In the Spring of 2019, I started a Valet (drop-off) service at my Lehigh Acres VITA Site using Taxslayer's Scan Document Pilot. Information on why and how I did it is below as well as my thoughts/results.
The Why: When I found out last Summer (2018) that our town was at about 100,000 in population but I had done only 700+ tax returns, I knew there were tons and tons of more people we could help. Problem is, the number I can help depends on how many volunteers I have and how many hours the volunteers can work. I had a phenomenal volunteer the previous year who, in April, on the day I asked asked if she would be a co-coordinator for me in the next tax season so I can open the site one extra day, she told me she was pregnant and due in January and wouldn't be able to volunteer. Bummer. So I thought of how I could utilize her, because she LOVES VITA as much as I do and was going to miss it, but couldn't come in--then I thought of doing a VALET service. When to do it? We were open every weeknight, but Tuesday, and all day Saturday--so I thought I would try it Tuesdays, during the day to see how it would go--figure out best procedures, etc.
Was it successful? Did you experience any challenges? I would say it was successful in that we didn't get word out until mid February that we were doing it--we had 27 people participate that first season and loved the service; I would have preferred more, but besides the one article in the local paper, we didn't advertise it anywhere. (This was a walk in, drop off service)
The following tax season(in 2020)..I continued the Tuesday walk-in drop off program, but then in March we had to shut down our site due to the pandemic. In May we re-opened the site as a drive-up twice a week drop-off site only AND we opened a drive-through drop off site in Fort Myers (for information on the Drive through program see the right column).
In Lehigh, we did not allow anyone in the building, instead we met them in the parking lot at their car. We scheduled appointments for drop-offs, 2 every 15 minutes. We no longer made copies but kept all the original documents and wrote down their Social Security Numbers on a Tax Return Cover Sheet. There were 3 of us working (2 that did intake at the car and one that did the scanning and uploading). We did this through July 15th. If they had a 2pm appointment on Tuesday to drop off their return, then they were to return the following Tuesday at 2pm to pick it up--we handed out half sheet flyers that said pick up the same day and time next week--with date written on it and had all my contact information on it. (We did about 380 returns this way working twice a week for 3 hours each day)
How it worked originally (after COVID)
We also brought the Valet program to our Downtown Ft Myers site as the volunteers there preferred a low-contact option to filing taxes. This was a twice a week walk-up drop off site outdoors, but this site was a little different than Lehigh's and Charlotte's because the tax preparers were on site preparing returns after the clients went through the complete intake process. Clients still returned a week later to pick up their taxes--copies were made of all the documents and nothing had to be scanned in to Taxslayer at this site. They happily completed 425 returns.
Here is a HOW To for the Scanned Program -click on image below
One of my terrific volunteers car-side for Valet service
IRS Consent Form 14446 Required for Valet and Virtual Tax Preparation https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14446.pdf
Drive-Through Drop off Service-Ft Myers
2020--In Ft Myersat our Main UW site , we did a program similar to what I started in Lehigh (on left). However this was a Drive-thru drop off site-(the building had a driveway that circled the building). We had 3 appointments scheduled every 15 minutes.
2021-Before this tax season opened, we surveyed our volunteers
and found there were many of them who did not feel comfortable coming back and working face-to-face with clients, even with limited contact, but they wanted to participate. So we turned our Ft Myers site into a 100% drive-through drop-off site. Twice a week we had volunteers from several sites who did not want client contact, work together in the large conference room--volunteers that did not mind limited contact worked carside/outdoors. We had a lot of volunteers who wanted to work at this site--and we needed them. We processed a little over 900 returns this way.
Our Sanibel Island site met with clients every couple of weeks, collecting tax documents and bringing them to the Main UW site to be processed by the volunteers there.
Scanners for VALET program: On the Vita Listserv a question about what scanners were being used, which ones were recommended and which we should stay away from came up. Here are the results of that discussion: (these are opinions of others)
1. From VITA Loveland Inc. We have been using ScanSnap iX500 scanners for the past few years with no complaints. They’re fast and the file-saving interface is quite good.
2. UW Tuscon: We use Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i scanners. Highly recommend. They're portable, fairly rugged, capable of duplex (front/back) scanning, and extremely user-friendly (one button: "scan"). You can take a look at our Valet VITA Toolkit here, which provides more information about the Valet VITA process, including configuration of the ScanSnap software
3. I’ve been using Fujitsu scanners (the fi-6130Z model) for a number of years. I noticed Fujitsu scanners used at doctor’s offices and hospital intake areas. All speak of their reliability. What’s important to me is scanners
that feed multiple sheets; so no flatbed scanners
the ability to save file as a PDF
4. From Community Taxaid: For our program last year, we set up to scan directly into a secure Google Drive with each scanned document being password protected.
We used multifunction printers: Brother MCFL-2750DW
5. I like the Brother Multi Function printer/scanner/copiers but make sure you check to confirm that firmware is up-gradable and for how long. This may not be an issue YET for VITA but will be in the future. It is also a REALLY good idea and will probably become increasingly important for security reasons to find a device that will scan directly to where you want it to scan ie say scan to TSO, or scan to a specific Dropbox, or....where ever.
With the volume at your site you really want some thing that has a feeder tray that works NOT a single sheet feeder. Drivers license & ss cards are more easily scanned by placing them in a sheet protector - they are even often readable using this method.
I'm using a Brother MFC 2700DW BUT honestly don't know about its viability going forward in regards to the firmware up-gradability and the resulting security issues.
AND I have not been able to figure out how to scan directly to TSO or a Dropbox link as I can with some of the singe sheet feeders- which makes my Brother a potential security issue.
Spotlight: Alternative Tax Prep Options Page Live!
In light of the many VITA/TCE site closures, the Taxpayer Opportunity Network created the Alternative Tax Prep Options page to help create a single hub of tools and resources to help expand your program service beyond face-to-face interaction. This living resource page includes topics such as drop-off, facilitated self-assistance, and virtual options including virtual intake and presentations from our field experts. These resources also include implementation guides for your programs and a FSA portal for your clients to file directly.
As a living resource page, the Taxpayer Opportunity Network team will be working diligently to update it with the most up-to-date resources as they become available. With the formalization of the stimulus package and the taxpayers at its center, the community tax preparation field will be vital to ensure the financial stability for low- and moderate-income taxpayers. Please check out our page and stay tuned to our mailings for updates!
From UW Cincinnati--their procedures
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note: I, Mary Meador, AM NOT a certified accountant or tax law expert. I volunteer with VITA providing free tax preparation for individuals and families whose income is less than $66,000 a year. We deal with simple returns at our sites. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of all the information on this site as tax laws change and I may not have a clear understanding of complicated issues. I am trying to provide basic tax preparation information for our volunteers to get started--remember Publication 4012 is your go-to resource for questions, as well as irs.gov and Publication 17. I hope you find this information useful and easy to understand. Thanks for being a VITA/TCE volunteer!