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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 02/09/2021

Theresa Freed 00:00

The pandemic has impacted many things including how you do your taxes this year. On this episode here how free tax service is available in the county. Learn how to get help from the safety of your home.

Announcer 00:12

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 00:26

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. 2020 was a difficult year for many of us. Some struggled with unemployment or reduced hours. So how do you do your taxes this year? Johnson County K-State Extension Office is here to talk about help that is available. Well thank you both for being here. Can you start off by introducing yourselves and your role with taxes?

Denise Diaz 00:53

Good afternoon, I'm Denise Diaz and I am the agent, one of the agents, at the Johnson County Extension Office and one of the areas I focus on is on finances. And so taxes and income taxes fit right into that area. So that's one of my passions is helping people with their taxes.

Jim Graham 01:15

I'm Jim Graham, and I'm one of the two site coordinators at the tax assistance program site at the K state extension offices. And this is my 12th year as being a site coordinator for the program.

Theresa Freed 01:30

Alright, well, again, thank you both for being here. And so now we want to learn a little bit about this program in a normal year. How does how does this function

Denise Diaz 01:40

Normally and you know, without COVID happening, we usually have several days that residents can bring their tax information in and actually sit down with a preparer and have their taxes prepared. While they're, you know, while they wait kind of thing. This year, because of COVID. We are not meeting with our clients face to face, we're asking them to fill out the same forms, gather the same documents, and either mail, email or drop off those documents at our office. And then we will allow the volunteers time to prepare those documents and then go over their returns. And then we will return any documents back to the to the clients as well as e-file their returns.

Theresa Freed 02:41

So are they doing this through like a teleconference and phone call or video conference? Or how are they having those communications?

Denise Diaz 02:50

So we're, we're doing everything through like phone conversations. So not all the residents that we work with, have capabilities for zoom or meetings or whatever, virtually. So a phone call seems to be the best way to handle this.

Theresa Freed 03:11

And can you talk about how far in advance do they need to get those documents to you,

Denise Diaz 03:15

Once they're dropped off, we can get them turned around within a week's time. That's our goal. We are anticipating a really large initial start. So it may take us a little longer initially, but we're hoping to get that initial surge, if you will, kind of under our belt, and then we should be able to keep up with them throughout the tax season.

Theresa Freed 03:43

And who are the clients that you're serving here in Johnson County.

Denise Diaz 03:47

So we serve anyone that makes under $57,000 a year is are the people that we focus on and serve. So that includes lots of old, elderly or older people. It includes young families and you know, people that don't make a lot of money or maybe are on disability. So those are the people we're targeting.

Theresa Freed 04:15

And so is that amount a combined household amount or individual?

Jim Graham 04:20

that's per tax tax return. So if it's an individual if their that's their income level as a family that's the family's income level is how that works.

Theresa Freed 04:29

Gotcha. And then can you talk a little bit about when this service kind of starts and ends and and how people go about booking an appointment?

Denise Diaz 04:37

Well, we're not taking any appointments so because of COVID and typically we don't take appointments with our at our tech sites. So we are planning on starting on February 10 and working three days a week in order to get tax returns prepared and returned to the clients.

Theresa Freed 05:00

Okay, so just so I can be clear on the process, they send you all their information, you work independently on helping them file their taxes. You don't need the clients on the phone at that time, but you do talk to them at the conclusion of, of preparing those taxes, right to let them know what you did. Is that a good? Like a quick explanation or did I not get that right.

Denise Diaz 05:22

Very good.

Jim Graham 05:23

I'd add to that. We This is a process that we did last year when we had to close down because the COVID. So it's proven it works well. And yeah, when the process is we have a preparer tax preparer, and majority of those are going to be at the site, some are gonna be working out of their homes this year. And then we have a person does a quality review to make sure everything's accurate. And then that person calls up the tax client, and says, here's how your return came out? Do you have any questions? Do we have your verbal approval to file it? And then that's, and then once they say yes, and they've always said yes. Then we go ahead and file it. And then like he said, we we mail any important papers back to them, but we ask them, please don't send in originals, particularly a driver's license and passports.

Theresa Freed 06:15

Good advice there. And you know, I always think about this pandemic, pandemic as being something that's created a lot of obstacles for people, but it's also created some opportunities for for businesses and organizations to think outside of the box in terms of how can they deliver services more efficiently and, and virtually so safely to their clients. And this seems like one of those opportunities, because you probably have a lot of people who may have transportation issues, it may be a challenge for them to get into an office because of work schedules, things like this. So it seems like this is, is maybe a good way for you to reach your your clients in a whole different way. So one of the more important questions I think people have right now is, you know, with all the changes that we saw, and people's adjustments in their work schedules or their income, things like that, what looks different when they when they do their taxes, like if you filed had to file for unemployment? How does that impact your taxes,

Jim Graham 07:09

Unemployment is taxable. So hopefully, if people did withhold some something from the unemployment, if they had a significant unemployment payments compensation last year, I have quite a few different things that impact this year that are different. And if you want, I can go through those as quickly as I can here. And they're all beneficial to the taxpayers, or as we call clients. First of all, the economic stimulus payments, if the taxpayers were qualified last year for that, and they did not receive it, we can get that money back from them when we file their tax returns. And those economic stimulus payments are not taxable. So it's just great benefit the government gave everybody almost everybody as a new form this year called a 1099 in EC, that's going to misplay going to place of a 1099 miscellaneous, that's for non employee compensation, many employers have gone to in recent years, part time employees away from full time employees. So these have been paid on 10, nine, nine miscellaneous forms before from the employers to the to the people that working for them. And this year, that form is going to be a different one that taxpayers are going to get mail and say what is this 1099 etc. So that is a replacement for those part time employees. charitable contributions this year up to $300 can be claimed as a deduction to income even if taxpayer does not itemize. So that's a nice little benefit. They're required minimum distributions for 401 K's and traditional IRAs has been raised to 72 years old from before 70 and a half years old. Also more good news for required minimum distributions. There was no requirement for tax year 2020. So there's no penalty on those type. Those people that have those plans that did not take distribution last year. And there's only going to be a probably a one year exemption. I imagine. If the taxpayers were affected by COVID-19, they can take a distribution from their retirement account up to $100,000 without the 10% penalty as charged in prior years. They can also repay this amount three year period and be treated as a rollover, which has no tax penalty. If a taxpayer took a loan from their retirement account between March 27 and September 23 of last year, they have up to six years to repay it. There's no restriction of age now for contributions to a traditional IRA. Before that age was at 70 and a half years old, we had to quit making contributions. Now there's no age limit. Also, taxpayers can take up to $5,000 for each spouse from their retirement accounts to pay for a birth or adoption of a child with no penalty. So those were the major changes for tax year 2020, which are almost all COVID related.

Theresa Freed 09:59

That's really good. good information, you know whether people use this service or they don't, it's just good to know especially, you know, if you're preparing your own taxes to know these are available to you. So in that kind of brings up another point, do you guys have volunteers who who help with this process? Can you talk a little bit about the training that they undergo to make sure they're up to date on this latest tax changes?

Jim Graham 10:24

Yeah, of course, now, we're Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programĀ is the name of the program. And we're sponsored by the IRS, and local charities and nonprofits. So we have a requirement for training every year that we have to pass certification test for our knowledge of tax preparation, and tax law, and also ethics, certification that we have to pass that test each year. So you, we're all volunteers, everyone in the program is a volunteer, so we cannot be active in the program until we have passed all that certification test, and then United Way's local sponsors, and they keep track of everyone that's certified and to make sure that we all are complying with what's necessary.

Theresa Freed 11:10

And so why do the volunteers do this? What do they get out of it?

Jim Graham 11:14

You know, it's, we're helping people that need the help. I think that's and it's complicated. Still a minority of people do their own tax returns. And I think we just, you know, I'd say majority of us are retired. And I think that's a way that we feel like we can just help people that need our help, and, and when we're doing in person, they were just so appreciative. And that that goes a long way to convince us to come back and do it again next year.

Theresa Freed 11:42

All right, then I know in some years past recently, you've seen record numbers of participants. And this, can you talk about what you're expecting this year, in terms of turnout, and what your staffing levels are.

Denise Diaz 11:56

I think as far as this year goes, you know, back in 2019, we had over 14,000 tax returns that are volunteers for prepared for our people in our county. Last year, it was down a little bit, but not too much. It was around I believe 1300 tax returns give or take a little. This year, I'm anticipating probably close to the same just because many of the people that have have their taxes done or prepared by via our return and repeat customers. So we see a lot of that happening. And then also people that are struggling or just don't have the same income that they did, because a COVID are looking for ways to get their taxes prepared, less expensively, or free, if you will. So I think we'll we'll probably be close to those big numbers. Again, I have no doubt that we will get pretty close to that, if not above Even so, anyway, we increased our numbers of volunteers last year. And that really has helped us to increase our capacity to help people too.

Theresa Freed 13:12

So All right, great information. And just if you could remind us again, how do people get their taxes done from the service one more time.

Denise Diaz 13:22

So they can go to the Johnson County Extension website. There is a special tab on there for VITA and tax information. They can download it there. They can contact us by phone or email and we're happy to send forms and paperwork and instructions out. Or they could even stop in at the sunset drive office building to pick up forms to get their documentation together and also to get their taxes completed. So lots of ways that they can get that information and that we can help support them. All right,

Theresa Freed 14:01

Well, thank you both for being here. We'll of course have the information the link to that that webpage in our show notes and have a great tax season and we'll see what the turnout is in April..

Jim Graham 14:14

Thank you.

Announcer 14:15

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/podcast. Thanks for listening