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AICPA, IRS reach out to CPAs to help prepare returns for low-income filers.

As part of the AICPA's 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy effort, the Institute is helping CPAs join the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. VITA provides free tax assistance to low- and moderate-income individuals who require help in preparing their tax returns or cannot afford the services of a paid professional.

And this tax assistance is very much in need. With welfare reform, some delivery of assistance to poor families was through the tax system in the form of an Earned Income Tax Credit. However, the EITC is incredibly complex. It's worth the effort to calculate, though, often making a difference of several thousands of dollars for a family--a difference that means the family won't have to choose between food, medical care or heat in the winter. Without volunteers helping, many taxpayers end up paying unconscionable amounts for refund anticipation loans and other "products" offered by commercial preparers.

What's more, when you volunteer for VITA, you help a family in your area, and that family receives a refund that will be spent in the community--strengthening the local economy while making the family less in need of other community resources. CPAs have a prime pro bono opportunity here to impart basic financial knowledge, offer assistance to those who are less fortunate and direct federal dollars to their neighborhoods.

Training to participate in VITA has been streamlined so that CPA volunteers can focus on areas with which they are not as familiar, like the EITC and rules relating to children. An e-learning product, "Link and Learn Taxes," is available through www.irs.gov. This volunteer training package covers basic wage earner and pension earner returns and enables volunteers to certify competency online at their own pace. To access, type "Link and Learn" or "Volunteer Training" in the IRS Keyword field and click "Go."

In addition, the AICPA Tax Division's Tax Pro-Bono Task Force also worked with the IRS on its volunteer program regarding quality control. Working with the state CPA societies, the Institute reached out last month for CPAs who would "shop" volunteer sites, giving them hypothetical tax return information and supporting documents for them to bring to sites to have their tax returns prepared. The CPA then prepared a report on the quality of the tax return and the experience. The feedback will be used to identify trends for making future enhancements to the volunteer program.

Moreover, the volunteer initiative is supported by several state societies and Beta Alpha Psi. Various states either directly with the IRS or indirectly through coalitions have provided assistance throughout their communities. Through partnership with the IRS, Beta Alpha Psi's involvement in VITA helps enhance students' classroom learning and allows them to apply that knowledge to real-life experiences. Thirty-six BAP chapters nationwide participated in the volunteer program in 2004, resulting in more than 8,000 returns prepared.

If you are interested in joining the volunteer effort this tax season, sign up through the financial literacy volunteer database at http://volunteers.aicpa.org/financialliteracy/. In the Skills section, click on "low income taxpayer assistance" and specify your interest in taxpayer preparation or taxpayer review. An AICPA staff member will contact you.

Materials Available to Help Members Promote Tax Services

To help members promote their tax services to clients, the AICPA has developed several marketing items. A brochure highlights tax changes resulting from the "Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004" and also covers filing and saving tips. A tax season speech and PowerPoint presentation accompany the brochure, titled Tax Saving Tips for 2004.

In addition, Setting Your Financial Records Straight, was recently modified to accommodate the Check 21 Act. This revised brochure now is available as well. It also has an accompanying speech.

All of these marketing materials can be found in the CPA Marketing Tool Kit at www.aicpa.org/cpamarketing (user-name = cpamarketing, password = toolkit1!--use the exclamation point after the number 1). Both brochures are available in black and white and two- and four-color versions.
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Title Annotation:tax info
Publication:CPA Letter
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:662
Previous Article:AICPA to comment on PCAOB proposal on auditor independence and tax services.
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