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Introduction

Becoming certified as Vita Tax Preparer requires satisfactory completion of an open book test each year.    Annual certification is required even if you are a Tax Professional.  The purpose of the open book test is to make sure you are familiar with filling tax forms and can follow instructions; the passing grade is 70% of the multiple choice questions; if you do not pass a section, you can take a retest.

Tax Preparation

Certified VITA Tax Preparer volunteers may assist certain taxpayers. Tax returns prepared by VITA volunteers are considered self-prepared by the taxpayer.  VITA volunteers do not sign the tax returns as individuals; the return includes the Site ID for statistical and tracking purposes.

The Tax Law Training teaches the basic concepts of income tax law and is sufficient for preparing tax returns on paper.   Additional training is required to prepare taxes electronically.  The IRS training for VITA volunteers does not qualify a volunteer to give tax advice or complete tax returns for pay;  different requirements apply for preparing tax returns for pay.  In addition, VITA volunteers prepare simple return.

Tax Preparation for Pay

The rules and requirements  to become a paid (professional) tax preparer for federal and California income tax returns is available on the California Tax Education Council (CTEC) website.   It requires completion of a certain number of hours of training each year from a recognized institution, obtaining  a Surety Bond from an Insurance Company, and registering with the CTEC.   People with certain other professional qualifications may be exempt from these requirement.

Tax Law Training

Only Certified VITA Tax Preparer volunteers may assist taxpayers prepare and e-file their taxes.

Becoming certified as VITA Tax Preparer requires satisfactory completion of an open book test each year.    Annual certification is required even if you are a Tax Professional.  The purpose of the open book test is to make sure you are familiar with filling tax forms and can follow instructions; the passing grade is 80% of the multiple choice questions; if you do not pass a section, you can take a retest.

Tax returns prepared by VITA volunteers are considered self-prepared by the taxpayer.  VITA volunteers do not sign the tax returns as individuals; the return includes the Site ID for statistical and tracking purposes.

Tax Law Training teaches the basic concepts of income tax law and is sufficient for preparing tax returns manually on paper.   Additional training is required to prepare taxes electronically.  The IRS training for VITA volunteers does not qualify a volunteer to give tax advice or complete tax returns for pay;  different requirements apply for preparing tax returns for pay.  In addition, VITA volunteers prepare simple return.

IRS Tax Law Training options for VITA Tax Preparers

  • IRS Classroom tax training during November through January in some IRS owned or approved locations
  • IRS online training course.  You can do this in the privacy of your own home, at your own pace, and each time you successfully complete a module, you can print out a certificate.
  • Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) online training resource site also has information of tax law.

TaxWise E-File Basic and Refresher Training

TaxWise E-File training is a training session on using a computer program for completing the return on a computer.   The software for the 2009 Tax year is TaxWise.  In this training, you will learn to complete the tax return on a computer and create E-Files of the return.  Each E-File is a computer file ready for transmission by internet to the IRS and the State.   While there are no formal pre-requisites for the class,  it will be difficult and frustrating if you are not familiar with a PC or laptop and Microsoft Windows, and if you are not familiar with Tax Law.  If you have used other tax preparation software in the past, this training will be easy.  This software is different from software used for preparing tax returns at home since it supports the preparation of a large number of tax returns by a person familiar with the software, and does not have many of the menus and questions that come with software for individual tax preparation.

TaxWise Transmitter Training

TaxWise Transmitter Training is a  3 hour training session on the administrative details of transmitting the E-File to the IRS and State.   The pre-requisite is past experience with TaxWise.  You must be very comfortable using a computer and the internet and TaxWise.   You will learn the steps to transmit tax returns prepared at the site electronically over the internet, and to create or not create the supporting paperwork (remember that electronic filing is not the same as paperless filing).

However, all the training is wasted if it is not used.  Another way to learn transmitting is doing while watching.  Potential transmitters should be encouraged to watch the Site E-file transmitter transmit the returns, and then transmit the return under the watchful eyes of the transmitter.  That way the potential transmitter would become familiar with the transmitting portion of electronic filing.  The other portion, processing the acknowledgements, and reworking rejects can be picked up a few hours later.

TaxWise Online is more conducive to this approach than the Desktop version of Taxwise, since it is possible to deal with the other steps of receiving and processing the acknowledgement which talking on the phone to the transmitter.  For the desktop version, some arrangement must be made to access the transmitting computer.  One way of accomplishing this remotely is to use a product like Logmein or GoToMyPC, if the transmitter is familiar with it.

Additional Training

For those who have undertaken VITA training, prepared taxes before, are familiar with TaxWise, and have received their certification, the thought on Saturday mornings of having to sit through hours of tax training is pretty unattractive, even with the best of intentions.  Nevertheless, it is of value to be immersed in these issues so that you are mentally prepared and up to speed when the site opens the first day of the season.  For this reason, there will be a quick review session of changes in the tax laws, and additional training opportunities.

Some coordinators provide additional training to prospective volunteers of their sites to discuss common problems that occurred in the past which were not presented in the formal training.  Since each site has different approaches and processes, this could also be a forum for best practices.  Active participation in discussions will be required for greater success during these additional training sessions.

Here are a set of suggested topics for volunteers and site coordinators to consider discussing or getting themselves trained in.

  • Tax Law changes
  • Orientation to individual sites, by site coordinators
  • Orientation to Site Coordination
  • Dealing with challenging taxpayers and situations
  • Handling ITIN and W-7 situation
  • Dealing with First name, last name and SSN issue
  • Dealing with filling in California W-2s in TaxWise
  • Strategies for using TaxWise effectively
  • Transmitter issues
  • Computer, network and printer management
  • Improve the quality of your returns
  • What you can/cannot, should/should not do
  • Electronic refunds/payments vs paper refunds/payments
  • Training for New Site Coordinators

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Information on this site is obtained from sources considered reliable, but not guaranteed accurate. The purpose is to inform only; for advice and decisions, please refer to IRS website http://www.irs.gov. Comments regarding this web site should be directed to webmaster@vita-volunteers.org. Privacy Policy. Copyright 2003-2009  vita-volunteers.org. All rights reserved.
Last modified: 10/28/09.