FAST: Standalone Model

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HARDY: Hello. I'm your host, Mel Hardy, and this is a continuing series on FAST -- Free Assisted Self-Service Tax prep.

Today, we are in beautiful, historic Vancouver, Washington,  and we're at the Pearson Air Museum.

Now, this hangar that I'm in is the oldest hangar in the United States  that still houses airplanes today.

A little later on, we're going to go over and talk to the folks at the Community Housing Resource Center about all the great work that they're doing  around the stand-alone model FAST.

So let's fly on over there and talk to our friends now.

Well, hello. We're here at the Community Housing Resource Center, and I'm meeting with Sherry Davis.

How are you, Sherry?

DAVIS: I'm fine. Great to meet you, Mel.

HARDY: Now, this year, you guys used FAST, the Free Assisted Self-Service Tax prep.

How did that work out for you?

DAVIS: We've really enjoyed using the FAST program.

HARDY: Walk me through the process.

DAVIS: Community comes in.

They come first to a check-in desk that is staffed like this one, with Lisa.

She will do an initial interview to make sure that we can help them at this site, that they, you know, may need more information, you know, that we couldn't provide.

We bring them over here, and we have a waiting area where they will wait for the next available assistant.

One of our assistants will come and get them and bring them to one of the computers.

We will have a counselor that will go through another interview process with them.

We introduce them to the computer.

We introduce them to the sites on the computer,  where they can find help.

And then we get them started signing in to one of the software programs.

Once they seem comfortable with the process, we stand back, let them go, and see how they do.

HARDY: Oh, we're here with Lisa Konopinski. Hi, Lisa.

KONOPINSKI: Hi.

HARDY: Tell me a little bit about the intake process.

KONOPINSKI: We use the IRS intake form, so they would be able to go through the checklist.

And the programs that we used, a question-answer form, but it helped the people see why what they were answering was relevant.

HARDY: So, you did only the stand-alone model? Why FAST?

DAVIS: The Community Housing Resource Center does a lot of financial planning and counseling for people.

This model fit very well within what they did, and it taught people independence that the Community Housing Resource Center is there to provide.

KONOPINSKI: One of the purposes of this tax site is to teach people how to do their own taxes rather than just having them done for them and eventually get them to the point where they feel comfortable doing it themself.

HARDY: Which taxpayers were more inclined to use it, was it younger people, older people?

DAVIS: We found that most people, if they knew where the location the keys were on the keyboard, they did very well in putting in their information.

We were surprised that there really wasn't any set person who would use this site.

We had seniors who came in and loved the idea of putting in their own information.

When it came to the younger crowd, most of the younger crowd took to it immediately.

HARDY: Oh, wow.

DAVIS: And they asked more questions.

HARDY: Okay.

DAVIS: They read more of the software companies' data on their site and were generally very pleased with themselves when they left.

HARDY: Tell me a little about about the technology that you use to make this all work.

KONOPINSKI: We use laptop computers, so it's more comfortable for the person coming in  that it's something they can see that they can do at their own house if they needed to.

And we use several different software programs that are free.

HARDY: So, Lisa, tell me a little bit about the setup.

KONOPINSKI: The setup was relatively easy.

The programs that we use are available online.

One of the most important things is security.

The Community Housing Resource Center deals with a lot of personal information, so our Internet is already secure.

The IRS was actually very helpful in giving us a URL that we could put on the desktop so they could go directly to the website, and it was a secure link through.

And, also, we didn't store any of the information at the site.

HARDY: Okay.

KONOPINSKI: They received a confirmation that their taxes had gone through through their own e-mail address, so they would be able to check it, and they would have access to their own records.

Some of the people coming in, they didn't have a lot of experience with computers and didn't have an e-mail.

And most of the programs that we use did use an e-mail, so I would help them set up an e-mail so they were able to use the programs.

And they could check later to see if their status had been accepted.

HARDY: Were there any issues with folks who were coming in and expecting you to do their taxes, and then that didn't happen?

DAVIS: We definitely had some of our former clients coming in and be a little surprised by the setup we had this year.

We had one older gentleman that absolutely refused to touch the computer and looked at us and said, "You're going to do it."

HARDY: Okay.

DAVIS: So in those situations, we just kind of did a little bit of a reversal of chairs, and they still answered the questions, but our volunteer would tap in their information, and we got through it.

They were happy.

They had the same return they had the year before, and they went on.

HARDY: So, this stand-alone model, would you use it again?

DAVIS: I would definitely use it again.

I loved seeing the confidence of the people doing their own returns.

I love the fact that we could have a little more relaxed atmosphere here, as it didn't take as many people to assist the taxpayer.

HARDY: Well, that was great.

I think we learned a lot today about the stand-alone model FAST.

I want to thank our partners at Community Housing Resource Center for all that they showed us today.

Until next time, I'm your host, Mel Hardy.

Take care.