It’s an annual rite of the new year. Because of our centralized phone service, all calls for information about AARP’s and VITA/TCE’s free tax prep help at our branches and also for tax forms and booklets, come in to one desk. To serve our callers, I poll all 28 branches about the status of help and forms availability. I place a chart at each phone workstation and post a copy on our Intranet so it’s also available for our branches. And then we brace for the calls.
Based on 20 years’ experience, at least 50% of the calls we get between now and April 15 will be about forms, booklets or tax help. As it gets closer to the tax deadline and help timeslots fill up and tax booklets run out, the calls will be more urgent and desperate. It makes me feel desperate, too, knowing there will never be enough help to fill the need. The people who call are often those who are elderly and do not have enough computer knowledge to e-file their own returns.
What’s the answer? I don’t know. The IRS is no longer mailing booklets directly to taxpayers. More libraries are declining to carry the forms and booklets, and instead show people how to visit the IRS and Franchise Tax Board web sites to find and print the forms they need. Fewer volunteer tax preparers are willing to set up shop in the library meeting rooms, making it even harder for seniors to get help. E-filing is easier, but some people are unable to complete their returns within the 1-hour time slots available on our public computers.
Any chance we could skip taxes altogether this year? Thought not.