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could be better, or if you think we are missing some need, please let me know by commenting on this post (comments will not be published).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.

Practice Lab and Certification

Practice Lab 2017 was activated yesterday, 15 Nov 2017, for federal returns only. In parallel with that, the IRS’s Link & Learn site was also activated.  That means you can now start to take your certification tests online.

One note of caution: the printed version of Form 6744, VITA/TCE Volunteer Assistor’s Test/Retest that you received as part of your training package is missing page 92. You must download that page from the electronic version Form 6744, VITA/TCE Volunteer Assistor’s Test/Retest. It looks like this:

TaxSlayer has also reported a Practice Lab 2017 problem with short- and long-term carryover losses not carrying forward to Form 1040.  See this post from the TaxSlayer blog:  Practice Lab 2017: Short Term and Long Term Loss Carryover.

That means that you cannot complete the advanced certification test until this is fixed. When resolved, TaxSlayer will post that information on their blog. We highly recommend you either follow or frequently check the TaxSlayer Blog for status updates on Practice Lab 2017.

Training

We’ve received some questions about training and the workbooks over the past week; this post attempts to answer some of those questions.

Practice Lab

All training and certification test returns must be done on the IRS’s Link & Learn Practice Lab. Never do any practice returns on the production site. The link for Practice Lab is https://vita.taxslayerpro.com/IRSTraining/en/Account/Access and the opening screen should look like the following.  The password is the same as it was last year; contact your district/local coordinator or instructor if you don’t remember it.

Once you’ve accessed the site, enter your unique username and password.

If you’ve forgotten your username, click on “Forgot Username,” enter your email address, and Practice Lab will email you the username associated with that email address (check you spam folder if you can’t find it). Remember that you cannot change the username associated with your email address.

If you’ve forgotten your password, click “Forgot Password.”  You will have to answer the secret question that was created when your account was set up.  If your district set up the account for you, contact your district or local coordinator for the correct answer to the secret question.

Training Workbook

Each district is responsible for training its new and returning volunteers. Starting this season, we have created a state-wide Training Workbook with Consolidated Workbook Answer Key (TSO 2016) that each district can, but is not required to, use. Currently, the workbook is available online only; districts may print some or all of the workbook to use during training. We will evaluate the utility of the workbook at the end of the season to determine what changes need to be made and if it was useful enough to print hardcopies for next season’s training.

NTTC Workbook

The NTTC Workbook is an optional workbook developed by the National Tax Training Committee. Its practice returns are federal only — which is why we developed the Massachusetts Adaptations. The Workbook is available online at OSHC. Your district or  local coordinator can also order printed copies through the portal. Contact your district/local coordinator or instructor to see if they use the NTTC workbook as part of training and if he/she ordered them. The federal answer key is available only through your district management. The answer keys for the Massachusetts Adaptations – done in TSO 2016 – can be found here: Massachusetts Adaptations Answer Key using TSO 2016 (Core) and Massachusetts Adaptations Answer Key using TSO 2016 (Comprehensive).

If you have any specific questions about training schedules, locations, or content – it is best to start with your district/local coordinators – they will know what’s planned for you.

What’s New – 1 Jan 2017

The IRS recently published and posted Pub 17 (Your Federal Income Tax) and Pub 4491-X (VITA/TCE Training Supplement).  All counselors should receive a hard copy of Pub 17 within the month. Pub 4491-X includes all the changes that need to be made to the 2016 training material, including Pub 4012.  There are a series of pen/ink changes as well as entire change pages.

In parallel with that, AARP Tax-Aide’s National Tax Training Committee released an Updated Pub 4012 with NTTC Changes (dated 12/28/2016) – for use by Tax-Aide volunteers only – that incorporates the anticipated 4491-X changes as well as explanatory notes and clarifications unique to the Tax-Aide program.  You can also download a version that consists of just change pages to print and punch so you can swap out pages from your original 4012.  Note that this version is 178 pages (89 when printed double-sided) – just a caution before you print them all.

This document does include the recommended responses to TaxSlayer’s EITC due diligence questions.  You can find these on pages I-6 and I-7.

All four documents have been updated on the Reference Material page.