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Federal Free Printable Publication 4961 (10-2020) for 2021 Federal VITA/TCE Volunteer Standards of Conduct – Ethics Training

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VITA/TCE Volunteer Standards of Conduct – Ethics Training
Publication 4961 (10-2020)

4961 VITA/TCE Volunteer Standards of Conduct – Ethics Training Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) / Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) 2020 RETURNS Take your VITA/TCE training online at www.irs.gov (keyword: Link & Learn Taxes). Link to the Practice Lab to gain experience using tax software and take the certification test online, with immediate scoring and feedback. Publication 4961 (Rev. 10-2020) Catalog Number 58618U Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service www.irs.gov How to Get Technical Updates? Updates to the volunteer training materials will be contained in Publication 4491-X, VITA/TCE Training Supplement. The most recent version can be downloaded at: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4491x.pdf Volunteer Standards of Conduct VITA/TCE Programs The mission of the VITA/TCE return preparation programs is to assist eligible taxpayers in satisfying their tax responsibilities by providing free tax return preparation. To establish the greatest degree of public trust, volunteers are required to maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct and provide quality service. Annually all VITA/TCE volunteers (whether paid or unpaid) must pass the Volunteer Standards of Conduct (VSC) certification test and agree that they will adhere to the VSC by signing and dating Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement, prior to volunteering at a VITA/TCE site. In addition, return preparers, quality reviewers, site coordinators, and tax law instructors must certify in Intake/Interview and Quality Review. Volunteers who answer tax law questions, instruct tax law classes, prepare or correct tax returns, or conduct quality reviews of completed returns must also certify in tax law prior to signing the form. Form 13615 is not valid until the sponsoring partner’s approving official (site coordinator, instructor, administrator, etc.) or IRS contact confirms the volunteer’s identity with a government-issued photo identification (ID) and signs and dates the form. As a volunteer in the VITA/TCE Programs, you must: 1. Follow the Quality Site Requirements (QSR). 2. Not accept payment, solicit donations, or accept refund payments for federal or state tax return preparation from customers. 3. Not solicit business from taxpayers you assist or use the information you gained about them for any direct or indirect personal benefit for you or any other specific individual. 4. Not knowingly prepare false returns. 5. Not engage in criminal, infamous, dishonest, notoriously disgraceful conduct, or any other conduct deemed to have a negative effect on the VITA/TCE Programs. 6. Treat all taxpayers in a professional, courteous, and respectful manner. Failure to comply with these standards could result in, but is not limited to, the following: • • • • Your removal from all VITA/TCE Programs; Inclusion in the IRS Volunteer Registry to bar future VITA/TCE activity indefinitely; Deactivation of your sponsoring partner’s site VITA/TCE EFIN (electronic filing ID number); Removal of all IRS products, supplies, loaned equipment, and taxpayer information from your site; • Termination of your sponsoring organization’s partnership with the IRS; • Termination of grant funds from the IRS to your sponsoring partner; and • Referral of your conduct for potential TIGTA and criminal investigations. TaxSlayer® is a copyrighted software program owned by Rhodes Computer Services. All screen shots that appear throughout the official Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) training materials are used with the permission of Rhodes Computer Services. Confidentiality Statement: All tax information you receive from taxpayers in your volunteer capacity is strictly confidential and should not, under any circumstances, be disclosed to unauthorized individuals. Volunteer Standards of Conduct (Ethics) Training Introduction The integrity of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs depends on maintaining public trust. All taxpayers using VITA/TCE services should be confident they are receiving accurate return preparation and quality service. All volunteers are responsible for providing the highest quality and best service to taxpayers. Along with this responsibility, all volunteers must sign and date Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement each year, stating they will uphold the highest ethical standards including comply with the Quality Site Requirements (QSR). Furthermore, all IRS Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication (IRS-SPEC) Partners must sign either Form 13533, Sponsor Agreement or Form 13533-A, FSA Remote Sponsor Agreement, certifying they will adhere to the strictest standards of ethical conduct. By signing this agreement, the sponsor agrees to make certain their volunteers are aware of the standards of conduct and privacy and the key principles of confidentiality. New volunteers must complete the Volunteer Standards of Conduct (VSC) Training. Returning volunteers are encouraged to review the VSC Training as a refresher. All VITA/TCE volunteers must pass a VSC certification test with a score of 80% or higher. The VSC Training will provide: • An explanation of the six Volunteer Standards of Conduct defined on Form 13615 • Information on how to report possible violations • Consequences of failure to adhere to the program requirements • Examples of situations that raise questions on ethical behavior • An overview of the components included in a complete Intake/Interview & Quality Review Process Why do we have Ethics Training? During past filing seasons, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and IRS-SPEC discovered unacceptable practices at a few VITA/TCE sites. In response to these issues, IRS-SPEC enhanced the Volunteer Standards of Conduct. The intent is to provide guidance and a structure for regulating VITA/TCE volunteers and to protect taxpayers. When unscrupulous volunteers intentionally ignore the law, it compromises the integrity of the VITA/TCE programs and the public’s trust. Unfortunately, due to the actions of a few, the VITA/TCE programs’ integrity and trust have been tested. In these cases, IRS-SPEC can and does take appropriate actions against the partners and volunteers involved. IRS-SPEC is ultimately responsible for oversight of the VITA/TCE programs. The agency often receives complaints from taxpayers, partners, and congressional members when assessment notices are issued. IRS-SPEC researches and responds to all inquiries, but ultimately it is the partner’s/sponsor’s responsibility to take corrective actions. Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 1 Objectives What do I need? At the end of this lesson, using your reference materials, you will be able to: • List the six Volunteer Standards of Conduct • Describe unethical behavior and how to use the external referral process to report unethical behavior • Identify consequences for failing to comply with the standards • Explain how volunteers are protected • List the basic steps volunteers are required to use during the Intake/ Interview & Quality Review Process □ Form 13614-C, Intake/ Interview & Quality Review Sheet □ Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement □ Publication 1084, IRS Volunteer Site Coordinator Handbook □ Publication 4299, Privacy, Confidentiality, and Civil Rights – A Public Trust □ Publication 5101, Intake/ Interview & Quality Review Training Unethical Defined □ Publication 5088, Site Coordinator Training IRS-SPEC defines unethical as not conforming to agreed standards of moral conduct, especially within a particular profession. In most cases, unethical behavior is acted upon with the intent to disregard the established laws, procedures, or set policies. Do not confuse an unethical action with a lack of knowledge or a simple mistake. example If volunteer Mary prepares a return, which includes a credit the taxpayer does not qualify for because Mary did not understand the law, Mary did not act unethically. However, if Mary knowingly allowed a credit for which the taxpayer did not qualify, Mary committed an unethical act and violated the Volunteer Standards of Conduct. Volunteer Standards of Conduct (VSC) Often volunteers face ethical issues, which arise in unexpected situations requiring quick decisions and good judgment. In many cases, the volunteer will react to unusual situations and not realize until after the fact that an ethical dilemma occurred. The Volunteer Standards of Conduct were developed specifically for the operation of free tax preparation programs. Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement – VITA/TCE programs, applies to all conduct and ethical behavior affecting the VITA/TCE programs. Volunteers must agree to adhere to the standards prior to working in a VITA/TCE free return preparation site. All participants in the VITA/TCE Programs must adhere to these Volunteer Standards of Conduct: 1. Follow the Quality Site Requirements (QSR). 2. Not accept payment, solicit donations, or accept refund payments for federal or state tax return preparation from customers. 3. Not solicit business from taxpayers you assist or use the information you gained about them for any direct or indirect personal benefit for you or any other specific individual. 4. Not knowingly prepare false returns. 5. Not engage in criminal, infamous, dishonest, notoriously disgraceful conduct, or any other conduct deemed to have a negative effect on the VITA/TCE Programs. 6. Treat all taxpayers in a professional, courteous, and respectful manner. 2 Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 1. Follow the ten Quality Site Requirements (QSR). All taxpayers using the services offered through the VITA/TCE programs should be confident they are receiving accurate return preparation and quality service. The purpose of QSR is to ensure VITA/TCE sites are using consistent site operating procedures that will ultimately assist with the accuracy of volunteer prepared returns. Non-adherence to the Quality Site Requirements only become violations of the VSC if volunteers refuse to comply with the QSR. If the problem is corrected, it is not a violation of the VSC. See Publication 5166, VITA & TCE Quality Site Requirements, for a full description of each QSR. The ten QSR are briefly described below: QSR#1, Certification New volunteers must complete the VSC Training. Returning volunteers are encouraged to review the VSC Training as a refresher. All VITA/TCE volunteers must pass a VSC certification test with a score of 80% or higher. Volunteers who answer tax law questions, instruct tax law classes, prepare or correct tax returns, or conduct quality reviews of completed tax returns must be certified in tax law and Intake/Interview & Quality Review Process. At a minimum, all VITA/TCE instructors must be certified at the Advanced level or higher (based on the level of tax topics taught). At a minimum, quality reviewers must be certified to the Basic certification level or higher (including the specialty levels) based on the complexity of the tax return. Volunteers who serve as quality reviewers are encouraged to review Publication 5299, VITA/TCE Quality Review Refresher, and Publication 5310, VITA/TCE Tax Return Quality Review Job Aid. New volunteers in positions that require tax law certification must take the Intake/Interview & Quality Review Training by reviewing Publication 5101, Intake/Interview & Quality Review Training. Returning volunteers are encouraged to review Publication 5101 as a refresher. All tax law-certified volunteers and site coordinators are required to pass the Intake/Interview & Quality Review certification test with a score of 80% or higher. All coordinators and alternate coordinators are strongly encouraged to complete the Site Coordinator Training prior to the site opening. This includes reviewing Publication 5088, Site Coordinator Training and Publication 1084, VITA/TCE Volunteer Site Coordinator Handbook. In addition, coordinators should review Publication 4299, Privacy, Confidentiality, and Civil Rights, - A Public Trust to familiarize themselves with the security requirements at the sites. Publication 5088 training course is available on Link & Learn Taxes, IRS.gov, or from your SPEC Relationship Manager. All coordinators and alternate coordinators are now required to certify by passing the Site Coordinator Test with a score of 80% or higher prior to working at a site. This new certification test is available on Link & Learn Taxes or IRS paper test, Form 6744, VITA/TCE Volunteer Assistor’s Test/Retest. In addition, site coordinators are required to pass the Intake/Interview & Quality Review certification test even if they do not perform tasks that require tax law certification. SPEC offers the tax law certification Qualified Experienced Volunteer (QEV) Test that allows experienced VITA/TCE volunteers to certify on new provisions and tax law changes as well as more complex tax situations encountered at sites. Upon passing this test, volunteers will be considered certified at the Advanced level. Volunteers are not required to certify in Basic or Advanced before taking this test. This is an optional certification path. Experienced volunteers may choose the traditional certification path instead. SPEC puts no limit on the number of years of volunteer service required before taking this test. However, SPEC partners may have additional qualification requirements. Volunteers should check with the sponsoring partner to ensure they are qualified to take this test. Volunteers certifying only in this tax law certification are not eligible for Continuing Education Credits. Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 3 VITA/TCE volunteers covered under Treasury Department Circular No. 230, Regulations Governing Practice before the Internal Revenue Service, have the option to take the Federal Tax Law Update Test for Circular 230 Professionals as their tax law certification. These volunteers are required to certify in Volunteer Standards of Conduct and Intake/Interview & Quality Review prior to taking the Federal Tax Law Update Test for Circular 230 Professionals. In addition, if the volunteer covered by Circular 230 is going to perform the duties of a site coordinator, they are required to pass the new Site Coordinator Test with a score of 80% or higher. Circular 230 contains rules and regulations governing certain professionals (attorneys, certified public accountants, enrolled agents, etc.) representing taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service. Volunteers certifying only in this tax law certification are not eligible for Continuing Education Credits. For more information about volunteers with a professional status covered under Circular 230, see Publications 4396-A, Partner Resource Guide, and Publication 1084, Site Coordinator Handbook. SPEC established the minimum certification requirements for volunteers who are professionals authorized under Circular 230; however, partners may establish additional certification requirements for their volunteers. Volunteers should check with the sponsoring SPEC Partner. QSR#2, Intake/Interview & Quality Review Process All volunteer return preparation sites must use Form 13614-C, Intake/Interview & Quality Review Sheet, for every return prepared. It is a requirement for all IRS tax law-certified volunteers to use a complete intake and interview process when preparing tax returns. To promote accuracy, this process must include an interview with the taxpayer while reviewing and completing or correcting Form 13614-C prior to preparing the return. See Publication 5101, Intake/Interview & Quality Review Training, for detailed information on what qualifies as a complete intake and interview process. All volunteer prepared returns must be quality reviewed and discussed with the taxpayer. A quality review must include a discussion with the taxpayer and an explanation of the taxpayer’s responsibility for the accuracy of their tax return. Quality reviews should be conducted by a designated reviewer or by peer-to-peer review. SPEC encourages the quality reviewers to be experienced in tax law application. See Publication 5299, VITA/TCE Quality Review Refresher, for more information on the concepts of a complete quality review. QSR#2 requires that a complete Form 13614-C be used to prepare each tax return. All questions in Parts I-V must be answered including any applicable “To be completed by a Certified Volunteer Preparer” shaded area questions. QSR#3, Confirming Photo Identification and Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TIN) Site coordinators are required to have a process in place to confirm taxpayer identities. This process must include using acceptable documents to confirm taxpayer identities by reviewing: • Photo identification for primary and secondary taxpayers; and • Social Security Numbers (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) for everyone listed on the tax return. At a minimum, volunteers will validate taxpayers’ identities and identification numbers prior to preparing the tax return, before the return is transmitted electronically, or before a copy of the return is given to the taxpayer. Please check with your site coordinator or refer to Publication 4299, Privacy, Confidentiality, and Civil Rights – A Public Trust, for more information on what is considered an acceptable document for photo identification and/or what documents can be used to confirm TIN. Publication 4299 also provides exceptions for taxpayers known to the site. 4 Standards of Conduct (Ethics) QSR#4, Reference Materials All sites must have at least one copy (paper or electronic) of the following reference materials available for use by the IRS tax law-certified preparers and quality reviewers: • Publication 4012, Volunteer Resource Guide • Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals • Publication 4299, Privacy, Confidentiality, and Civil Rights – A Public Trust • Volunteer Tax Alerts and Quality Site Requirement Alerts or AARP Cyber Tax Messages (AARP sites only) Site/local coordinators are required to have a process in place to ensure all Volunteer Tax Alerts or AARP Cyber Tax Messages have been reviewed and discussed with all volunteers, within five days after IRS issuance. QSR#5, Volunteer Agreement All volunteers (coordinators, certified volunteer preparers, quality reviewers, greeters, screeners, client facilitators, etc.) are required to complete the Volunteer Standards of Conduct (VSC) certification, annually. This includes signing and dating Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement –VITA/TCE programs, agreeing to follow the VSC. In addition, Form 13615 is required to be certified (signed and dated) by the partner’s approving official. This approving official can be the coordinator, sponsoring partner official, instructor or IRS contact, as designated by the partner. This validates the partner’s approving official has verified the volunteer’s identity, the volunteer has completed the required IRS certification test(s), and the volunteer has signed and dated Form 13615 before the volunteer is permitted to work at the site. The approving official is required to validate volunteers’ identities using government-issued identification, when reviewing and signing Forms 13615. Volunteers’ identities must be verified prior to any volunteers’ participation in the VITA/TCE program. Government-issued identification (ID) includes valid driver’s license (U.S.), state ID (U.S.), Military ID, national ID, visa, Global Entry ID or passport. Coordinators can make exceptions to use official high school identification for students volunteering at or for an official VITA/TCE High School Program. The name on Form 13615 must match both the name on the government-issued photo ID and the volunteer’s name added to TaxSlayer or other tax preparation software. The use of nicknames in the tax preparation software is not allowed. Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement - VITA/TCE programs, now includes a signature line for parents and/or guardians, to grant permission for their minor children to volunteer in the VITA/TCE programs. Exception: Parents and/or guardians will not be required to sign Form 13615 for their minor children if the VITA/TCE High School-based Program has an alternative consent requirement. Greeters or client facilitators that will not answer tax law questions are only required to certify in the Volunteer Standards of Conduct. Site coordinators who prepare tax returns, provide tax law assistance, correct rejected returns, or quality review tax returns must certify in tax law to the level required for the complexity of the returns. If they do NOT perform any of these duties, they are not required to certify in tax law, as shown by the dotted line in the certification paths chart. Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 5 *Federal Tax Law Update Test for Circular 230 Professionals QSR#6, Timely Filing All sites must have a process in place to ensure every return is electronically filed or delivered to the taxpayer for paper filing their own return in a timely manner. QSR#7, Civil Rights Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 information must be displayed or provided to taxpayers at the first point of contact between the IRS tax-law certified volunteer and the taxpayer even if a return is not completed. QSR#8, Site Identification Number It is critical that the correct Site Identification Number (SIDN) is reported on all returns prepared by VITA/TCE sites. QSR#9, Electronic Filing Identification Number The correct Electronic Filing Identification Number (EFIN) is required to be used on every tax return prepared. QSR#10, Security All security, privacy, and confidentiality guidelines as outlined in Publication 4299, Privacy, Confidentiality, and Civil Rights – A Public Trust, are required to be followed. A copy (paper or electronic) of this publication must be available at every site and used when referring to security, privacy, confidentiality, and civil rights . Publication 4299 serves as the resource document for providing guidance on securing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) shared by taxpayers, volunteers, and partners as well as guidance on protecting the privacy of taxpayers’, volunteers’, and partners’ PII. 6 Standards of Conduct (Ethics) For additional information on Quality Site Requirements, refer to Publication 5166, Quality Site Requirements. 2. Do not accept payment, solicit donations, or accept refund payments for federal or state tax return preparation from customers. “Free” means we do not accept compensation for our services from the clients we serve. Therefore, we do not want to confuse the taxpayer by asking for donations. Donation or tip jars located in the return preparation or taxpayer waiting area are a violation of this standard. A client may offer payment, but always refuse with a smile and say something like, “Thank you, but we cannot accept payment for our services.” If someone insists, recommend cookies or donuts for the site. Taxpayers can make cash donations to the sponsoring organization, but not in the tax preparation area. Refer taxpayers who are interested in making cash donations to the appropriate website or to the site coordinator for more information. example You finish a time-consuming return and the client is very grateful. On her way out, the client stops by and tries to sneak a $20 bill in your pocket, saying, “I would have paid ten times that at the preparer across the street.” Return the money and explain that you cannot accept money for doing taxes, but the center may appreciate a donation which can be made at the center’s downtown office or via their website. Donation or tip jars can be placed in another area at the site as long as that area does not give the impression that the site is collecting the funds for return preparation. This cannot be in the entry, waiting, tax preparation, or quality review areas. Taxpayers’ federal or state refunds must not be deposited into VITA/TCE volunteers’ or any associated partners’ personal or business bank/debit card accounts. Generally, VITA/TCE sites should only request direct deposit of a taxpayer’s refund into accounts bearing the taxpayer’s name. Some VITA/TCE volunteers receive compensation from their employer or a sponsoring organization for working at a VITA/TCE site. This is not considered receiving payment from the customer and is therefore not a violation to this VSC. 3. Do not solicit business from taxpayers you assist or use the knowledge gained about them (their information) for any direct or indirect personal benefit for yourself or any other specific individual. As a volunteer, you must properly use and safeguard taxpayers’ personal information. Furthermore, do not use confidential or nonpublic information to engage in financial transactions, and do not allow its improper use to further your own or another person’s private interests. example You are a volunteer preparer and an accountant. You cannot solicit business from the taxpayer. example You are the site’s greeter. Your daughter asks you to take candy orders at the site for her school fundraiser. You explain to her that as a VITA/TCE volunteer you cannot solicit personal business. Keep taxpayer and tax return information confidential. A volunteer preparer may discuss information with other volunteers at the site, but only for purposes of preparing the return. Do not use taxpayer information for your personal or business use. Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 7 example Your primary business includes selling health insurance policies. During the interview, you find out the taxpayer lost access to health insurance in January of the current year. You cannot offer to sell the taxpayer health insurance through your business. Securing consent There will be some instances when taxpayers will allow their personal information to be used other than for return preparation. Under Internal Revenue Code § 7216, all volunteer sites using or disclosing taxpayer data for purposes other than current, prior, or ubsequent year tax return preparation must secure a consent from the taxpayer. There are several types of consents: Global Carry Forward Consent; Relational EFIN Consent; Use and Disclosure Consents. The site coordinator will have a process in place if consents are required at your VITA/TCE site. Exceptions to required consents Volunteer sites that use or disclose the total number of returns (refunds or credits) prepared for their taxpayers at their site (aggregate data) for fundraising, marketing, and publicity are not required to secure taxpayers’ consent. This information cannot include any Personally Identifiable Information (PII), such as the taxpayer’s name, SSN/ITIN, address or other personal information, and does not disclose cells containing data from fewer than ten tax returns. This exception does not apply to the use or disclosure in marketing or advertising of statistical compilations containing or reflecting dollar amounts of refunds, credits, rebates, or related percentages. IRC 7216(a) - Imposes criminal penalties on tax return preparers who knowingly or recklessly make unauthorized disclosures or uses of information furnished in connection with the preparation of an income tax return. A violation of IRC 7216 is a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of up to one year imprisonment or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both, together with the cost of prosecution. For additional information on IRC 7216 required consents, refer to Publication 4299, Privacy, Confidentiality, and Civil Rights – A Public Trust. 4. Do not knowingly prepare false returns. It is imperative that volunteers correctly apply tax law to the taxpayer’s situation. While a volunteer may be tempted to bend the law to help taxpayers, this will cause problems later for the taxpayer. Volunteers must not knowingly prepare false returns. Trust in the IRS and the local sponsoring organization is jeopardized when ethical standards are not followed. Fraudulent returns can result in many years of taxpayer interaction with the IRS. The taxpayer may be required to pay additional tax, plus interest and penalties, resulting in an extreme burden. In addition, the taxpayer may seek damages under state or local law from the SPEC Partner for the volunteer’s fraudulent actions. Even so, the IRS would still seek payment of the additional taxes, interest, and penalties from the taxpayer. example A volunteer preparer told the taxpayer that cash income does not need to be reported. The return was completed without the cash income. The quality reviewer simply missed this omission and the return was printed, signed, and e-filed. The volunteer preparer has violated this standard. However, since the quality reviewer did not knowingly allow this return to be e-filed incorrectly, the quality reviewer did not violate this standard. Remember not to confuse an unethical action with a lack of knowledge or a simple mistake. 8 Standards of Conduct (Ethics) example A volunteer prepares a fraudulent return by knowingly claiming an ineligible dependent. The taxpayer received a notice from IRS disallowing the dependent and assessing additional taxes, interest, and penalties. The taxpayer may seek money from the SPEC Partner, but must still pay the IRS the additional taxes, interest, and penalties. Hardship on the taxpayer For a low-income taxpayer, it could be impossible to make full payment and recover from return fraud. If full payment is not received, the taxpayer will receive several demand notices. If full payment is still not received, the taxpayer will be sent through the IRS collection process. This could also involve the filing of a tax lien that will affect the taxpayer’s credit report, or a levy (garnishment) on their bank accounts and/or wages. The taxpayer may be eligible for an installment agreement, but it could take several years to pay the IRS debt. example A taxpayer’s return fraudulently contains the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The taxpayer has already received the refund when an audit notice is issued. During the audit, the taxpayer cannot provide documentation to support the EITC claim. The taxpayer is disallowed $3,000 in EITC and now has a balance due of over $4,000, including penalties and interest. This amount reflects only the EITC disallowance. An additional disallowance of the Head of Household (HOH) filing status and Child Tax Credit (CTC) could generate a balance of over $6,000. Identity Theft Nationwide, identity theft continues to grow at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, there have been instances of unscrupulous volunteers using information they have obtained at a VITA/TCE site to steal the identity of taxpayers. For example, using a stolen SSN to file a false tax return to obtain the refund is a form of identity theft. Any suspicion of identity theft occurring at a VITA/TCE site will be reported to IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). The IRS considers this a very serious crime and has put measures in place to detect possible identity theft situations at VITA/TCE sites. The IRS is continually implementing new processes for handling returns, new filters to detect fraud, new initiatives to partner with stakeholders, and a continued commitment to investigate the criminals who perpetrate these crimes. example Jane, an IRS tax law-certified volunteer, is working at a VITA site on the first day the site is open. She has volunteered to electronically file the tax returns for the site to help out the site coordinator. Therefore, she has been given the needed permission level in the tax preparation software. That day, Joe, the site coordinator, opens the locked VITA file cabinet and discovers an e-file acceptance report he forgot to destroy from the previous year. He asks Jane to take the report down the hall to the shredder because it has several SSNs listed. Jane puts the report in her purse without Joe’s knowledge. Later that night at home, Jane opens the VITA tax preparation software and prepares falsified tax returns for the eight SSNs listed on the report she took from the VITA site that morning. She makes sure the returns all have high refunds. Jane puts her own bank account information in the direct deposit fields and electronically files the returns. Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 9 example (continued) Jane has stolen the identity of these eight taxpayers by preparing false federal tax returns to steal the refunds. Jane will soon discover SPEC has a system that extracts information pertaining to tax returns filed through the VITA/TCE Programs where multiple tax refunds are being deposited into a single bank account. Jane’s actions will be reported to IRS CI and TIGTA. 5. Do not engage in criminal, infamous, dishonest, notoriously disgraceful conduct, or any other conduct deemed to have a negative effect on the VITA/TCE programs. Volunteers may be prohibited from participating in VITA/TCE programs if they engage (past and current) in criminal, infamous, dishonest, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, or any other conduct prejudicial to the government. Take care to avoid interactions that discredit the program. In addition, a taxpayer may look to state or local law to seek money from the SPEC Partner for a volunteer’s fraudulent actions. If you have information indicating that another volunteer has engaged in criminal conduct or violated any of the Volunteer Standards of Conduct, immediately report such information to your site coordinator and email IRS at [email protected] Allowing an unauthorized alien to volunteer at a VITA/TCE site is prohibited. An “unauthorized alien” is defined as an alien not lawfully admitted into the United States. All volunteers participating in the VITA/TCE programs must reside in the United States legally. Site coordinators are required to ask for proof of identity with a government-issued photo ID for each volunteer. However, site coordinators or partners are not required to validate the legal status of volunteers. Therefore, by signing Form 13615, volunteers are certifying that they are legal residents. Consequences Volunteers performing egregious activities are barred from volunteering for VITA/TCE programs and may be added to a registry of barred volunteers. The taxpayer is liable for any tax deficiency resulting from fraud, along with interest and penalties, and may seek money from the preparer and the SPEC Partner. example A partner’s program director was convicted of embezzling funds from an unrelated organization. The program director’s criminal conduct created negative publicity for the partner. The partner was removed from the VITA/TCE Programs. example A taxpayer’s refund was stolen by a volunteer return preparer at a VITA site. The taxpayer sought monetary damages from the SPEC Partner for the volunteer’s fraudulent actions. The volunteer preparer was banned from volunteering in the VITA/TCE programs. 10 Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 6. Treat all taxpayers in a professional, courteous, and respectful manner. To protect the public interest, the IRS and its employees, partners, and volunteers must maintain the confidence and esteem of the people we serve. All volunteers are expected to conduct themselves professionally in a courteous, businesslike, and diplomatic manner. Volunteers take pride in assisting hard-working men and women who come to VITA/TCE sites for return preparation. Taxpayers are often under a lot of stress and may wait extended periods for assistance. Volunteers may also experience stress due to the volume of taxpayers needing service. This situation can make patience run short. It is important to remain calm and create a peaceful and friendly atmosphere. example You finish a difficult return for Millie, who has self-employment income, several expenses, and very few records. In addition, her son turned 25 and moved out early in the year. She owes the IRS about $50. After you carefully explain the return, Millie sputters, “You don’t know what you’re doing. I always get a refund! My neighbor is self-employed and she got $1,900 back.” In this situation, you should take a deep breath and courteously explain that every return is different. If necessary, involve the site coordinator. Taxpayer Civil Rights In accordance with federal law and the Department of the Treasury - Internal Revenue Service policy, discrimination against taxpayers on the basis of race, color, national origin (including Limited English Proficiency), disability, sex (in education programs or activities), age or reprisal is prohibited in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Taxpayers with a disability may require a reasonable accommodation in order to participate or receive the benefits of a program or activity funded or supported by the Department of the Treasury – Internal Revenue Service. A reasonable accommodation is any change made in a business environment that allows persons with disabilities equal access to programs and activities. Taxpayers with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) may require language assistance services in order to participate or receive the benefits of a program or activity funded or supported by the Internal Revenue Service. Language assistance services may include oral interpretation and written translation, where necessary. Site coordinators at federally assisted sites are responsible for ensuring that reasonable requests for accommodation are granted when the requests are made by qualified individuals with disabilities and that reasonable steps are taken to ensure that LEP persons have meaningful access to its programs or activities. For additional guidance, please visit the Site Coordinator Corner on IRS.gov and review the Fact Sheets on Reasonable Accommodation and Limited English Proficiency. If a taxpayer believes that he or she has been discriminated against, a written complaint should be sent to the Department of the Treasury - Internal Revenue Service at the following address: Operations Director, Civil Rights Division Internal Revenue Service, Room 2413 1111 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20224 For all inquiries concerning taxpayer civil rights, contact the Civil Rights Division at the address referenced above, or e-mail [email protected] Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 11 Due Diligence By law, tax return preparers are required to exercise due diligence in preparing or assisting in the preparation of tax returns. IRS-SPEC defines due diligence as the degree of care and caution reasonably expected from, and ordinarily exercised by, a volunteer in the VITA/TCE programs. This means, as a volunteer, you must do your part when preparing or quality reviewing a tax return to ensure the information on the return is correct and complete. Doing your part includes confirming a taxpayer’s (and spouse’s, if applicable) identity and providing top-quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities. Generally, IRS certified volunteers may rely in good faith on information from a taxpayer without requiring documentation as verification. However, part of due diligence requires volunteers to ask a taxpayer to clarify information that may appear to be inconsistent or incomplete. When reviewing information for its accuracy, volunteers need to ask themselves if the information is unusual or questionable. Make an effort to find the answer When in doubt: • Seek assistance from the site coordinator • Seek assistance from a tax preparer with more experience • Reschedule/suggest the taxpayer come back when a more experienced tax preparer is available • Reference/research publications (i.e. Publication 17, Publication 4012, Publication 596, etc.) • Research www.irs.gov for the answer • Call the VITA/TCE Hotline at 1-800-829-VITA (8482) • Research the Interactive Tax Assistance (ITA) on www.irs.gov to address tax law issues • Advise taxpayers to seek assistance from a professional tax preparer If at any time a volunteer becomes uncomfortable with the information and/or documentation provided by a taxpayer, the volunteer should not prepare the tax return. Failure to Comply with the Volunteer Standards of Conduct Who enforces the standards? Because the U.S. tax system is based on voluntary compliance, taxpayers are able to compute their own tax liability. Most taxpayers compute their tax accurately, but at times unscrupulous taxpayers and preparers evade the system by filing fraudulent returns. For this reason, some sponsoring organizations may perform background checks on their volunteers. The VITA/TCE programs are operated by sponsoring partners and/or coalitions outside the IRS. However, IRS is responsible for the oversight of these programs. Generally, volunteers are selected by partners and not by the IRS. A volunteer tax preparer serves an important role. In fact, SPEC Partners and their volunteers are the most valuable resources in the volunteer tax preparation program. IRS has the responsibility for providing oversight to protect the VITA/TCE programs’ integrity and maintain taxpayer confidence. IRS-SPEC recognizes its volunteers’ hard work and does not want it overshadowed by a volunteer’s lapse in judgment. 12 Standards of Conduct (Ethics) How are the standards enforced? To maintain confidence in VITA/TCE programs, IRS-SPEC enhanced Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement. The intent is to provide guidance to volunteers and a structure for regulating ethical standards. By signing and dating Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement, volunteers agree that they will adhere to the VSC. If conduct violating the standards occurs at a VITA/TCE site, IRS-SPEC will recommend corrective actions. If the site cannot or will not remedy the conduct, then IRS-SPEC will discontinue its relationship and remove any government property from the site. In cases of wrongdoing, illegal conduct, and/or management practices that violate the VSC, IRS-SPEC may terminate a VITA/TCE grant. A volunteer’s conduct could put a site or partner in jeopardy of losing its government funding. What if an unethical situation is discovered at a site? If volunteers, site coordinators, or taxpayers identify potential problems at the partner, site, or volunteer level that they feel may require additional, independent scrutiny, they should report these issues using the external referral process (VolTax) by emailing [email protected] SPEC employees and managers who identify unethical behavior or violations to the VSC will use an internal referral process. Volunteer’s role in reporting questionable activity Honest taxpayers and tax preparers preserve the tax system’s integrity. To sustain confidence in the VITA/ TCE Programs, you should report violations that raise substantial questions about another volunteer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a tax preparer. Taxpayers and tax preparers who violate tax law are subject to civil and criminal penalties. Any person who willfully aids or assists in, or procures, counsels, or advises the preparation or presentation of a materially false or fraudulent return is subject to criminal punishment. IRS-SPEC will refer violations to the IRS Criminal Investigation Division or the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. You can report a violation by emailing [email protected] Site Coordinator’s Responsibility If a site coordinator determines a volunteer has violated the Volunteer Standards of Conduct, the site coordinator needs to immediately remove the volunteer from all site activities and deactivate their access to tax preparation software. In addition, notify both the partner and IRS-SPEC with the details of the violation. The site coordinator can notify IRS-SPEC by either contacting their SPEC Relationship Manager or using the external referral process (VolTax). If the site coordinator contacts the territory, the territory will use the internal referral process to elevate the referral to headquarters. It is critical that SPEC Headquarters be notified as quickly as possible of any potential misconduct by any volunteers to preserve the integrity of the VITA/TCE Programs. example While reading the newspaper, Violet, the site coordinator at Pecan Public Library, learns that one of her volunteers, Dale, was arrested for identity theft. The article indicates Dale has been using other people’s identities to apply for credit cards and then using these cards for unauthorized purchases. Violet sends an e-mail to [email protected] with the details from the news article and deactivates Dale’s access to the tax preparation software. When the site opens the next day, Violet pulls Dale aside and advises him that he cannot work at the site due to his arrest on identity theft charges. Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 13 External Referral Process The external referral process (VolTax) provides taxpayers, volunteers, site coordinators, and others an avenue to report potential unethical problems encountered at VITA/TCE sites. Volunteers and taxpayers can send an e-mail to [email protected] The e-mail address is available in: • Publication 4836 (EN/SP), VITA and TCE Free Tax Preparation Program • Form 13614-C, Intake/Interview & Quality Review Sheet • Publication 730, Important Tax Records Envelope All VITA and TCE sites are required to display Publication 4836 (EN/SP), or D-143 for AARP sites, in a visible location to ensure taxpayer awareness of the ability to make a referral. It is critical that volunteers and taxpayers immediately report any suspicious or questionable behavior. The IRS will investigate the incidents reported to the email address to determine what events occurred and what actions need to be taken. In addition, your reported violations should be shared with your sponsoring partner and local SPEC Territory Office. Taxpayers and tax preparers who violate tax law are subject to civil and criminal penalties. Any person who willfully aids or assists in, procures, counsels, or advises the preparation of a false or fraudulent return is subject to criminal punishment. Volunteer Registry Volunteers and partners released from the VITA/TCE programs for egregious actions and willful violations of the Volunteer Standards of Conduct, can be added to the IRS-SPEC Volunteer Registry. The IRS-SPEC Director will determine if a volunteer or partner should be added to the registry. The purpose of the registry is to notify IRS-SPEC employees of volunteers and partners who were removed from the VITA/TCE programs. The registry will include partner or individual names, locations, and affiliated agency or sponsors. Volunteers and/or partners on this list are unable to participate in VITA/TCE programs indefinitely. Egregious actions include, but are not limited to, one or more of the following willful actions: • Creating harm to taxpayers, volunteers or IRS employees • Refusing to adhere to the Quality Site Requirements • Accepting payments for return preparation at VITA/TCE sites • Using taxpayer personal information for personal gain • Knowingly preparing false returns • Engaging in criminal, infamous, dishonest, notorious, disgraceful conduct • Any other conduct deemed to have a negative impact on the VITA/TCE programs 14 Standards of Conduct (Ethics) What is the impact on VITA/TCE programs? Unfortunately, one volunteer’s unethical behavior can cast a cloud of suspicion on the VITA/TCE programs as a whole. IRS-SPEC has closed tax sites due to unethical behavior, which left taxpayers without access to free tax preparation in their community. The consequences to the tax site or sponsoring organization may include: • Terminating the partnership between the IRS and the sponsoring organization • Discontinuing IRS support • Revoking or retrieving the sponsoring organization’s grant funds • Deactivating IRS Electronic Filing Identification Number (EFIN) • Removing all IRS products, supplies, and loaned equipment from the site • Removing all taxpayer information • Disallowing use of IRS logos What is the impact on taxpayers? A taxpayer is responsible for paying only the correct amount of tax due under the law. However, an incorrect return can cause a taxpayer financial stress. Although a return is accepted, it may not be accurate. Acceptance merely means the required fields are complete and that no duplicate returns exist. It is imperative to correctly apply the tax laws to the taxpayer’s situation. While a volunteer may be tempted to bend the law to help taxpayers, this will cause problems in the future. How might the taxpayer find relief? If tax collection would cause significant hardship, the taxpayer may be able to find relief. Significant hardship means serious deprivation, not simply economic or personal inconvenience to the taxpayer. In this case, collection action may stop, but interest and penalties will continue to accrue until the balance is paid in full. What if the taxpayer is not telling the truth? As described under VSC #4, the tax controversy process can be long and drawn-out. A volunteer who senses that a taxpayer is not telling the truth should not ignore it. Conduct a thorough interview to ensure there is no misunderstanding. If that does not resolve the matter, refer the taxpayer to the site coordinator. Remember, if a volunteer is not comfortable with the information provided from the taxpayer, the volunteer is not obligated to prepare the return. Taxpayer review and acknowledgement After the return is completed, an IRS tax law-certified volunteer must briefly discuss the filing status, exemptions, income, adjusted gross income, credits, taxes, payments, and the refund or balance due with the taxpayer. If the taxpayer has any questions, concerns, or requires additional clarification about the return, the volunteer must assist the taxpayer. If necessary, ask the site coordinator for assistance. Tax returns include the following disclosure statements: • For the Taxpayer: “Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this return and accompanying schedules and statements, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are true, correct, and complete.” • For the Preparer: “Declaration of preparer (other than the taxpayer) is based on all information of which preparer has any knowledge.” Volunteers must remind taxpayers that when they sign the return (either by signing Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return or signing Form 8879, IRS e-file Signature Authorization), they are stating under penalty of perjury that the return is accurate to the best of their knowledge. Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 15 Volunteer Protection Act Public Law 105-19, Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 (VPA) generally protects volunteers from liability for negligent acts they perform within the scope of their responsibilities in the organization for whom they volunteer. The VPA is not owned or written exclusively for Internal Revenue Service. This is a public law and relates to organizations that use volunteers to provide services. What is a volunteer? Under the VPA, a “volunteer” is an individual performing services for a nonprofit organization or a governmental entity (including as a director, officer, trustee, or direct service volunteer) who does not receive for these services more than $500 total in a year from the organization or entity as: • Compensation (other than reasonable reimbursement or allowance for expenses actually incurred), or • Any other thing of value in lieu of compensation Although an individual may not fall under the VPA definition of a “volunteer,” which means they may not be protected under the VPA, they are still considered volunteers by the VITA/TCE programs. To ensure protection, those who do not fit this VPA volunteer definition should seek advice from their sponsoring organization’s attorneys to determine liability protection rights. What does the VPA do? The purpose of the VPA is to promote the interests of social service program beneficiaries and taxpayers and to sustain the availability of programs, nonprofit organizations, and governmental entities that depend on volunteer contributions. It does this by providing certain protections from liability concerns for volunteers serving nonprofit organizations and governmental entities. The VPA protects volunteers from liabilities if they were acting within the scope of the program and harm was not caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed by the volunteer. The VPA does not protect conduct that is willful or criminal, grossly negligent, reckless, or conduct that constitutes a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed by the volunteer. Volunteers must only prepare returns that are within their tax law certification level, their site’s certification level, and the level of certification under the VITA/TCE programs. See the Scope of Service Chart in Publication 4012 for more information. In general, if volunteers are performing their responsibilities while adhering to the Volunteer Standards of Conduct, they are protected. However, local and state laws still must be considered. Sponsoring organizations should seek advice from their attorneys to determine how this law protects their volunteers. Instructions for Completing Training, Certification, and the VSC Agreement Before working at a VITA/TCE site, all volunteers must present a current-year VSC Agreement (Form 13615) to the sponsoring partner and/or site coordinator with the volunteer section completed, signed, and dated. When the volunteer signs Form 13615, they are agreeing to adhere to the VSC. Form 13615 is also used to capture the levels of certification the volunteer has achieved. Form 13615 is not valid until it is signed and dated by the sponsoring partner, site coordinator, instructor, or other partner-designated official after verifying the volunteer’s identity (with government-issued photo ID) and certification level. 16 Standards of Conduct (Ethics) Volunteers may view training and take the certification tests by using: • Link & Learn Taxes (preferred), OR • The following products, available for download at www.irs.gov: – Publication 4961, VITA/TCE Volunteer Standards of Conduct – Ethics Training – Publication 5101, Intake/Interview & Quality Review Training – Form 6744, Volunteer Assistor’s Test/Retest For more information on the certification levels and process, see Publication 4491, VITA/TCE Training Guide, Course Introduction or Link & Learn Taxes, Course Introduction. New volunteers are required to view the VSC Training before taking the VSC certification test. In addition, new volunteers planning to be a site coordinator or hold a position requiring tax law certification are also required to view the Intake/Interview & Quality Review Training before taking the associated certification test. All site coordinators and alternate coordinators are now required to certify by passing the Site Coordinator Test with a score of 80% or higher prior to working at a site. Volunteers using Link & Learn Taxes must: • Pass the VSC certification test with a score of 80% or higher. New volunteers must review the VSC Training prior to taking the certification test. The training is available in Link & Learn Taxes. • Complete the Intake/Interview & Quality Review certification and pass the appropriate tax law certification tests (Basic, Advanced, etc.) if preparing returns, performing quality review, or other position requiring tax law knowledge. New volunteers holding positions that require this certification must review the Intake/Interview & Quality Review Training (Publication 5101) prior to taking the certification test. The training is available in Link & Learn Taxes. • Check the Volunteer Agreement digital signature checkbox in Link & Learn Taxes acknowledging that Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement, has been read and agreed to. – Site coordinators not performing duties that require tax law certification must also pass the Intake/ Interview & Quality Review certification. – All coordinators and alternate coordinators are required to certify by passing the Site Coordinator Test with a score of 80% or higher prior to working at a site. – After each test, the Link & Learn system on VITA/TCE Central will add the letter “P” to Form 13615 indicating a passing score for the VSC Training and (if applicable) Intake/Interview & Quality Review certification and tax law certification levels. • Finish the form by completing the applicable fields (if missing): full name, home address, sponsoring partner name or site name, daytime phone number, e-mail address, volunteer position, and number of years volunteered. • Print and review the form and give the completed form to the partner-designated official or site coordinator. – The sponsoring partner’s approving official or site coordinator will verify your identity by using your government-issued photo identification, and certify by signing and dating the form. VSC and tax law certification can be completed by using Publication 4961, Form 6744, VITA/TCE Volunteers Assistor’s Test/Retest, or by using Link & Learn Taxes online. If Link & Learn Taxes is used, volunteers can certify by signing Form 13615 electronically after all required tests are completed with a passing score. Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 17 Volunteers using the paper test must: • Take the VSC certification test in Publication 4961 or Form 6744. New volunteers must review the VSC Training in Publication 4961 prior to taking the certification test. • Complete the Intake/Interview & Quality Review certification test in Form 6744 if they will be certifying in tax law or if they are a site coordinator. New volunteers must view the Intake/Interview & Quality Review Training (Publication 5101) prior to taking the certification test. • All coordinators and alternate coordinators are now required to certify by passing the Site Coordinator Test with a score of 80% or higher prior to working at a site. • Use Form 6744 to take and pass the appropriate tax law certification tests (Basic, Advanced, etc.) if they will be preparing returns, performing quality review, or other position requiring tax law testing. • Volunteers using the paper test to certify do not qualify for CE Credits. • Complete the volunteer section of Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement, by adding full name, home address, sponsoring partner name or site name, daytime phone number, e-mail address, volunteer position, and number of years volunteered. • Sign and date Form 13615. Instructors will: • Retrieve the Test Answer Key from Link and Learn Taxes after completing their own certification. • Use Publication 4961 to administer the VSC training and test. • Review Publication 5101, Intake/Interview & Quality Review Training when instructing new volunteers. This publication can be downloaded from www.irs.gov or secured from your SPEC Relationship Manager. • Use Form 6744 to administer the certification tests. • Provide any information that volunteers do not know, such as the partner name. • Mark “P” for the VSC and Intake/Interview & Quality Review tests, indicating passing scores. • Mark “P” for each appropriate tax law certification level indicating a passing score. • Return the form to each volunteer for their signature and date. • Use government-issued photo identification to verify the volunteer’s identity and certify by signing and dating Form 13615. • Provide additional processing instructions for the form. 18 Standards of Conduct (Ethics) Resolving Problems In general, the site coordinator is the first point of contact for resolving any problems that a volunteer may encounter. If a volunteer feels an ethical issue can’t be handled by the site coordinator, the volunteer should email IRS at [email protected] and/or contact the local IRS-SPEC Relationship Manager. The following chart lists common issues that a taxpayer may have and where they can be referred. Publication 5136, Service Guide, also may be helpful when a taxpayer has a question unrelated to tax preparation. Publication 5136 can be located at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p5136.pdf. For this type of issue: The appropriate action is: Individual or company is violating the tax laws Use Form 3949-A, Information Referral. Complete this form online at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f3949a.pdf. Print the form and mail to: Internal Revenue Service, Fresno, CA, 93888. Victims of identity theft Refer taxpayers to Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. The Protection Specialized Unit may issue these taxpayers a notice. Volunteers may prepare returns for taxpayers who bring in their current CP01A Notice or special PIN (6 digit IPPIN). Include the IPPIN on the software main information page. Instructions are located at: https://www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection. Taxpayers believe they are victims of discrimination Refer taxpayers to: (Written complaints) Operations Director, Civil Rights Division; Internal Revenue Service, Room 2413; 1111 Constitution Ave., NW; Washington, DC 20224. (Email complaints) [email protected] Taxpayers have account questions such as balance due notices and transcript or installment agreement requests Taxpayers should be referred to www.irs.gov: • If they want to make a payment, they will click on Make a Payment icon. • If they are requesting an installment agreement they will select, Can’t Pay Now? • If they have a notice, they should/can enter understanding your notice in the Search feature on IRS.gov. If they still need help, refer the taxpayer to a local Taxpayer Assistance Center or they can call the toll-free number 1-800-829-1040. Federal refund inquiries Refer the taxpayer to www.irs.gov and click on Where’s My Refund? State/local refund inquiries Refer to the appropriate state or local revenue office. Taxpayers have been unsuccessful in resolving their issue with the IRS Tell taxpayers that the Taxpayer Advocate Service can offer special help to a taxpayer experiencing a significant hardship as the result of a tax problem. For more information, the taxpayer can call toll free 1-877-777-4778 (1-800-829-4059 for TTY/TDD) or go to www.irs.gov and enter Taxpayer Advocate in the Search box. Standards of Conduct (Ethics) 19 Exercises Using your reference materials, answer the following questions. Question 1: Taxpayer Edna brings her tax documents to the site. She completes Form 13614-C, Intake/ Interview & Quality Review Sheet. She indicates in Part III of Form 13614-C that she has self-employment income along with other income and expenses. Joe, a volunteer tax preparer, reviews Form 13614-C with Edna. He asks if she brought all of her documents today, and asks to see them. Included in the documents is Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, showing $7,500 of non-employee compensation in Box 7. She tells Joe that she has a cleaning business that provides services to local businesses. Edna says she also received $4,000 in cash payments for additional cleaning work. When Joe asks if she received any documentation supporting these payments, she says no, the payments were simply paid to her for each cleaning job she performed. At this point, Joe suggests that because the IRS has no record of the cash payments, Edna does not need to report these payments on her return. Edna is concerned and feels like she could “get in trouble” with the IRS if she does not report all of her income. Joe assures her that the chance of the IRS discovering that she did not report cash income is very small. Joe prepares Form 1040, Individual Income Tax Return. On Schedule C, Line 1 he reports only the $7,500 reported in Box 7 of Form 1099-MISC. When Joe completes the return and after the quality review has been completed, he hands it to Edna to sign Form 8879, IRS e-file Signature Authorization. A. Is there a Volunteer Standards of Conduct violation? If yes, identify which VSC and describe. B. What should the volunteer have done? C. What could happen to the volunteer? Question 2: Taxpayer George completes Form 13614-C indicating in Part II that his marital status is single with one dependent, Amelia. Volunteer preparer Marge reviews the intake form and the taxpayer’s information documents. When Marge asks if Amelia is related to George, he says no, that Amelia is the child of a personal friend who is not filing a tax return. Amelia’s mother told George to claim the child and even gave him Amelia’s Social Security card. Mar
Extracted from PDF file 2020-federal-publication-4961.pdf, last modified September 2020

More about the Federal Publication 4961 Individual Income Tax TY 2020

This publication provides tax prep volunteers with Standards of Conduct training. All VITA/TCE volunteers (whether paid or unpaid workers) must complete the Volunteer Standards of Conduct (VSC) certification and agree to adhere to the VSC by signing Form 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct Agreement, prior to working at a VITA/TCE site.

We last updated the VITA/TCE Volunteer Standards of Conduct – Ethics Training in January 2021, so this is the latest version of Publication 4961, fully updated for tax year 2020. You can download or print current or past-year PDFs of Publication 4961 directly from TaxFormFinder. You can print other Federal tax forms here.


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Other Federal Individual Income Tax Forms:

TaxFormFinder has an additional 774 Federal income tax forms that you may need, plus all federal income tax forms.

Form Code Form Name
1040 (Schedule B) Interest and Ordinary Dividends
Form 8822 IRS Change of Address
Form 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return
1040 (Schedule R) Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled
W-4V Voluntary Withholding Request

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Form Sources:

The Internal Revenue Service usually releases income tax forms for the current tax year between October and January, although changes to some forms can come even later. We last updated Federal Publication 4961 from the Internal Revenue Service in January 2021.

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About the Individual Income Tax

The IRS and most states collect a personal income tax, which is paid throughout the year via tax withholding or estimated income tax payments.

Most taxpayers are required to file a yearly income tax return in April to both the Internal Revenue Service and their state's revenue department, which will result in either a tax refund of excess withheld income or a tax payment if the withholding does not cover the taxpayer's entire liability. Every taxpayer's situation is different - please consult a CPA or licensed tax preparer to ensure that you are filing the correct tax forms!

Historical Past-Year Versions of Federal Publication 4961

We have a total of three past-year versions of Publication 4961 in the TaxFormFinder archives, including for the previous tax year. Download past year versions of this tax form as PDFs here:


2020 Publication 4961

Publication 4961 (10-2020)

2019 Publication 4961

Publication 4961 (Rev. 10-2019)

2018 Publication 4961

Publication 4961 (Rev. 10-2018)


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