Thursday, March 26, 2009

IRS Super Saturday Session March 21, 2009

In line with the IRS Super Saturday Session, March 21, 2009, VITA @ Milpitas Public Library had the honor of the visit of a SPEC Relationship Manager from the IRS San Jose Office. He was kind enough to bring in several related flyers, and had the pleasure of being introduced to taxpayers and volunteer tax preparers.

Taxpayers who had tough questions for and about the IRS had the opportunity to get the official answers from a real IRS employee, and it provided the site coordinator with an additional resource to deal with the multitude of questions that come up from taxpayers every week.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March 7, 2009 Session

An accidental volunteer who willingly helped prepare 9325 acknowledgement forms for taxpayers whose returns have been electronically filed and accepted by the IRS

Monday, March 9, 2009

2009 Economic Recovery Payment

A one-time Economic Recovery Payment of will be made in 2009. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO FILE A TAX RETURN TO GET YOUR ECONOMIC RECOVERY PAYMENT. Ñ Ifyouarearetiree,disabledindividualora SupplementalSecurityIncome(SSI)recipient,youwill receiveyourEconomicRecoveryPaymentdirectlyfrom theSocialSecurityAdministration. Ñ Ifyoureceivedisabledveteransbenefits,youwill receiveyourEconomicRecoveryPaymentfromthe DepartmentofVeteransAffairs. Ñ IfyoureceiveRailroadRetirementbenefits,youwill receiveyourEconomicRecoveryPaymentfromthe RailroadRetirementBoard. $250 Contacttheagencythatpaysyour benefitformoreinformation. IRS Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service Publication 4751 (3-2009) Catalog Number 52943A

Opening session February 7, 2009

City of Milpitas Vice-Mayor Pete "Primo" McHugh was the guest of honor and was kind enough to declare the filing session open at VITA at MILPITAS PUBLIC LIBRARY on the morning of Saturday February 7, 2009. Vice-Mayor McHugh expressed his appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the volunteers who were there to help people prepare and e-file their tax returns.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dealing with replacement laptops for TaxWise Desktop

When we get a replacement TaxWise Desktop it comes loaded with several pieces of software, including Adobe 8.xx, TaxWise 2007, and Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Internet Explorer 6.xx

To use it for preparing 2008 returns, the minimum required istallation is TaxWise 2008
together with the latest updates for federal and states and help files.

However, to simplify life with a systematic preparation process for the long run, we found the following to be a reasonable set of things to do:

  1. Connect laptop by a network cable to a LAN or other network with internet access
  2. Go to Microsoft Windows update and get the latest updates and patches. If you get errors, read the error message carefully and enable and restart the needed services as recommended, and then let it run. This will take a while, because it will download Service Pack 3 (which is big) and you better have a high speed conection, and then run through and install it.
  3. If you are used to Internet Explorer 7.xx, go ahead and upgrade that too.
  4. Install Abode 9.0 from the TaxWise installation disk. You might as well do it now rather than go through the error message telling you to do it later.
  5. Install TaxWise from the TaxWise CD
  6. Download the latest updates for federal, state, TaxWise help, and 1040 help
  7. Start TaxWise and go through the installation process.
  8. Optionally remove TaxWise 2007. While this is not required or necessary, we have found doing so avoids problems of volunteers accidentally starting a return on TaxWise 2007, wondering why it looks different, and subsequently learning that they used the wrong version of TaxWise. If you subsequently need TaxWise 2007, it can be installed from the TaxWise program disk.

How to provide details on error rejects?

Recently, one of our Relationship managers requested a summary of reasons of rejection. One way is to scratch the head, especially if the rejects are spread out over 3 weeks. Another is to go back and reconstruct how you did this by reviewing the rejected returns which had been accepted.

However, a simple way is to look at all the IRS acknowledgements reports at once. When you select the option with all the reports, TaxWise creates a report with a summary of all the returns accepted and rejected during the period of the reports, and then prints the errors (most of the time) and details on the subsequent pages. The report can be saved to a pdf or Excel xls file, or physically printed out on a printer.

That would also be a good way to obtain help from the Relationship manager if you can't resolve any problems on your own, and will let you check that your records on the number of returns agree with the UTS summary records that the IRS gets.

Any additional thoughts on the matter?

What to tell Taxpayers whose refund deposit is less than expected?

A Taxpayer came back with the signed 8879 showing a refund of $4324 and his direct deposit on bank statement showing $4024.

What to do? When we looked up the IRS accept acknowledgements, it showed acceptance of the full amount, and the difference $300 looked suspiciously like it might be due to the Recovery Rebate.

We do know that error 269 initially was due to the recovery rebate computed within the tax return by TaxWise being different from what the IRS thought it should be, so thought it may be something else.

Taxpayer could not think what else the problem might be due to.

One way to resolve this with minimum effort is......... (believe me, it is really simple)

Please post your ideas on how you would handle this situation....

TaxWise gave us more information than we needed

We had a return for a taxpayer who husband was deceased in 2008, and prepared the reurn like we normally do for MFJ, marking the occupation of the spouse as deceased.

Just to be sure we were doing things by the book, I searched for help using the TaxWise Desktop Help system.

Imagine the surprise that on searching for topics related to deceased, I came across an item that described in great detail that it was necessary to file two returns that year. One for both spouses MFJ from the beginning of the year till date of death, and the other for the surviving taxpayer from date of death of spouse to the end of the year.

Astounded that I had never heard of such a thing before, I searched the web, and consulted the TaxWise Customer Support Line. The Customer Service Rep had never heard of that either - we all knew that we needed to file MFJ for the year of death with possibly QW in succeeding years, and here I was staring at something that seemed to run against everything I had learnt so far.

Well, on taking another look at the section of the help, I noticed Puerto Rico; so this appears to apply to Puerto Rico returns only, I went away wondering why I ended up on that page, and whether there have been other occasions on which we may have gotten irrelevcant instructions simply because of the excess information present that did not apply to us.

TaxWise Customer Service Rep was kind enough to walk me through the steps of correctly filling out the form. It turns out an additional piece of required information is the date of the death itself to be entered into a certain box on the MAIN INFO sheet, but unfortunately, after developing form blindness, it is easy to overlook that box.

The moral of the story? When something seems different from what you think you know about the situation, check that the instructions relate to you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Networked TaxWise Desktop

At the VITA @ MILPITAS PUBLIC LIBRARY Site, we experimented with Networked TaxWise Desktop.

Without access to a permanent LAN, we set up temporary networks each week. In the early years, we used after-market network adapters and routers/hub/switches connected together with network cables which tended to fall off, had bad connectors, and provided great opportunities for disasters waiting to happen in the form of tripping up our hardworking volunteers.

The performance was poor, with long waits while the software was loading or interacting with the TaxWise server Database, and there were cases when most of the work done on a return was lost. To be mobile and portable, we put the TaxWise Server on a Windows XP Pro laptop upgraded to run Windows Server 2003.

We installed TaxWise on a partitioned volume labeled the N-Drive. This drive was shared and mapped to the N: drive of the other workstations, we appeared to have a system that ran flawlessly. One hour into the first session, we ran into all kinds of problems. TaxWise was throwing exceptions, workstations were connected to the network but could not access the mapped N: drive even though they could access the web site on the server. Given that we were using an unsupported configuration (namely secured wireless networking), there wasn't much we could get in the way of technical support.

It is not clear what the problem was: it could have been TaxWise, or interference, or we may have had reached the limit of the number of active connections on our server. The bottom line was that there were impatient taxpayers and volunteer tax preparers who kept asking when the system would be up and running again. The temporary solution was to reinstall TaxWise on the default C: drive of each of the workstations, and prepare the returns the conventional way, using a usb flash drive to transfer the data.

We haven't figured out the root cause of the problem yet, but realized tht the solution as it stood was not workable.

We are working on an alternative solution.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How does UTS report indicate that the IRS has acce...

Recently, the Site Coordinator received a phone call from the IRS Relationship Manager indicating that UTS reports had indicated 77 returns had been accepted from our site.

The reports generated on our TaxWise Desktop Transmitting computer indicated 76 accepted.

So how can we determine exactly how many reports were accepted, and reconcile the difference? The answer is that it is almost impossible to do so, unless you have a suspicion because of other reasons that point to the additional accepted returns.

The SPEC Relationship manager, even with the suspect TIN could not obtain information about the return status. Customer support at TaxWise stated that the return had been accepted, and then "re-hanged" the return a couple of times to update the TaxWise database on outtransmitting computer. Did not work. The acknowledgement summary return showed the return was rejected, but provided no details. The Taxwise online tool to check return status provided no clarification either, and in fact stated it was broken for this return.

Thanks to the help and guidance of a fellow Site Coordinator we figured out the return status to our satisfaction. Telling the taxpayer that the return was accepted when the confirmation report says rejected because Customer Support said so did not seem very professional.

It turns out there is a very simple way to verify the accept/reject status of a return that did not require all the inconvenience we went through. That will be left as a discussion/comment point for the reader.

One laptop was so sloooooooooooow!!

One of our laptops was behaving strangely; when one person used it, initially it behaved reasonably, but after a while the performance was really slow - like waiting minutes for a simple backup.

We thought that there was a magical touch since one of our volunteers did not have a problem, but other volunteers could not get it to work.

Our IT staff did everything we could could to clean out the temp directory, getting rid of temporary files, and running the defragmanter to defragment the file system.
Then we started up task manager ato look at the processes, and commit memory charge was approximately 260 Mb without any applications running. We looked at the physical memory and it was 256 Mb.

On looking through the TaxWise support site we found that the minimum required system configuration was 256 Mb for TaxWise 2007 and 512 Mb for a recommended system.

Taxwise Customer support site Knowledge Base says that for TaxWise 2007,
Minimum System Requirements for TaxWise Products:
800 MHz processor
Windows XP Professional or Windows 2000 Professional (Service Pack 4)
256 MB of RAM
1 GB of available hard drive space
8X speed CD-ROM
800 X 600 color monitor with 16-bit color video card
56K Internet connection (Internet access required)
100% HP compatible printer
Internet Explorer 6.0

Volunteer e-File Administrator Guide Publication 1384 for Tax Year 2008 shows the requirements for TaxWise for "FY2009 Recommended Minimum Operating System Requirements for use of TaxWise" to be 128 Mb or Ram for both Taxwise Desktop Version and TaxWis Online Version.

From Microsoft's support website:
Windows XP Professional System Requirements
Published: August 24, 2001

Get Windows XP Professional on a New Computer
Order from one of several computer manufacturers.

Here's What You Need to Use Windows XP Professional
• PC with 300 megahertz or higher processor clock speed recommended; 233 MHz minimum required (single or dual processor system);* Intel Pentium/Celeron family, or AMD K6/Athlon/Duron family, or compatible processor recommended

• 128 megabytes (MB) of RAM or higher recommended (64 MB minimum supported; may limit performance and some features)

• 1.5 gigabytes (GB) of available hard disk space*

• Super VGA (800 x 600) or higher-resolution video adapter and monitor

• CD-ROM or DVD drive

• Keyboard and Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device


Minimum System Requirements for TaxWise Products for Tax Year 2008

Microsoft® Windows XP (with the latest service pack) or Microsoft® Windows Vista (32-bit operating systems only)
800 MHz processor
512 MB of RAM
1 GB of available hard drive space (per tax year)
8X speed CD-ROM
800 X 600 color monitor with 16-bit color video card
Microsoft® Internet Explorer 7.0 (with the latest service pack)
56K Internet connection (Internet access required)
PCL6 compatible printer
Ethernet network card (required for network installations only)
Adobe Reader (version 8.1 or higher)

No wonder we were having performance problems; fortunately, an email to the IRS Depot brought a quick telephone response from the technician in charge of testing and loading up the software, who agreed to send out a replacement laptop with 512 Mb of Ram right away.

She told me something that all of us should take to heart - which is, when you send back a laptop, put a note with the laptop indicating what you thought the problem was, so they could troubleshoot it quickly. Despite the email systems, ticket numbers and all the forms filled up, that information does not seem to get to the technician actually doing the job.

I also learned that laptops came from many sources, including those that revenue officers had used before, and after loading, was tested to make sure it was working. From the time they left the depot to the time they reached the site, there seemed to be lots of mishaps.

Of 4 IRS provided laptops for the 2008 Tax Season, 3 of them were returned for replacements. The above was the reason for one of them. The other two needed to be returned because one had seen so much use that the keys were worn out, and unusable by hunt and peck typists and a battery that would not hold a charge; another one was returned because when turned on it could not find a system file and continue booting up.

It appears that because of the economy problems, IT and computer equipment budgets have been cut, and the depot is doing its best to refurbish and send out laptops as needed.

This may suggest that rather than asking for additional software to be imaged on IRS Depot Laptops, perhaps we should be looking for loaded software to be reduced.