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Tax Season Should Be Fun This Year

   January 15th, 2015

tax bobbleheadBy now, hopefully you've heard what the IRS will be providing to libraries this year in the way of tax products. If not, here's the email TFOP libraries received last week:

TFOP Filing Season Update

While we had committed to waiting until next year to making changes to the Tax Forms Outlet Program, the situation has changed. As you may be aware, IRS appropriations were significantly cut in the 2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill recently passed by Congress. Unfortunately this puts us in a position where we have very few options. We want to honor our commitment to you by providing some key products, but we cannot deliver nearly what we have in the past.

For this filing season, we will offer the following products:

  • Forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ
  • Publication 17, one reference copy for each participant (Taxpayers will be able to access Publication 17 in English and Spanish online from irs.gov/Pub17 and, new this year, it will also be available as a free e-Pub for downloading from IRS.gov and viewing on most e-Readers and other mobile devices.)
  • Publication 4604 (EN/SP), Use the Web for IRS Tax Products & Information
  • Publication 1132, Reproducible Copies of Federal Tax Forms and Instructions
  • The TFOP Poster Package which includes:
    • Publication 1169, Need Tax Help?
    • Publication 1258, Where Should I Send This?
    • Publication 1309, Tax Forms This Way Publication
    • Publication 1725, If The Form Fits...Use It!

No additional products will be available through the TFOP Program. We will not be sending Form 8635-S, Supplement to Form 8635.

We will fill orders for Forms 1040 and 1040A with the quantities you requested on your order form earlier this year. Because Form 1040EZ was not on this year's order form, we will send you 75% of your Form 1040 A order quantity. For example, if you ordered 3000 Form 1040 A, we will send you 2250 Form 1040EZ. It is not necessary for you to place an order for Form 1040EZ; we will automatically ship Form 1040EZ to you once the form becomes available.

Unfortunately, we are unable to offer Instructions for Forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ. Your patrons can obtain copies of Instructions through:

  • IRS.gov/Forms - to view and download
  • IRS.gov/orderforms - to order tax products to be delivered by mail
  • 1-800-829-3676 - to order tax products to be delivered by mail

The decision to reduce the number of tax products available to our TFOP partners was not made lightly. We realize this decision is not ideal and we understand it may impact you and your customers. Please offer Publication 4604 (EN/SP) to your patrons to help guide them to tax products and information available on IRS.gov. We apologize for these late program changes.

Thank you for your support,
IRS TFOP Administrator

Which really is terrible news for libraries and patrons - patrons because so many people have relied on easily picking up tax forms at their local library, and libraries because we'll be spending a lot of time apologizing for the IRS to those many irate patrons.

But we can get through this. Libraries near me have been sharing ideas on how to handle these changes. Here's what we'll be doing:

  • Printing a sign to explain the situation to people - basically, to say that these are all the tax forms we have and that's all we're getting
  • Have a handout ready with the URL and phone number above for where people can request forms be mailed to them. My first draft [pdf] looks like this:
    taxforms-bymail
  • Used the order form website myself to get two copies of the instruction booklets so the library will have reference copies
  • Printed copies of the 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ instruction to make circulating copies in three-ring binders for patrons. We're starting with two of each, and will print more as demand increases (because it's a lot of printing). They'll circulate for one week, and we'll allow patrons to place local holds too
  • Continue with our "first copy free" policy of printing tax forms for patrons. In the past this has just been for the oddball form here and there, but this year we expect to be printing a lot more*. Although for us, this free copy only applies to forms, not instructions - hopefully the circulating copies or reference copies for photocopying will meet that need
  • Make available the IRS' reproducible tax form binder, so patrons can photocopy whatever forms they need
  • We may end up pre-printing a lot of the more common schedules and other forms, just to save the patron's (and staff's) time of having to print-on-demand. But again, this is something we're going to wait and see what demand is like and respond accordingly

So, that's our current plan. I'd really like to hear what other libraries are doing, so if you've got a great idea that will help this tax season, please share in the comments.

Good luck.

 


*I had briefly thought about trying to record all our printing, so get a ballpark figure of how much the IRS' budget cut is costing my library. I hate the idea of shifting costs like that (like when the movie theater hands you an empty cup instead of paying someone to fill it for you! They've just shifted that cost onto their customer. Savages.), but decided that it's probably not worth the cost of our staff tracking, because we'd never use that information for anything anyway. But I'd still be curious to know.




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13 Responses to “Tax Season Should Be Fun This Year”

  1. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    To be honest, we haven’t relied on paper forms for the IRS for a few years now. We’ll print out any tax forms for free, and any instructions or tax tables at the regular 10-cent rate. We have in-building-use instruction booklets in three-ring binders, and we’re going to experiment with circulating instruction binders this year.

    IT even set up a tax help page on the library home page, and programmed our PrinterOn software to print them for free from our public computers.

    Tax season is a good time to work on your customer service skills. You spend a lot of time telling people that you’re charging them for a service that they used to get for free, and would rather not be dealing with in the first place. Getting to “yes” is less of a problem than convincing them to keep the profanity to a minimum.

  2. Mark Says:

    We did pretty much the same thing as you, but also provided stacks of business-card sized slips for patrons to take home that showed the information about where they can request the forms.

  3. Doug Cooper Says:

    I’ve never apologized for the IRS on this stuff. I just say that the IRS is holding back and making everybody’s life difficult.

    The IRS is being unfair to people who have limited funds, people who don’t own a computer, and people who are computer- illiterate. And the IRS is making it harder for us librarians to help those people. Start complaining.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @The Librarian: impressive! I figured it’d be a slow taper to the long tail based on peoples’ access to online tools and just sheer habit of picking up forms at the library. Although I do know of some people who file online but still pick up paper forms to work everything out beforehand, and then keep as their paper record. Still though, I expect any year now the state will stop sending forms and we’ll have no choice.

    @Mark: I went with a slightly larger size to make the print bigger (with the logic that it’s mostly older people picking up forms, so maybe a “large print” handout would work), but if we start passing them out like hotcakes I’ll go smaller to save on paper.

    @Doug: Ha! But yes, you are right. Indifference to the digital divide is a much bigger issue than DRM, and is worth fighting.

  5. Joe Says:

    @Doug: remember, it’s not the IRS, it’s Congress. I doubt the TFOP administrators requests $300 million less than last year for their program.

    In additions to steps like the above, we’re giving our public the contact info for their Congressional representatives so the public can share their opinion of the change with the folks who made the decision..

  6. Linda Weight Says:

    Compounding the problem of access to tax information and assistance is the news that came out yesterday (see Associated Press article: “Need help filling out your tax return? Don’t call the IRS”) that says, “Got a question for the IRS? Good luck reaching someone by phone. The tax agency says only half of the 100 million people expected to call this year will be able to reach a person.” It goes on to say, “Callers who do get through may half to wait on hold for 30 minutes or more to talk to someone who will answer only the simplest questions.” To see the full article, check the Seattle Times: http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2025464056_irswaitxml.html

    Years ago the IRS used to distribute buttons for library staff to wear that said: “Tax forms YES, Tax Advice, NO” Of course they can’t send those to us anymore because they don’t send the forms, but we still can’t advise and assist people on what forms to use, let alone how to fill them out. Fortunately, our library hosts the AARP tax volunteers twice a week, so we can refer people to them, but not everyone can come when the volunteers are here. We still see quite a few people who are frustrated with tax form questions. And it is only going to get worse….

  7. Raynor Says:

    @Joe

    It’s both. Congress cut the budget, but the IRS had to choose what programs to cut to meet that budget. TFOP is a small part of it. A much larger part of it is the ~$100 million per year they could save if they eradicated the paper forms altogether.

    This year’s budget calls for $2.8 million in savings based on an estimated 1.2 million fewer paper filings. There’s still another 30 million people/organizations filing paper, costing the IRS $3 more each than an e-file.

  8. Cheryl Says:

    Not providing the instruction books is going to really annoy our patrons. We have a flyer that we’re handing out that has URLs and phone numbers for getting both state and federal forms and instructions. We also have the contact information for the local IRS office. Most importantly we put the name and contact information of our congressional representative so that if people start complaining to us we can easily point them to appropriate person who should be hearing those complaints.

  9. Jane Says:

    I noticed on page 99 of the 1040 instructions there is an “Order Form for Forms and Publications” that patrons can fill out and mail to the IRS, and the IRS will (presumably) mail them the forms they have requested. It’s probably worth making copies of that page for folks who like to do it “old school.”

  10. Laurie Says:

    I created informational tax bookmarks to hand to patrons, one side is federal the other side is state. The bookmarks have phone numbers and mailing addresses for forms and instructions. Seems to calm some patrons down if they have the information all in one place. This will be our second year of not providing any forms or booklets. And of course patrons can print their forms using the public computers 🙂

  11. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Cheryl: good idea – complaining to the IRS won’t do much, but Congress maybe.

    @Jane: nice catch – I will definitely check that out.

    @Laurie: also a good idea, although surprisingly we haven’t had much trouble with our state forms (at least, last year was actually much better than previous years in that regard). But pretty soon, with IRS, Congress, and State contact information, pretty soon we’re going to be printing our own booklet how-to guides just to people can do their taxes.

  12. Olivia Says:

    I want to thank you for the idea of printing instructions to circulate. I implemented this at my library at it has been hugely popular!

  13. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Olivia: you are welcome, but it was actually my coworker’s idea. And for the record, we now have three circulating copies of the 1040 instructions, and two each of the 1040A and 1040EZ, as well as one reference copy of each just for photocopying. It doesn’t make everyone happy, but it does help.