TAP Volunteering

Expectations and getting started

Thank you for your interest in volunteering with Ladder Up! Our training for new and returning volunteers is currently open. In-Person Training and Certification classes will be offered from December 14, 2019-February 8, 2020, and can be viewed online at VolunteerHub.

Please review the “Getting Started as a Volunteer” and “Getting Started Volunteer Flow Chart” documents for more details on volunteer registration. In short, you will make a VolunteerHub account first, then head over to Exceed LMS to complete the required online training modules and take all of the required IRS Certification Tests.

 

Partner Organizations

If your organization is affiliated with Ladder Up, you must register for VolunteerHub by using the link that your organization has provided. You will know that you have reached the correct landing page on VolunteerHub if you see your organization’s logo. To find out if your organization is one of our partners, please visit our partnership page.

If you do not know who the Ladder Up contact person at your organization is, please e-mail us at volunteer@goladderup.org so that you can be sure to use the correct VolunteerHub landing page.

Volunteer Roles & Training

Our tax sites are busy places! It is not uncommon for a Site Manage/Site Leader to ask a volunteer to jump into a different role if there is a bottleneck at a certain point of the site flow. It is important to be flexible and ask questions when you have them! Your Site Managers/Leaders, as well as other volunteers, can be invaluable resources at the sites.

While we try to provide as much training as possible prior to your first volunteer session, you may feel a little lost your first couple of times out. This is normal, expected, and the reason we ask our volunteers to come out to a site two times per month during the tax season, which translates to roughly 6-10 hours per month and 18-30 hours across the tax season. Additionally, the returns tend to start on the simpler side and become more complicated as the season continues so we require that all new volunteers come out for their first time before March 15.

You will spend a lot of time completing your training and certifications, so be sure to stay the course and join us for multiple volunteer sessions! Some volunteers serve far more than the suggested minimum and some volunteers serve a little less, but every volunteer shift you complete makes a huge impact in our communities and in the lives of the people we serve. During the 2019 tax season, the average volunteer contributed 25 hours of service, and you are certainly welcome to volunteer more if you are able!

Volunteer Roles:

Please note that all Tax Assistance Program volunteers must first complete all of the following IRS prerequisites before coming out to a site: 

  • IRS Volunteer Standards of Conduct training and certification test 
  • Intake, Interview, and Quality Review (IIQR) certification test
  • IRS Volunteer Standards of Conduct agreement

Case Reviewer

Overview:

Volunteers in this role will conduct an in-depth review of each client’s materials and tax situation, working one-on-one with each client to determine the best filing status for the client, eligible dependent(s) and credits if applicable, and whether the client’s tax situation is in scope for Ladder Up. It is critical that volunteers in this role have past experience preparing tax returns at an IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assisance (VITA) site. The Case Reviewer must commit to arriving ~45-60 minutes prior to the posted tax site opening time, depending on the site host.

Responsibilities and Expectations of a Case Reviewer:

  • Arrive early (~45-60 minutes before the posted site open time, depending on the site host).
  • Using the sign-in sheet shared by the Intake Screeners, meet with clients one-on-one in the order of their arrival at the site to ensure that the client’s intake materials are completely and accurately filled out.
  • During the course of your meeting with a client, you should review the client’s tax paperwork to 1) determine whether the client’s return is in scope for VITA and Ladder Up (with the assistance of the Case Reviewer Manual and your Site Manager/Leader), and 2) determine the client’s best filing status, including which dependents (if any) can be included on the client’s return, or if the client should file as the dependent of another taxpayer.
  • After a Case Reviewer has determined that a client’s return is in scope, they may then add the client’s name to the Client Tracking Sheet and give the client a numbered white card.

Case Review Checklist (available on printed cardstock at all tax site locations)

Training Requirements for a Case Reviewer 

In addition to completing the IRS prerequisites, this role also requires that the volunteer meet at least two of the following additional requirements:

    • Pass the Ladder Up online training module covering In- and Out-of-Scope tax documents with a score of 80% or higher
    • Pass the IRS Advanced Tax Certification Exam with a score of 80% or higher
    • Have previous experience volunteering with a VITA program for 50 hours or more

Tax Preparer

Overview:

Volunteers in this role will work one-on-one with clients to prepare their Federal and Illinois State tax returns.

Responsibilities and Expectations of a Tax Preparer:

  • Work one-on-one with clients to prepare Federal and Illinois State tax returns by entering information from the intake sheets and tax forms into a user-friendly professional tax software (ProSeries made by Intuit).
  • After completing initial preparation of the return, the Tax Preparer lets the client know that their return will need to be checked over by another person at the site (the Quality Reviewer) before any information about refund or balance owed can be shared to make sure the numbers have been entered correctly.
  • The Tax Preparer gives the client a numbered blue card and directs them back to the waiting area until a Quality Reviewer is ready for them.

Tax Preparer Checklist (available on printed cardstock at all tax site locations)

Training Requirements for a Tax Preparer:

  • In addition to completing the IRS prerequisites, this role also requires that the volunteer pass either the IRS Advanced or Basic Tax Certification Exam with a score of 80% or higher.

Quality Reviewer

Overview:

Volunteers in this role will review the client information that was entered into the tax software by a Tax Preparer then print and explain the return to the client line-by-line. Volunteers in this role typically should expect to stay ~30-60 minutes after the posted tax site closing time.

Responsibilities and Expectations of a Quality Reviewer:

  • Work one-on-one with clients to review the prepared Federal and Illinois State tax returns for errors and omissions using a Ladder Up-provided checklist
  • After this initial review, the Quality Reviewer will print a copy of the completed and reviewed return and go through it line-by-line with the client including refund amount or balance owed.
  • Inform the client that the client is ultimately responsible for the information on the return, prior to inviting the client to sign the return and (if applicable) give Ladder Up permission to e-file the return on the client’s behalf.
  • Assemble the client paperwork for e-filing or paper filing and return the client packet to the Site Manager/Leader before calling the next waiting client.
  • When needed, provide constructive feedback to the initial Tax Preparer.

Quality Review Checklist (available on printed cardstock at all tax site locations)

Training Requirements for a Quality Reviewer:

  • In addition to completing the IRS prerequisites, this role also requires that the volunteer pass the IRS Advanced Tax Certification Exam with a score of 80% or higher.

Intake Screener

Overview:

Volunteers in this role will assist the Site Manager/Leader in setting up the site and will greet clients who may already be waiting. The Intake Screener will check to ensure that clients have their identification documents as well as their tax documents with them, and can assist clients in getting their tax forms opened, organized, and printed while they wait to meet with a Case Reviewer. Intake Screeners will help to manage the flow of clients, and assist the Site Manager/Leader to ensure that the site stops taking in new clients after the site has reached capacity for the session. The Intake Screener will also assist interested clients in opening free prepaid cards on which to receive their refunds. Volunteers in this role must commit to arriving ~45-60 minutes prior to the posted tax site opening time, depending on the site host.

Responsibilities and Expectations of an Intake Screener:

  • Arrive early (~45-60 minutes before the posted site opening time, depending on site host) to help set up the tax site. Upon arrival, please assist the Site Manager/Leader with setting up the site (i.e. unpacking and setting out intake screening documents, pens, laptops, printers, router, and external hard drive).
  • Greet clients as they enter the tax site.
  • Help manage the flow of clients from waiting area to Case Reviewers.
  • As part of the setup process, Intake Screener(s) will help waiting clients to form a line and to check that clients have photo ID and an original Social Security card/ITIN letter for every person on the return.
  • Inform clients about the site process, answer general questions about the expected wait times, and make periodic announcements and reminders to clients waiting for services regarding the site process, and what to expect.
  • Remind clients of the income limits and scope of service, and provide IRS Form 13614-C and other supplemental intake documents to clients who are broadly eligible for services and have brought all the required documents with them. If a client is missing items or arrives after the site has reached capacity for the day, the Intake Screener can help review client materials to ensure the client’s return is in scope and that the client knows what to bring with them the next time.
  • When needed, assist the Site Manager/Leader with site process, ensuring that clients are sent to the Case Reviewer and Tax Preparer in the correct order.
  • Work with the Site Manager/Leader to ensure that the site stops taking in new clients after the site has reached capacity for the session.

Training Requirements for an Intake Screener:

  • This role does not require additional certifications beyond the prerequisites, but tax training can be extremely helpful for this role

Interpreter

Responsibilities:

  • Assist other volunteers in working with Spanish-speaking clients at our heavily Spanish-speaking sites
  • Interpreters may be asked to help with client intake

Training Requirements for an Interpreter:

  • This role does not require additional certifications beyond the prerequisites, but tax training can be extremely helpful for this role

Self-Guided Training Option

This option is for volunteers with 2 or more years of experience who:

  • Are comfortable with Ladder Up’s site process;
  • Are comfortable using ProSeries tax software; and
  • Are familiar with our clients and the kinds of returns we do.

We will provide you with a study guide and you will complete the test independently in our office utilizing ProSeries software. This is a great option for confident, returning preparers and reviewers.

FAQs

What time commitment is required of volunteers?

Volunteers are required to attend a minimum of 4 tax sessions over the course of the regular tax season. This session requirement helps to ensure that our training resources are thoughtfully allocated, and that our volunteers feel comfortable and confident at the site, which in turn leads to a better volunteer experience and increases the number of clients we can serve. Sessions typically last between 3.5 and 5 hours.

Do I need a tax or finance background to volunteer?

No tax preparation experience is necessary to get involved! Ladder Up provides free basic tax and software training for volunteer preparers. Many self-paced supplemental training options are also available on the IRS website to deepen your tax knowledge. Ladder Up will accept certifications completed through the IRS Link and Learn Taxes platform or volunteers can complete their certifications using an online software called TaxWise or at an in-person training using ProSeries tax software. Volunteers who do not wish to work on tax returns can help as an Intake Screener or Interpreter.

Does everyone need to attend training?

All tax site volunteers must complete a mandatory online site and process training and pass the associated IRS certifications every tax season. Most roles require additional training – see Volunteer Roles & Training for more information.

Am I liable if I make a mistake on someone’s tax return?

All volunteers who have complied with the following program policies are not liable for mistakes on a client’s return:

  • Complete the mandatory IRS prerequisites for the current filing season
  • Successfully pass the IRS certification exam required for your volunteer role for the current filing season
  • Prepare or review returns only within the scope of your certification level
Can I volunteer at any site I choose?

To serve as many clients as possible across all service locations, some limitations exist and not every tax site offers the full range of volunteer opportunities. See Volunteer Site Locations for specific site details.

Who can I contact if I have more questions?

Please scroll down to the bottom of this page to complete the Contact Us section and select “TAP Volunteering” from the dropdown menu.

Is Ladder Up like VITA?

Yes! We are an IRS VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program. We operate independently from the IRS, but we receive some funding from the IRS and adhere to all national VITA standards. Find out more about VITA here.