Last-minute tax procrastinators get two big, lucky breaks on their 2012 income tax preparation. First, Tax Day 2012 doesn’t come until April 17. April 15 falls a Sunday this year, and Monday, April 16 is a little-known legal holiday in Washington, D.C. called Emancipation Day. IRS offices in the District of Columbia are closed that Monday, so frantic, last-second filers nationwide get a bonus one-day IRS filing extension.
The other lucky lifeline for last-minute tax return preparation is that real-time, live help is now available 24-7 via video conferencing. Some professional tax preparation companies now offer their expert tax advice over video chat services like Skype and Facetime. In many cases, you don’t even need to make an appointment. Let’s say you’re wondering whether you can deduct the cost of your solar pool heaters on your property tax deduction. Let’s also say it’s after midnight, the day before taxes are due, and you’ve barely even started filing. Even if it’s late at night or on the weekend, qualified tax professionals with webcams are standing by to video chat you through your frustrations and guide you to the sweetest tax refund possible.
PROFESSIONAL TAX PREPARATION, EVEN AT 3 A.M.
With video conferencing, any tax filer with a computer and a web connection can get real-time tax help from a qualified tax preparation service. You don’t even need to leave the house to have a tax prep video conference, though you probably should wear at least put on a shirt. If you own a webcam, you can have the equivalent of a Skype chat session with a certified tax professional or accountant. Users without webcams can still subscribe to these services, and get their online tax preparation advice through text-based chat sessions or over the phone. These tax services don’t even require a scanner – most of these professional tax preparers will accept your tax documents by fax, and some will even accept snapshots from the camera on your smartphone.
The online income tax preparation service Taxbrain rolled out the service You&Us last year, allowing taxpayers to have real-time online HD video conference sessions with CPAs and enrolled tax agents. These browser-based video chats support one-way or two-way conferencing and VoIP. Taxbrain accountants can even view your tax documents directly over a remote desktop application. Scheduled appointments, though, are required.
H&R BLOCK TAX PREPARATION OFFERS “BLOCK LIVE” VIDEO CONFERENCE APP
This year, H&R Block’s new Block Live service offers users 24-7 access to tax accountants, and subscribers do not even need an appointment. H&R Block has accountants at the ready day and night for anytime video chat sessions. Buyers get as many chat sessions as they need, and can have these sessions on an impromptu basis at whatever hour. It’s an all-you-can-eat arrangement, or rather, an all-you-can-ask arrangement, and buyers get access to the service for an entire calendar year.
Early technology adopters who are late income tax-filers can file taxes on their smartphone with the Block Live app for iPhone or Android. The app does not support video conferencing, but is can be used to snap photos of your tax documents and upload them to H&R Block.
These aren’t free tax preparation services, but they can be pretty affordable. H&R Block’s Block Live service starts at $39 for a 1040EZ Federal or State tax return, with escalating prices for more complex returns. TaxBrain also offers a video conferencing service called Ask A Pro, wherein buyers get a 30-minute video Q&A session with a CPA or accountant for $19.95.
IRS FORMS THEIR OWN VIDEO CONFERENCE SERVICE
The IRS is taking notice, and now offers their own two-way videoconferencing service for filers to consult with IRS tax professionals. As you might expect from a federal government agency, the rollout is far less technologically advanced or ambitious than the video conferencing offered by H&R Block.
IRS video conference sessions are available at only ten IRS office locations in the whole continental U.S. You have to actually show up in person at these offices with your documents in hand, you can’t just Skype in from home. There are additional satellite sites for IRS video conferences – but only a Retired Senior Volunteer Program building in Bellefonte, PA, and a Catholic Charities in Prescott, AZ. This IRS video conference service is still a pilot program taking beta version baby steps.
CHAT SESSIONS IN TAX PREPARATION SOFTWARE
This year’s versions of the popular tax preparation software programs TurboTax and TaxAct do not have video chat features. TurboTax does, however, have a trove of free online videos to answer frequently asked tax questions. Both TurboTax and TaxAct offer text chat sessions to buyers, but answers aren’t always available in real time. TurboTax hosts a public chat room for tax questions called TurboTax Live Community, where questions are generally answered within 24 hours. TurboTax also offers live chat for registered users during certain hours. TaxAct does not offer live chat, though they do answer tax questions by email within 1-2 business days.
Granted, hardly anyone is currently using video conferencing to file their taxes – but tax professionals still deduct that video is the future of tax preparation. “In two years, videoconferencing will be a common way that individuals file their taxes,” H&R Block VP of Products Mark Ciaramitataro told Investors.com. If Block Live video tax chat is successful in attracting new filers to H&R Block, you can bet your home mortgage deduction that the other e-filing companies will follow suit with more video chat services. That should help make income tax filing easier – even in years when you don’t have all the way until April 17 to file.