteer Certification. Passing the IRS volunteer certification exam is required, since all volunteers must be IRS-certified. Training class schedules vary by county and begin in December and/or January. On average, three to four days of classroom instruction is offered. Online training and certification is also available.
  • Serve as a regular volunteer. This means you commit to volunteer one shift per week at the same VITA site for 8-12 weeks during the tax season (late January through mid-April). Site operation hours vary by site, but a typical volunteer shift is 3-4 hours. Every VITA site operates using volunteer power, so we need to have reliable volunteer staff in order to run. You will be expected to attend your assigned volunteer shifts on time so that site operation is not short-staffed or negatively impacted. Be sure to notify your Site Coordinator of any absences in advance, so that there is less of a negative impact on site operation.

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 the tax returns. 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.

 

Which is better: The in-class path or the self-study path?

We generally recommend the in-class training path to our newest volunteers, if it works in your schedule. Our volunteer instructors do a great job covering the most difficult topics for newbies to understand (determining filing status, dependents, EITC, and so on). The self-study path is great for volunteers who are comfortable studying on their own OR who have experience doing taxes for others (like returning volunteers, tax students, enrolled agents, CPAs, lawyers).

 

I don’t have any tax experience. Can I still volunteer?

Yes, of course! Tax experience is not necessary. We provide tax law and software VITA training for all new volunteers. We also offer office hours / drop-in clinics for our new volunteers so you could get one-on-one help from other experienced volunteers.

 

Can I volunteer at more than one tax site during the tax season?

Of course you can– we love your enthusiasm! If you have the time to do volunteer regularly at multiple sites, it’s a great way to get more VITA experience!

 

I want to attend volunteer training but I’m not sure I can commit to volunteer during the tax season. Is this okay?

Unfortunately, we only have the resources to train those that can actually volunteer with us during tax season. Our entire program runs on volunteers, many of these volunteers serve in leadership roles (site coordinators and instructors). We put a lot of time and energy into supporting our new folks through the training and certification process so that they are prepared to work alongside us as volunteer tax preparers during the tax season. So please don’t take up a spot in our training class that could have gone to someone else that actually wanted to volunteer with us.

If you still have questions, feel free to say hello and email us!

 

STEPS TO BECOME A NEW VOLUNTEER

STEP 1: ONLINE ORIENTATION (Recommended)
Learn about our program and what it takes to become a volunteer.

STEP 2: SIGN UP FOR A SITE (Required)
This will be where you will volunteer during tax season. Note that training may be provided in a separate location.

STEP 3: TRAIN & CERTIFY (Required)
Complete online or in-person training. Then pass your IRS tax volunteer certification exam.

STEP 4: VOLUNTEER (Required)
Contact your site coordinator to start volunteering regularly with the tax site you signed up for. Thanks for volunteering and assisting local taxpayers!

 

AFTER ORIENTATION: Sign up for a tax site!

If you have already attended orientation, you can sign up for a site here: https://volunteer.uwba.org/eks-volunteer.

NOTE: Training in Santa Clara County begins in November/December. All other counties have training in January.

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