Every November, millions of Americans take time around Thanksgiving to acknowledge all the things in their lives for which they are grateful.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic is affecting not only how we celebrate Turkey Day, but our assessments of our blessings.
It's also reshaped how many of us look at ways we can share our good fortunes.
One option is donating to charitable groups that can help out those who have fewer thanks to give. If that's you, thanks for your generosity.
But there's another tax-related way to help. You can volunteer to help others complete and e-file their taxes next filing season.
Volunteers sought for two tax prep programs: The Internal Revenue Service supports two volunteer groups that offer tax filing help to lower- and middle-income taxpayers, as well as elderly filers.
And the federal tax agency already is looking for people who want to be a part of the 2021 tax season's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs.
VITA offers free tax return preparation to eligible taxpayers who earn less than a certain amount. For the 2020 filing season, that was $56,000 or less.
In addition, VITA services take into account whether a filer has disabilities and how well they speak or understand English.
Every filing season, VITA volunteers help eligible taxpayers at sites nationwide complete their returns and then electronically file them, all at no cost.
TCE works the same way, but its focus primarily is people age 60 or older and tax issues unique to seniors. Its sites typically are coordinated through AARP Tax-Aide.
New IRS ways to train volunteers: While the tax assistors at all VITA and TCE locations are volunteers, they are trained by the IRS.
And in the wake of the tax changes wrought by COVID-19, the IRS is looking for volunteers for both programs to help in the upcoming 2021 tax season.
Many people are experiencing financial changes this year, notes the IRS, and that's likely to mean more will need the tax help that VITA and TCE offer.
And just as the pandemic forced changes in tax filing and help this year — most VITA and TCE sites, like private-sector tax professionals, closed in the spring as COVID-19 surged, before shifting to remote assistance — the IRS is adjusting its training methods for volunteers.
New this year, potential VITA and TCE volunteers can tune in virtually to learn more about the program, find out which volunteer role is right for them and ask questions.
Additionally, some volunteer sites will now give volunteers the option to assist taxpayers virtually versus the normal face-to-face help they provide. This allows volunteers to help taxpayers over the phone or online to complete their returns.
Other volunteers will conduct a quality review with the taxpayer before the tax return is e-filed with the IRS. Virtual volunteering is a great option for new volunteers, since the volunteers can ask experienced volunteers for help while completing tax returns.
And if you're a returning volunteer, the IRS is making things even easier for you to complete the certification requirements.
For the 2021 filing season, experienced volunteers can take the new Returning Volunteer Test. This online test is shorter than the traditional test, allowing volunteers to devote more of their time to assisting taxpayers.
Ways to help: The IRS always welcomes folks with tax knowledge who want to help at VITA or TCE sites, but it's not required. (If, however, you are a tax professional and can spare some tax season time to volunteer, you also can earn CPE credits for your pro bono help.)
For others without official tax credentials, the IRS provides specialized training at no cost to enable you to help other complete and file their returns.
Or you can choose a volunteer role that doesn't require tax law certification.
Below are some of the VITA and TCE volunteer positions that usually are filled. Some of them obviously will be affected in 2021 by COVID-19 precautions as we await vaccines. Those inoculations, along with associated efforts like wearing face masks and maintaining safe distances, will determine how many 2021 sites will be open for in-person assistance or remote only tax help.
- Greeter/Screener – You greet everyone visiting the site to create a pleasant atmosphere. You screen taxpayers to determine the type of assistance they need and confirm they have the necessary documents to complete their tax returns. Tax law certification is not required for this position.
- Interpreter – You provide free language interpreter services to customers who are not fluent in English. Basic tax knowledge is helpful, but it is not required for this position.
- Site Administrator/Coordinator – You have excellent organizational and leadership skills. You are the primary resource for sharing your knowledge of the program and are available to assist with any issues that may arise. You develop and maintain schedules for all volunteers to ensure adequate coverage, supplies and equipment at your site. Tax law certification is not always required for this position.
- Tax Preparer – You complete and successfully certify in tax law training, including the use of electronic filing software, to provide free tax return preparation for eligible taxpayers.
- Quality Reviewer – You review tax returns completed by volunteer tax preparers, ensuring that every taxpayer receives top quality service and that the tax returns are error-free. You must be tax law certified at least at the Intermediate level.
- Computer Specialist or troubleshooter – You have a working knowledge of personal computers, software and communications systems. Tax law certification is not required for this position. If working at a self-prepare site you must become familiar with the various tax software option(s) available at your site. Although you may have less taxpayer interaction than most volunteers, you must be patient with those individuals who may not be as computer literate.
- Tax Coach – You provide tax law assistance and guide taxpayers in preparing their own tax returns. Tax law certification is required for this volunteer role and training is available on-line or through face-to-face instruction.
After signing up, you'll get more information about attending a virtual orientation.
And thanks for your willingness to help others at tax time.
You also might find these items of interest:
- Your many tax season VITA & TCE volunteer opportunities
- High school senior's volunteerism essay offers a valuable tax lesson
- IRS awards grants to 307 free tax help sites for seniors and low-income filers