FAST: Collocated Model

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HARDY: Hello, and welcome.

I'm your host, Mel Hardy.

Today, we're going to be talking about FAST, self-assisted tax prep.

We're going to go over and talk to the folks at the Louisville Urban League about what they're doing around self-assisted tax prep and FAST.

Today, we're at the Louisville Slugger Museum here in beautiful downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

So, let's go on over and talk to the folks about what they're doing around FAST.

Tell me a little bit about the self-service model that you have here.

YOUNG: Okay.

HARDY: It's very interesting. How does it work?

YOUNG: The self-service model came about about three years ago, and Louisville Urban League, we were the actual pilot site for it.

SETO: What we were realizing a couple years ago was that we were starting to plateau that we were serving with VITA, because it was just at its capacity.

YOUNG: So we wanted to try to get the clients to be empowered to learn how to do their taxes on their own.

Some of them have very simple returns, where it's college students or just, you know, single families or single individuals with just one or two W-2s.

SETO: First year, we didn't do that much, because we didn't know how to integrate it in, and we only had so many resources that we could kind of spread ourselves.

HARDY: Right.

SETO: We served over 300 people using that assisted-self model. And it was great, because it took very little work to do that.

Our initial hope was that it would just alleviate the wait time, but what we are now also seeing is that it's a better use of our volunteer resources.

But more importantly, we can do two things.

We can serve more people out of that, because we're now maximizing our use of technology.

Also, the other piece of that is that people that are using the assisted-self model, not all, but some of them are realizing that it's a teachable moment.

They're giving us feedback to say, "You know, it wasn't as easy as you said originally but it wasn't that hard.

It really wasn't rocket science.

It took longer than I thought, but now I'm glad I know how to do it, and I know I can do it next year.

And it's good that you all are here as a safety net, but I'm no longer relying on this process."

HARDY: So, Nedra, what does it look like whenever they go into this system?

 YOUNG: Okay, so, this is the Louisville Asset Building Coalition.

This is our homepage.

HARDY: Uh-huh.

YOUNG: And very user-friendly links.

Here you're going to go for the free tax help link and go down to the self-file option.

HARDY: Right.

YOUNG: Once they're on the self-file option, we have several options here.

The options are actually based on what their adjusted gross income is  or if they are EITC-eligible.

HARDY: Okay. And so then they will select one of those options.

YOUNG: Yeah, so once one of the options is selected, there will be a survey they complete that is administered by our organization, Louisville Asset Building Coalition.

HARDY: Okay.

YOUNG: And once that survey is completed, then they'll be directed to the particular self-file link that they selected.

HARDY: How long does it take your clients to complete this?

And do they find that it's difficult?

YOUNG: Okay. Normally, it takes about 30 to 45 minutes to look through the self-file option.

Just talking with them, a lot of them said it's very easy.

It's easier than they thought it was going to be.

HARDY: Right. So, tell me a little bit about the technology.

Easy to use, you think?

SETO: From our side, super easy.

HARDY: Okay.

SETO: It's kind of like have computer, have Internet access, will travel, you know?

So we're able to take this to remote locations that otherwise we would not be able to have the logistics to run a full-blown VITA site or even a mobile program.

We can take it onto college campuses.

We can take it to, you know, one-off locations.

That's a whole lot more portable, and because it's all Web-based, we know that we don't have to worry about, you know, confidentiality, system integrity.

All that stuff is taken care of.

HARDY: Wow.

SETO: So, we literally have five laptops that we take to different places, and it's done.

HARDY: So, Eric, what is one of the big impacts on sort of the day-to-day operations at the VITA site by having the free systems?

SETO: You know, folks are happier.

HARDY: Okay.

SETO: And I mean that from the tax filer, the client standpoint, because they are either empowered or they're learning something new or getting out of here quicker.

But, boy, are the volunteers a little happier, too, because they are -- you know, in the past, we'd be overwhelmed, and they would feel this either commitment or burden, however you want to call it, that they don't want to send people home, because they know it's tough to be there.

HARDY: Right.

SETO: But they stayed there way past the hours that our sites are open in an effort to get folks out of there or get all the administrative stunts taken care of.

With this, because we can serve more people in a more reasonable amount of time, when we say we close at 9:00, we're really able to actually get folks out of there in a reasonable amount of time so they can leave at -- you know, some volunteers can leave at 9:00, 9:30 by lingering around.

No longer do we close at 9:00 and they have to leave at 11:30 or midnight because they feel guilty that there's still people sitting in line waiting.

HARDY: What lessons have you learned?

YOUNG: Yeah. I would truly recommend make sure you have, you know, some volunteers that can assist them, instead of putting them by themself to just do their taxes on their own, 'cause there are lots of questions, I mean, just from the self-assisted part of it, where they have to have e-mail to where they may have to have their AGI or their four-digit pin.

So different things like that that the client, you know, hasn't a clue about what it's asking them for.

SETO: Some clients never really looked at their data except for the fact that they just saw that their name was on their W-2.

HARDY: Okay.

 SETO: By them entering their own information, they're realizing they're asking smarter questions about, you know, can we come in here?

Is there a class that we can take to learn about how we balance this?

Because, you know, we're realizing that maybe we could have made some different decisions that maybe figured financially beneficial to their bottom line.

In addition to running the VITA program, they can designate a couple computers just for that assisted self-file and, you know, give one or two volunteers and let them r in our human capital, our financial resources, and then our physical capital in terms of just our space.

We were creating a new model that allowed us to maximize what we have.

HARDY: Well, that was great. We want to thank our friends at the Louisville Urban League for knocking it out of the park.

Until next time, I'm Mel Hardy.