Introducing our New Training Specialist

This is a guest post from our new Training Specialist.

I want to introduce myself and to talk about one of my favorite subjects – training.  My name is Frank Dutt and I have been with the Tax-Aide program for 13 tax seasons.  I spent six years in New York and the past seven years here in Massachusetts.  For the last four years, I have been part of the District 25 training team.  The past two years I have worked with Peter Viles in the transition to TaxSlayer and with Harry Gong to develop training materials that can be used in multiple districts.  I am honored that Joan has asked me to be the state Training Specialist (TRS)

My experience says that good training is difficult.  People learn and train in different ways.  Providing materials to meet everyone’s need is a challenge.  Meeting that challenge is almost impossible without participation by many people.  My concept as TRS is to bring together a team of people interested in training and together develop a list of training needs and prioritize what needs to be done.  The work would be parceled out to those interested and qualified to help.  How to do that is a challenge, given we are spread over a large area, but tools like Go To Meeting and old fashioned tools like emails and face to face meetings help to make the task possible.

Harry, Joan, and I have collected a list of projects we feel need attention.  This is our list to get us started.  I am looking for input on what others feel is missing.  This list includes (but in no way limited to):

  • New Tax Law changes
  • Mass Manual update
  • Training workbook problems, especially to make more applicable for MA
  • Impact of Circuit Breaker credit on Federal return
  • Instructions for Non-Resident and Part-Year Resident Returns
  • Instructions for Amendments
  • Tax law material to go with workbook problems
  • ERO Training, including efile status monitoring
  • Second Person Return Review process

So, my plea is that if you have an interest in training, or you think our training could be better, or if you think we are missing some need, please let me know by commenting on this post (comments will not be published).  I need your input to do my job, so I look forward to hearing from you.

Massachusetts Update – Week 10

And that should be a wrap for us.

Thanks to everyone for all the hard work this season.  I certainly appreciate it and, more importantly, I know the taxpayers do.

I hope to have our final production numbers for our state wrap up meeting in early May.

A few reminders before everyone takes off for the summer (or spring if it ever gets here):

  • If you have any IRS laptops, please send them back to the IRS depot as soon as possible.
  • If you want continuing education credits, submit your paperwork to the IRS by 30 Apr 2018.  Remember, you have to have certified online to do so.
  • All EROs/administrators should “inactivate” all preparers except those who will be responding to off season taxpayer issues.  And remember not to inactivate yourself!
  • LCs/EROs should update the portal with the program metrics for your site (e.g., number of paper returns, amendments, Q&As, etc).
  • Volunteers who are requesting reimbursements should do so as soon as possible.
  • All hot spots should be return to Dean at the state wrap up meeting on 3 May 2018.
  • All LCs/EROs should doublecheck to make sure all returns (federal AND state) have been efiled and acknowledged. The simplest way I’ve found is to look at Reports, Management Reports, Site Production Detail Report – Electronic — sort by federal and state acceptance dates and scan for missing dates.
  • For those who added a custom question to identify which site a return was prepared at, you can check Reports, Question Statistics, to see how many were prepared at each site sharing the EFIN.
  • You can see the number and amount of Circuit Breaker returns by checking Reports, Custom Credit Reports.

Please remember that while TaxSlayer does provide many valuable reports, these CANNOT be shared with your sites or individuals outside the Tax-Aide program. Aggregate numbers such as total number of returns filed, total amount of Circuit Breaker credits allowed (assuming multiple people are eligible and individual amounts cannot be deduced) are acceptable.

Continuing Education Credits

If you are requesting continuing education credits for your training and volunteer time this season you must submit the request to the IRS by 30 April 2018.

Please remember that you must have certified online through Link & Learn to be eligible for Continuing Education Credits. See this FACT Sheet Continuing Education Credits for SPEC VITA/TCE Partners published last fall.  The IRS also published this At A Glance CE Credit Requirements and Tips.

Here’s a quick guide to help fill out the 13615 correctly.

Your certifying official needs to sign the form indicating you’re certified, then your local coordinator needs to indicate you’ve volunteered the appropriate number of hours.  Once you’ve done that, mail or email the completed Form 13615 to your local IRS/SPEC office.

Massachusetts Update – Week 9

Now that we’re fast approaching the end of the season…..it’s a perfect time to learn some new things.

We cannot efile 2015 Massachusetts state returns.  You can efile the federal return, but the taxpayer must mail in the 2015 Massachusetts return.  If you forget and try to efile it, you won’t get an error message.  The only way to know is to check “Client Status” on the Office Client List — the status of the MA return will be “ready” and it won’t be transmitted to the DOR.  You’ll need to print the Massachusetts return and give it to the taxpayer to mail.

Have you ever wondered what a validation error was and when you might get one?  I’m sure there are other examples, but one that we encountered was for a TY2016 Circuit Breaker return in which the preparer entered a different address for the property than the taxpayer’s mailing address. The return was efiled which resulted in a validation error – which was noted on the Client Status page and detailed on the Validation Report.  Upon investigation, we determined that the validation failure was because the zip code was NOT transferred to Schedule CB (even though it was entered) and a zip code is a required field.  We will investigate this further and submit a problem report if needed.

We HIGHLY recommend that you doublecheck any 2015 Massachusetts returns you may have efiled to make sure they’re not stuck.  You should also review the validation reports (for 2016 and 2017) to make sure you didn’t miss any errors that may have appeared there.

Massachusetts Update – Week 8

We’re getting down close to the end of season so it’s time for a few reminders.

Counselors and client facilitators who have worked 40 or more hours can submit either an itemized or flat rate ($35) reimbursement request.  All itemized requests MUST be entered via the volunteer portal.

If your counseling mileage exceeds $400, you must submit a pre-approval request before submitting your actual itemized reimbursement request.

No one can submit both an itemized and flat-rate reimbursement request in the same year (fiscal year – 1 Oct – 30 Sep).

Site leaders will need to input their site program metrics – number of paper and amended returns, question and answers, etc – into the portal at the end of the season.  Now is a good time to look through your logs to organize that data.

National released QSRA-2018-01 on March 29,2018 to emphasize the requirement to conduct a thorough Intake/Interview and Quality Review Process.  Please read and heed.

 

Massachusetts Update – Week 7

Last week didn’t start out well, with the TaxSlayer outage last Monday that affected preparation of state returns. Fortunately, it cleared by Monday afternoon, but we’re well aware of the impact it had at your sites.

Helpful tips of the day (thanks to those sending them in).

  • TaxSlayer does NOT carry forward any federal or state TY2016 refund that was applied to the taxpayer’s TY2017 liability.  You need to enter these manually on the “Payments and Estimates” menu.  See the NTTC version of 4012, page H-32.
  • It’s easy to fall into the trap of “over-itemizing.”  Taxpayers bring in all sorts of information for itemized deductions, but their federal/state income is below the level where it helps them. Always take a look at their income (federal and state) to see if it makes sense to itemize BEFORE you do so (unless they’re required to itemize such as some MFS returns).  They may be disappointed you don’t use the information, but explaining the rationale usually helps.

The end of the season if fast approaching… we’ll have the state wrap-up meeting of District Coordinators the first week of May.  In preparing for that meeting, we’re looking for feedback in two areas:

  • What specific changes would you like to see in TaxSlayer, focusing on Massachusetts returns, for next year?  We’ll be submitting our prioritized recommendations to National in May and we’ll be using the state meeting to finalize the list.  So please send your ideas to your local and/or district coordinators so we have time to prepare and prioritize the list.
  • How can we improve training for next year?  Do we need more practice problems, problems that cover different aspects of tax law, more insight into tax law itself?  Again, please send your ideas to your local and/or district coordinators.

Massachusetts Update – Week 6

It’s hard to believe we’ve wrapped up week 6.

I’d really like to encourage all volunteers to share more.  If you learn something new about tax law or how input something into TaxSlayer — rather than have others re-learn what you know — let’s share it.  You can send any of these tidbits to me by commenting on the blog.  They won’t get published automatically, but I will read them.

For example…..

  • The Massachusetts M-1310 doesn’t print correctly and TaxSlayer says it must be sent in via regular mail, even if e-filing the MA return is possible. TaxSlayer has acknowledged the M-1310 does not print correctly.and has created a ticket to correct it. In the mean time, it is best to paper file the MA return with the M-1310; the person filing the return may have to fill in additional information on the M-1310 to satisfy DOR requirements.
  • If you have a taxpayer filing MFS who doesn’t know their spouse’s SSN — you can enter 111-00-1111 – which will allow you to complete the data entry (see 4012, page B-12).  You won’t be able to efile the return unless you have the correct SSN; if the taxpayer doesn’t know it — he/she will have to paper file the return.

For those who might encounter taxpayers with properties larger than an acre who might be eligible for the circuit breaker — Peter Viles developed some calculators to pro-rate the property tax amounts specifically for the circuit breaker calculation.  You can find the links on the Reference Material page (at the bottom).

Heads up if you have a taxpayer who gets a 1095A (even if they don’t know it).  If you file the return without entering that information — the IRS will send the taxpayer a letter asking them to submit the 1095A and Form 8962 before they release the anticipated refund.  It can take up to 8 weeks after the taxpayer sends in the 1095A and 8962.  So don’t think the taxpayer will get their refund faster — it’s better to submit everything in the initial submission.

We’re seeing more and more letters from the DOR asking taxpayers to verify their identities and/or provide backup information to justify their refunds.  Just a word to the wise.