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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 03/02/2020

Theresa Freed [00:00:00] On this week's episode hear from the K-State Research and Extension Office about its annual tax assistance program that assists households with lower incomes, they'll walk you through the new tax laws that may cause some uncertainty and confusion. If you don't have a little help. Finally, we'll tell you about other tax services available in the county to help older adults file their returns on time. And with confidence.

Announcer [00:00:22] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas. JoCo on the Go has everything. Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed [00:00:35] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed, a Johnson County, resident and employee of Johnson County Government. Depending on whether you're expecting a refund or not, tax season can be much anticipated or a bit of a burden. Here to take some of the frustration out of filing your tax return, we have with us Denise Dias with the K-State Research and Extension Office in Johnson County, we also have with us Jim Graham. He's a volunteer coordinator with the VITA Program, which is Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. Thank you both for being here today. All right. To start off with, tell us a little bit about the tax services available at the extension office.

Jim Graham [00:01:11] So are our site does free income tax preparation? We do both federal and state tax returns, primarily 2019 tax returns. What we do prior years also. We also do amended tax returns. We also help people that receive letters from the IRS, help get through the issues with that and that we are a hundred percent volunteer site and we are also bilingual, Spanish and English.

Theresa Freed [00:01:37] Wow. OK. And then when you mentioned that you do look at previous years, is that because they haven't been filed or people are just wanting to have a double check and make sure they did everything right?

Jim Graham [00:01:46] Primarily that because they haven't been filed. A lot of times, they've received a letter from the IRS saying you need to file. Only didn't that would be that they'd be the main reason for prior year. Sometimes there are mistakes in prior years, so will take the rate of return that was filed that year and then amend it to correct mistakes.

Theresa Freed [00:02:02] OK. So if somebody has been audited for a previous year, do you guys help with that too?

Jim Graham [00:02:06] No, we don't.

Theresa Freed [00:02:09] A little more complicated, I'm sure. All right. So how popular is this program?

Jim Graham [00:02:13] It is really popular. We started this site by 2009. We did 77 returns. This year, 11th year, we'll do over 2000 returns.

Theresa Freed [00:02:22] Oh, wow. Okay. So a busy time of year, I'm sure. And what and when does it start to get busy and obviously you finish...

Jim Graham [00:02:29] It starts get busy the day we open, which was I think is the first Saturday in February. And it just it's busy the whole time. We're busiest at the start of the year and we're busiest when we first opened the site that day as people were first come, first serve. I know you're can to that little later here, but yeah, it's we're busiest. We first open for the day and we're busiest the first time of the year, but we're busy all year long.

Theresa Freed [00:02:55] Okay. Well, and who qualifies to participate? And do we have a certain income or a certain age?

Jim Graham [00:03:02] Yeah. There's no age limit, young or old. It needs to be $50000 or year less total income on the tax return for us to do that return.

Theresa Freed [00:03:12] Okay. So if that's a joint return, then it needs to be the income of both heads of household.

Jim Graham [00:03:16] That's correct. Mm hmm.

Theresa Freed [00:03:17] Got it. Okay. And so what should people bring with them?

Jim Graham [00:03:20] It's a pretty long list. Okay. So definitely Social Security card or Social Security statement. Either one of those is fine if they do not have a Social Security number than their individual tax identification number. They're their forms. They need to bring that with them. A valid picture I.D. also any of the income tax documents that they need. For instance, the W-2s, they're 1099 income forms. If they have a child care provider, that name, address and the tax I.D. for them. Any other tax related documents they need to bring with them? If they have education credits, then their Form 1098. Bank account information that they want direct deposit, which most people do. It's faster, more convenient. There's no chance of getting lost in the mail. So greatly recommend people do their refunds on on direct deposit a copy of last year's return if they have it. And then very important. If they have insurance through the Marketplace, they do need to bring their 1095A form with them.

Theresa Freed [00:04:23] Can you talk a little bit about whether you're handling just the simple returns or if somebody has itemized deductions, if you can walk them through that.

Jim Graham [00:04:30] We do do returns with itemized deductions. However, with the tax law changed in 2018 were the standard deduction was greatly increased. We do very, very few itemized deductions anymore. However, if the if the client qualifies where the itemized deductions are higher than standards, yes, we do those. Things. I'd like to mention, though, that can be somewhat tricky, even if you call simple returns or not. But a 1099 Miscellaneous forms where they have their own business expenses if they have child care, something that. Can be overlooked or incorrectly filed. Education credits can be a really nice increase in a refund for people or lower their tax liability if the education credits for higher education are submitted. And then also the Marketplace. If you have health insurance to the Marketplace, that can be somewhat of a tricky return to do too. So even though I say we do simple returns, all those things can complicate someone's tax return.

Theresa Freed [00:05:25] OK. But those are still things that you can help people.

Jim Graham [00:05:27] Absolutely. Yes.

Theresa Freed [00:05:29] That's great. So when somebody comes to the location to get some help. Are they making an appointment or are they just walking in?

Jim Graham [00:05:38] We do. First come, first serve. We're open Wednesday and Thursday from 10:30 a.m. till 6:30. So we're open eight hours each day there. Saturdays were open 8:30 to 12:30. So recommendation is that Wednesday and Thursday, twice as long we're open. So Saturday's extremely hard to get in. Wednesday and Thursdays are not as difficult. People generally do have to wait, however. And when we say like we close a 6:30, that means we're probably last client. We can take in would be around 5:00 or 5:15 because we try to close the site at 6:30 because volunteer's been there a long time. Same thing with Saturdays is 12:30. Probably the last clients we could take in would be about 11:30 in the morning. But generally Saturdays will fill up probably before we even open the site. We're full for the day.

Theresa Freed [00:06:25] Oh, wow. Okay. And so somebody comes in there and I guess, you know, it really varies depending on what they have. But how long can they expect the tax appointment to take?

Jim Graham [00:06:36] Well, depends how long they have to wait it once they get to. So once you get through the greeter, then you get your number and then you have a seat and you fill out your paperwork. So the first thing they'll do is get with what we called it back doctor review person to sort their documents and get organized for the preparer. Once they get to the preparer and then get through our quality review, which we double check, all of our work it's about an hour once we get to that. But it's really hard to say how long it's going to take you two to get to that tax preparer. And like you say, it can vary depending on the difficulty of the return and also the experience of the preparer.

Theresa Freed [00:07:11] Okay. And speaking of that, can you talk a little bit about why do people want to volunteer to help with this program?

Jim Graham [00:07:18] That's a really good question. I would say the majority of our volunteers are retirees. Some have experience preparing taxes and some don't. But I think it's all we all have a kind of a need to help other people. And it's a great variety. People have coming through from different languages, different nationalities, all different ages. We have quite a few hearing impaired people come through. So it's just a great variety of people that we get to help. And I'd say ninety nine point one percent are very appreciative of what we do. So I think all those things go together and the camaraderie, I think of the volunteers together, too.

Theresa Freed [00:07:55] All right. Denise, anything on to add to that?

Denise Dias [00:07:58] Yeah. I think we have a really great tech site. It's grown by leaps and bounds the last few years. We've partnered with the appraisers office to use their space during this time so we can make their tax appointment more private by using cubicles and such. And I think that's just raised the level of the of the quality of our tax site. We have some fabulous volunteers that run our site for us and make sure that everything runs like a well-oiled machine. So, you know, I have nothing but good things to say about them. And too our volunteer base has increased to the last few years. So we have probably the largest number of volunteers we've ever had, probably around 50, I'm guessing, at this point. And so with the large number of volunteers and nicer, bigger space to use, we're able to get more people to help with their taxes to get those prepped.

Theresa Freed [00:09:00] All right. So important question. I need you mentioned this just a little bit earlier, but anything new with tax laws that people should be aware of as they're getting ready to do this.

Jim Graham [00:09:08] The main changes really were in 2018, and that was primarily when the standard deduction was raised so much. And so so clients really did not need to keep all that detail of their itemized deductions anymore. And we're finding that more and more people are coming. You know, it's just like they went to all that work for the year to keep them, but their standard is so much higher. That really was changed for tax year 18. The only real major change I can think of for 19 would be there's no penalty now if you don't have health care coverage.

Theresa Freed [00:09:34] OK. Can you talk a little bit about the 2018 change? How did that impact families?

[00:09:41] I would say as far as through refund or their tax liability, I did not think there was significant change there. I just think it did make it more simple where people didn't have to keep. We probably only did itemized deductions before that change, maybe 10 to 15 percent of our returns. But that 10 to 15 percent, it's it's less work. The client now to keep that information during the year.

Theresa Freed [00:10:02] OK. And are there anything you mentioned in child care, as is one of those things that can kind of be overlooked? Are there any other things that, you know, you're constantly asking, do you have the paperwork on this?

Jim Graham [00:10:14] Yeah. If, for instance, like if they have a 1099 Miscellaneous form, that means a person, an employer or a company is paying them as a not as an employee, as light as a subcontractors so they can keep their expenses that they incurred themselves for that business during the year that can lower their tax liability. Education credits I mentioned earlier that 1098-T return forms that they get from their colleges. Plus if they had any other expenses they had to have for the classroom like books, they need to keep those receipts and we can get help the lower their tax liability with that. Those should be the main things.

Theresa Freed [00:10:52] OK. And charitable donations. Is there a certain threshold where you don't report that or.

Jim Graham [00:10:58] Well, once again, assists if your standard deduction is higher than your itemized deductions. And usually donations have to really be large. I think that for a person under 65 years old, a single this year, I think the standard was just a little under 30. I'd have to look it up a little under $13000. So that's a lot of itemized deductions and a married couples that almost twenty seven thousand now. So there'd be a lot of, you know, a lot of charitable contributions and mortgage and so forth.

Theresa Freed [00:11:22] OK. So it is it is easier for people probably this year. Yes. OK. Good information there. So the next question. Obviously, you helped the walk them through, you know, all the paperwork they need and filing. But do you do both state and federal returns?

Jim Graham [00:11:38] Yeah, we do. State and federal, of course, the most estate returns for Kansas. The second most common would be Missouri. And we do other states, too. There's a few that are really, really complex that we don't get into like the state of New York. But yes, Kansas and Missouri are most of them. And we'll do a few other states surrounding like Iowa and so forth. If people move here from another state, we can usually do their tax return.

Theresa Freed [00:11:59] And are you able to e-file all of those or do you have to mail things in?

Jim Graham [00:12:03] We e-file almost all of them. Yeah. An amended return has to be mailed in. But just your 2019 returns, we e-file almost all of them.

Theresa Freed [00:12:13] Okay. And I know for some people there may be a penalty that they have to pay and they can't afford to pay that immediately. Do you assist them with setting up the payment plan?

Jim Graham [00:12:22] We can. The key for them is that they want to file before the 18th or by the 15th of April. That avoids a penalty. And then if they cannot pay everything at once, then they can we can set with payment plan and then they're only paying a low amount of interest. The key is that they file on time, though, and avoid that penalty.

Theresa Freed [00:12:38] Right? Very important. So also very important. How do people take advantage of the services?

Jim Graham [00:12:44] Come on in.

Theresa Freed [00:12:45] Continuing our conversation about free tax assistance services in Johnson County, We'll now turn our attention to how the AARP is helping older adults file their returns. To tell us about that, we have Gene Miners. He's the area tax coordinator for the AARP. Thanks for being here.

Gene Miners [00:13:01] Thank you.

Theresa Freed [00:13:01] All right. Well, first off, can you tell us a little bit about this service?

Gene Miners [00:13:05] The service has been around for about 52 years. We celebrated 50 years two years ago. It's it's primarily for elderly and low income tax payers. But the IRS says we have to kind of serve everybody that we've been trained to serve as long as we don't feel uncomfortable or out of scope tax returns. So we try to service whoever comes.

Theresa Freed [00:13:33] Okay. And any idea how many or you're planning to serve this this year?

Gene Miners [00:13:37] Central Library, we have 1500 clients. So probably taper off a little this year.

Theresa Freed [00:13:46] You know, some services you can just walk in and be seen. But this one is a little bit unique where you have to book in advance is that right?

Gene Miners [00:13:52] Most of our sites in Johnson County, well most of our sites really have appointments. And we have and there's been a kstaxaide.com site that then takes you to AARP's site and you can book an appointment. Some sites we do have a couple sites that allow walk-ins. We allow walk-ins at Centro, but it's based on the number of appointments we have and how many counselors are present that day.

Theresa Freed [00:14:24] Okay. And although you can assist anyone, you really target older adults of lower income.

Gene Miners [00:14:29] We preferred. Yes, we would. You know, people with large income we feel can actually afford to hire a tax consultant or a tax preparer.

Theresa Freed [00:14:41] Okay. And so what some of the feedback that you get from from clients of about the value of this service?

Gene Miners [00:14:50]  like it. Glad you're here. You know, it's an they they enjoy it. They like, you know, it's really a service for them. They keep coming back every year, And they and they will recognize me or somebody else and say, oh, I saw you were here last year. What? What, what? And I say, I'm sorry, I don't remember you.

Theresa Freed [00:15:15] You guys see a lot of people, it sounds like. Well, and in particular for this year, I mean, I know there were changes last year in tax laws. Anything that's really impacting the seniors.

Gene Miners [00:15:25] The actually this year and there were no real tax law changes. Congress always has the extenders, what they call the extenders. And these are for and they always pass them in December. So we're not we don't know if they're going to pass or not. And so I had a home energy credit, and that's probably what a senior would be interested in. So.

Theresa Freed [00:15:53] All right. Can you talk a little bit about your volunteers? Just, you know, do they do certain training or where do they coming from?

Gene Miners [00:16:00] The volunteers are probably people. Most of them have done their own taxes. So that's the experience. They have a new counselor that comes into the site. We require about seven days of training in the first week of January. They have to pass three tests and make 80 percent. It's open book. But one is on standards of conduct. One's on what goes into the information sheet. And the final one is the advanced tests by the IRS. So they have to pass 80 percent of that plus all the reading. All that's true about the older counselors, too. Every year they have to recertify and statewide. We also have mandatory requirements. So we have to usually work for problems or something like that that's put out.

Theresa Freed [00:16:55] OK. And you mentioned there is a need for more volunteers. How did you get involved?

Gene Miners [00:16:58] I would I guess kstaxaide.com Would be the best bet.

Theresa Freed [00:17:04] Gotcha, you guys are gonna be cut in is spread out all over Johnson County between now and tax day. Right?

Gene Miners [00:17:09] Well, we have twelve sites in Johnson County and I have six in Miami County and two in Linn County. So I'd like to get some volunteers from Miami and Linn.

Theresa Freed [00:17:24] Anything else you'd like to share with our listeners about this particular service?

Gene Miners [00:17:28] Well, we do our best. And, you know, we we certify. We e-file. It's an e-file. We don't do paper returns. So it's e-file to the federal government. And therefore, we can also e-file to the state. We cannot refile directly to the state. And we recommend that they do we do file because it protects their Social Security number from anybody else using it later in the year. It also protects our Social Security number in the sense that if we get a reject, because a Social Security number has already been used, then they know. They know it's been compromised.

Theresa Freed [00:18:07] All right. Good information there.

Theresa Freed [00:18:09] And we'll, of course, have information about how to sign up for free tax service on the show notes of this episode. Thank you for being here today. And as we heard, the Johnson County Library opens its doors to offer tax assistance. With more on the impact of the service, we have Marty Johannes, the career and personal finance librarian for the library. Thanks for being here. All right. To start off with, can you talk a little bit about why the library offers this service to residents?

Marty Johannes [00:18:36] It meets a real need in the community. The AARP Foundation is the organization that coordinates this service. And as they put it, struggling seniors need a trusted and free tax resource at tax time. And we, of course, want to support that. I'll also point out that low and income patrons, low and middle income patrons who are not seniors also benefit from this service.

Theresa Freed [00:19:11] Okay. And we heard a little bit from Jeanne about what kind of numbers we see in terms of the turnout there. But can you talk a little bit more about that response that we get?

Marty Johannes [00:19:20] Well, there's a great demand for the service. Many patrons have been coming for years to get their taxes prepared at the Central Resource Library. Every year, all the available appointments get booked. But this year, because there are fewer tax preparer volunteers and there were fewer appointments available, all the appointments at the Central Resource Library tax prep site filled up by the first week in February.

Theresa Freed [00:19:55] Wow. Wow. So people really can depend on the service year after year. OK. Well, tax assistance, of course, is super important to those who are relying on it, but it's not the only finance related program or service that you offer at the library. Can you talk a little bit about the other ways that you help residents with their their money, managing their money?

Marty Johannes [00:20:17] Well, we offer programs throughout the year that are finance related. For example, in April, we're offering a program on the free sort budgeting software, mint.com to help people get an overview of that and information on how to gets set up and maintain a budget in Mint.com. And then every fall, we partner with Housing and Credit Counseling Inc. To present a program that they developed called the Women in Money Program. And for the last several years we've been presenting it as a day program. And it's designed to empower women to become more financially literate and confident. The day kicks off with a keynote speaker and then we follow that with sessions on topics ranging from budgeting apps to credit scores and reports to basic estate planning.

Theresa Freed [00:21:26] Okay. Those are some great options for people out in the community who want to get a better handle on their money. And of course, aside from the programs and the services, there's lots of resources in the library.

Marty Johannes [00:21:37] Right, that can help people, books, online resources. At most of our locations, we have a job and career boards or binders that contain information on services for job seekers as well as personal finance related information.

Theresa Freed [00:21:58] All right. And to get some information about when those programs and services are available at the library, of course, people can go to the Web site, which is.

Marty Johannes [00:22:05] Yes, jocolibrary.org. And if you go to the Events section and you'll see a full listing of our programs and then this information can also be found in the printed guide that is published every trimester.

Theresa Freed [00:22:22] All right. Great information. We'll thank you for being here today. Oh, well, thank you for inviting me.

Announcer [00:22:27] You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.