Improve compliance Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights Annual Report to the Legislature

Enforcement

Although FTB encourages voluntary compliance by providing taxpayer education as well as pre-filing assistance and information, FTB continues to identify ways to improve its enforcement and collection capabilities.

Filing Enforcement (FE) Program

This year, FTB’s FE program sent more than 436,000 Request/Demand for Tax Return notices to individual and business entity nonfilers and issued 330,000 NPAs resulting in 263,000 tax returns filed. The FE program is an effective tool in reducing the tax gap, with FE revenue collected this fiscal year totaling more than $905 million from current and prior year balances due.  

The FE program receives vast amounts of data and income records to locate valid addresses for nonfilers. Currently, we use over 500 million income records from both government and private data sources to determine filing requirements, based both on hard income and income indicators. FTB’s FE program must make good use of this data, but in order to do so we must first identify and resolve any anomalies in the data we receive. Given the vast amount of data now available to FTB, even under the best of circumstances this is very challenging.

As the FE program began its cycle this year, FTB recognized a problem and resolved the matter before erroneous notices were sent. However, the time and resources needed to resolve this issue led to notices being deferred. This also caused a hold to be placed on improving the returned mail process and delayed completion of an occupational license study, undertaken to determine whether improvements could be made to this part of the FE program. 

Due to the large volume of notices being deferred at the beginning of the year, comparing the number of PIT and BE FE contacts that went out this year with those in prior years would not accurately reflect year to year trends. For this reason, comparative figures are not presented here. I would also note that the deferral of FE notices allowed our customer service contact center to answer more filing season related calls this year, even though we experienced a higher volume of these calls due to the recent significant changes in federal tax laws.  While the level of access (LOA) remained consistent with the previous year, the LOA would have been significantly lower during the 2019 filifilinng season if the FE notices had been mailed as scheduled.

For the past few years, we have been following FTB’s returned mail and occupational licensing (OL) processes because we see an opportunity here to ease taxpayer burden within the FE program. Having better addresses helps limit unproductive contacts and provides those that we do contact with the opportunity to resolve their case timely and at the lowest level.  Additionally, by effectively monitoring and evaluating our OL processes we can prevent unnecessary contacts and ensure that we are only contacting those who have the highest probability of a filing requirement.

Returned Mail: FTB launched its Return Mail project in 2017. One of the project goals was to decrease returned mail, which will save the state money and reduce taxpayer burden by increasing the amount of time-sensitive mail that is delivered to the taxpayer on the first attempt. FTB continues to analyze improvements for the return mail process.

FTB continues to move toward having one system of record for address data. The Integrated Nonfiler Compliance System is rolling out its second phase of adopting the Enterprise to Data Revenue (EDR) system processes to determine the best address. This phase is scheduled for release in October 2019. While FTB hasn’t yet adopted a single system for best address, this effort should provide some improvements.  Furthermore, additional training will be provided to staff who process returned mail to ensure consistency where staff intervention is required.

Occupational Licensing: FTB uses active licensing information from California’s occupational and professional licensing boards as an indicator that a taxpayer may have income and therefore a filing requirement. Licensees who remain active with their organization but are no longer California residents and do not have a filing requirement, must contact FTB or respond to notices from FTB to show they did not earn California income as a holder of a California professional license.

In an effort to improve the quality of contacts to potential nonfilers, a study was scheduled to evaluate the overall performance of occupational licenses as an indicator of a California filing requirement. This study began late in the fiscal year and since extracting useful data is an iterative process, it required more resources than originally anticipated. The study continues and we expect to report on the results for our next Annual Report.

We are recognizing and addressing FE issues before they become a burden to taxpayers. Resolving these issues will not be an overnight process. Decreasing taxpayer burden continues to be a top priority for the TRAO and Department as a whole. Our staff continues to work with the Department to improve communication to taxpayers about their filing requirements and in providing improvements to the FE program.

Audit Program

The program works with taxpayers and their representatives to administer and enforce the law effectively to ensure that all taxpayers meet their obligations to file and pay the proper amount of tax owed. The program uses innovative methods to promote these objectives through customer service, education, self-compliance letters, initiatives, and partnerships with federal and state agencies. In performing these activities, the program considers the effects on taxpayers, increases the timeliness and effectiveness of enforcement actions, and focuses on adherence to FTB Regulation Section 19032, Audit Procedures, to complete audits in a timely manner.

When new issues arise, FTB collaborates with subject matter experts to operate its programs in an efficient manner and also seeks better use of technology and data. FTB continues to seek new opportunities to form partnerships with taxpayers, their representatives, and other agencies to continue to promote best audit practices.

Addressing California’s Tax Gap

The tax gap is the difference between the amount of taxes legally owed and what is voluntarily paid.

Addressing issues that cause taxpayers to underreport, underpay, or to not file their tax returns remains a top priority for FTB. We complement these priorities with efforts to educate the citizens of California regarding prevalent areas of noncompliance. FTB continues to apply new tools and data sources that aid in the detection of taxpayers who contribute to the tax gap by using or promoting schemes to evade taxes. FTB continues to identify and pursue abusive transactions. We focus our audit resources on the most egregious tax filing strategies, share information across programs, train staff, and follow up on leads.

Criminal Investigations

FTB special agents are sworn peace officers charged with the investigation of individuals suspected of committing income tax related crimes or crimes against FTB. In the course of investigating suspected violations, special agents gather evidence, interview witnesses, interrogate suspects, and plan and effect search and arrest warrants. Special agents work cooperatively with FTB’s Audit, Collections and fraud programs, as well as local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Once criminal charges are filed, special agents serve as expert witnesses and assist prosecuting attorneys in the preparation and prosecution of their cases. Special agents ensure appropriate media coverage is sought in accordance with the department’s Public Affairs Office and Criminal Investigations Bureau’s mission.

For FY 2018/19, criminal investigations activities resulted in:

  • 10 individuals arrested
  • Executed search warrants at 38 locations
  • 19 new cases approved for prosecution
  • 21 guilty pleas entered
  • 13 guilty verdicts from trials
  • 1,235 months incarceration and 197 probation months sentenced
  • 30 cases closed

Accounts Receivable Management (Collections)

The Collections Program collects both tax and nontax debts on behalf of the State of California. This year, our accounts receivable (AR) balance totaled $8.1 billion, a 2 percent decrease from last year. Of this balance, 80 percent was from PIT taxpayers, with 20 percent from BE. Tax debts are primarily FE assessments, unpaid audits, and tax return assessments for individuals and business entities. Nontax debts include vehicle registration fees and various court-ordered debts. This program uses a variety of methods and tools to enforce the laws covering tax and nontax debt.

Accounts Receivable Collection System

FTB uses this automated system to process and maintain over 2 million accounts annually. FTB applies a customized approach to accounts, which greatly reduces the intrusion into taxpayers’ lives. By automating many key collection functions, this system increases efficiency and frees up collectors to answer questions, resolve problems, and help taxpayers find ways to pay their tax debts.

Field Collections

Based in field offices in various California locations, field collectors make in-person contact with persistently noncompliant taxpayers. Collectors take appropriate actions to fully resolve cases. These actions include:

  • Gathering case information
  • Securing asset information
  • Obtaining commitments to file, pay, and furnish required information
  • Taking collection actions when voluntary compliance cannot be obtained
  • Properly documenting the case

Payment Methods

Installment Agreements

FTB provides the option of an IA to both individual and business taxpayers who are financially unable to pay a balance due in full. Individual taxpayers can now apply and check the status of their IA requests online. Since March 2012, individual taxpayers have had the option to set up IAs through FTB’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR). In FY 2018/2019, 225,220 total IAs were set up, and 22,514 of those were set by taxpayers calling us and selecting the IVR option. We had 616 IAs set up for BE.

Provisional Payment Plans

FTB allows individual taxpayers to make IA payments while valid PIT returns are being prepared. Once valid tax returns are filed and the criteria for an IA are met, we convert the provisional plan to a formal IA. Since implementation in December 2009 through June 30, 2019, more than 180,000 tax returns have been filed with provisional plans and over $232 million collected. Provisional payment plans increase compliance with tax laws, accelerate revenue, provide greater efficiencies, and improve customer service.

Offer in Compromise

FTB’s Offer In Compromise (OIC) program is for taxpayers who do not have, and will not have in the foreseeable future, the income, assets, or means to pay their tax liability. An OIC allows a taxpayer to offer a lesser amount for payment of an undisputed final tax liability.

This past year, the OIC Program updated their website to comply with AB 434 (State web accessibility: standard and reports). Of the total OIC applications received for FY 2018/2019, 61 percent were for PIT and 39 percent for BE. Additionally, 27 percent of PIT OIC applications were approved while 62 percent of BE OIC applications were approved. Overall, while there was a 10 percent decrease in the total number of OIC applications received, the percentage of OIC applications approved increased to 43 percent.

As a result of the passage of AB 2503, effective January 1, 2019, BE taxpayers now have the option to request a Voluntary Administrative Dissolution or Cancellation. With this is mind, the OIC Program screened 387 BE applications for administrative dissolution/cancellation. Of these, 71 BE applications (18 percent) were withdrawn from the OIC Program because the taxpayer determined the administrative dissolution option was a better fit for their needs. The OIC Program will continue to work with the Administrative Dissolution Program to assist and help educate BE taxpayers on which Program is better suited to their needs.

Contact Centers

FTB’s contact centers are staffed by collection experts, including Spanish/English speaking employees. FTB also provides online access to collection information, procedures, and electronic forms. To better assist customers, the ARM Division is working on rolling out their call center dashboard in early 2020 to show taxpayers the call, correspondence, Live Chat, and Secure Chat wait times to help them decide the appropriate method to contact us.

Self-service Options

FTB provides self-service options for PIT taxpayers and Court-Ordered Debt (COD) debtors with a short-term inability to pay. Web and IVR self-service options are available for PIT taxpayers to allow them to request a “skip payment” for their current IA and request a one-time 30 day bill delay to pay their balance in full. Taxpayers can log in to their MyFTB account to use the web self-service options or call to use the IVR self-service options. Web skip payment and bill delay self-service options are also available for COD debtors and can be accessed by logging in to their MyCOD account. A COD IVR IA self-service option was implemented in June 2018.

Liens and Levies

FTB has authority to issue lien notices and to levy wages and bank accounts. Individual collectors or an automated system can issue these notices and levies. In FY 2018/2019 there was 2 percent increase in the number of liens filed. However, liens filed in error decreased nearly 16 percent from last year.

Liens
FY 2015/2016 FY 2016/2017 FY 2017/2018 FY 2018/2019
Number of liens filed 120,071 117,374 124,494 132,777
Number of liens released (regular) 79,021 78,255 73,304 63,867
Number of liens released 10,946 13,829 10,828 9,079
Number of liens issued below $2K 79
(PIT 35 & 44 BE)
178
(PIT 85 & 93 BE)
184
(PIT 63 & 121 BE)
148
(PIT 46 & 102 BE)

Administrative Dissolution

As the result of collaborative efforts with the Secretary of State’s Office, Assembly Bill (AB) 2503 was signed into law in 2018 giving FTB the authority to administer an Administrative Dissolution Program for business entities. The process is now easier for business entities to understand and will improve compliance. FTB is administering this new program in a two-phased approach. Beginning January 1, 2019, domestic Corporations and domestic LLCs who have ceased doing business and have no assets may request a Voluntary Administrative Dissolution or Cancellation (taxpayer initiated).

For the first half of 2019, we received 4,203 requests for dissolution or cancellation. Of those resolved to date, 927 business entities were approved for administrative dissolution. Come January 1, 2020, FTB will implement the second phase of this program and begin evaluating business entities for Administrative Dissolution or Cancellation (FTB initiated), provided they have ceased doing business, are suspended for 60 or more consecutive months, and meet established criteria.

Legal

FTB’s Legal Division supports enforcement efforts by providing consultation and litigation support for positions developed in cooperation with FTB’s enforcement programs. Support activities include providing representation in protest hearings, appeal proceedings before the OTA, attorney general staff support in tax litigation in California and federal judicial proceedings, and representation in out-of-state bankruptcy and collection proceedings.

Regulations

The laws administered by FTB broadly authorize the adoption of rules and regulations necessary for their enforcement. Occasionally, specific statutory provisions require us to adopt regulations. Refer to Appendix 3 for a list of regulations in progress.

E-Services

We continue to enhance and develop our online services to:

  • Make it easier to file and pay taxes
  • Increase access to information
  • Improve the timeliness and accuracy of tax returns
  • Reduce taxpayer burden

Below are a few of the e-services available and some highlights of this year’s activities.

MyFTB

MyFTB is a secure online portal that serves as the central location for taxpayers and tax professionals to interact online with FTB. Users complete a one-time registration and manage their user name and password. Taxpayers must provide key pieces of information from their tax returns to register, while tax professionals must provide their industry credentials.

To view a client’s account, tax professionals must have an active Taxpayer Information Authorization or POA relationship on file. Tax professionals can establish both types of relationships through MyFTB, with their client’s permission. Tax professionals automatically receive limited online account access to client information when FTB approves the relationship between the taxpayer and tax professional. This limited access allows them to view notices sent to their clients in the prior twelve months. Clients must opt-in to grant the tax professional full online account access.

MyFTB gives taxpayers and authorized tax professionals (with full online account access) the ability to view the taxpayer’s:

  • Estimated tax payment information
  • Recent payments made
  • Total balance due on the account
  • Notices from FTB
  • Return filing history

Other MyFTB features include:

  • Viewing notices online
  • Signing up to receive electronic notification of notices instead of receiving a paper notice
  • Chatting securely with an agent about their account
  • Uploading correspondence to FTB
  • File a protest
  • Viewing California wage and withholding information and FTB-issued 1099-G and 1099-INT information (for individual taxpayers only)

Taxpayers can use MyFTB to update their contact information as well as access additional services, such as CalFile and Web Pay.

MyFTB Account Registration Stats by Fiscal Year

Access Type 2018/2019 2017/2018 Total Registrations*
Individual 80,500 77,000 432,000
Business 17,800 15,400 91,000
Tax Professional 4,000 4,300 39,000

*January 1, 2016 – June 30, 2019

Web Pay

Web Pay is a free, secure online service that allows individual and business taxpayers to make their tax payments online. Taxpayers can schedule payments to come out of a checking or savings account up to one year in advance. Taxpayers have the ability to view scheduled payments and may cancel those payments that have not yet been processed (when accessing Web Pay through their MyFTB account). In FY 2018/2019, FTB received almost 2.3 million payments by Web Pay, an increase from the nearly 2 million payments received in the previous fiscal year. Total dollars received by Web Pay were approximately $37.4 billion in FY 2018/2019 compared to $35.1 billion in the previous fiscal year.

CalFile

CalFile is a free, secure, online application that allows taxpayers to e-file their state income tax return directly with FTB. CalFile eases the filing burden for taxpayers by guiding them through an easy question-and-answer process in order to complete their California tax return.

CalFile has many convenient features, such as the ability to save a partially completed tax return and return later to finish. Another feature is the ability to import information from FTB’s accounting system into the tax return (for example, address, wages, estimated tax payments made, etc.). Taxpayers can also request an email confirming their tax return was filed.

CalFile allows filing of not only current year tax returns but also returns for the previous two tax years.

In 2019, approximately 110,000 taxpayers filed their current year (2018) tax return, approximately 5,000 filed a 2017 tax return, and approximately 3,000 filed their 2016 tax return. Despite a decline in usage over the past several years, CalFile remains a vital and important tool allowing many taxpayers to file their returns directly with us at no cost.

Free Filing Assistance

FTB and IRS jointly administer the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs and combine efforts to recruit and provide volunteers with the necessary training. Both agencies and other community partners also provide support to volunteers throughout the year while continuing statewide education and outreach.

IRS certified volunteers provide free tax help to limited or fixed-income taxpayers, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and limited English speaking taxpayers. The volunteers provide assistance with free basic income tax return preparation, direct deposit/debit, and electronic filing. For the 2019 filing season, FTB trained 2,070 volunteers of which 142 were FTB employees. In partnership, FTB VITA and Capital Region VITA coalition volunteers prepared over 20,000 tax returns this season, saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax preparation fees.

FTB also collaborates with the IRS to provide training, support, education, and outreach specific to the U.S. Armed Forces and military community throughout California.

Improvement Opportunities

We identify areas to improve that could result in increased taxpayer compliance; however, we have not addressed whether FTB has existing resources needed to make these improvements. Below are areas identified for improvement opportunities:

Customer Service Call Center Access Rates

In FY 2018/2019, the Taxpayer Services Unit (TSU) and Practitioner Hotline together answered almost 1.2 million incoming calls. Contact Center staff have been crosstrained on multiple service channels allowing moving resources to where they are most needed. For example, correspondence staff are redirected to the phones on Mondays in an effort to reduce repeat calls during the week and improve customer service. In addition, we try to distribute mailing notices to taxpayers more evenly throughout the year to help manage call center volumes.

We also continue to use queue management technology, first implemented in May 2010, for external customers who call our 800 numbers. Rather than waiting on hold, customers can choose to terminate the call instead of maintaining their place in the calling queue and receive a call back just as promptly as if they had remained on the line. The customer is given a call back time based on the estimated wait time at the time of their call.

The queue management technology reduced the number of abandoned calls by approximately 65 percent. Abandoned calls are callers who hang up because they are unable to continue waiting on the line. FTB saved almost 1.2 million hours of hold time hours during FY 2018/2019. When offered the option, 79 percent of the callers chose to have a call back. We successfully connected with 85 percent of these callers. We also continue to use technology to maximize and increase the options for taxpayers to self-serve and avoid having to call us altogether.

TSU answered 67 percent of its calls in FY 2018/2019, down 4 percent from the previous year. The Practitioner Hotline answered 77 percent of its incoming calls, similar to the previous year. The decline in level of access for the TSU was due to having fewer staff available to answer calls and an increase of 25 seconds per call to resolve more complex issues.

During FY 2018/2019, the Accounts Receivable Management (ARM) Division, which collects balances past due, used technologies, such as Virtual Hold and modified additional queue configuration, to maintain service to our customers. Overall, ARM’s PIT general contact center staff answered 1.4 million, or 69.6 percent of calls. ARM’s Business Entity contact center answered just over 168,000 calls or 59.1 percent of calls. ARM continues to work on the development and implementation of an ARM Dashboard for customers, similar to the Filing Division’s Dashboard on the external website, which displays current wait times. Unfortunately, due to competing priorities for technology resources, this cannot be considered for implementation until at least 2020. Meanwhile, ARM continues to work collaboratively with the Filing Division to determine how best to implement key ARM wait/response times to customers without causing confusion amongst the two divisions’ metrics.

Interactive Voice Response and Live Chat

FTB provides over 40 IVR applications. The majority of the applications, available in both English and Spanish, provide general tax information for individuals and business entities. In addition, current balance due, applied payments, and refund information can be accessed, and many of the most commonly used forms can be ordered. Eligible PIT callers can apply for IAs, skip up to two IA monthly payments, or delay their tax bill one time for 30 days. FTB also supports nontax IVR applications that provide general information for COD and Vehicle Registration Collections. Eligible COD callers can also apply for installment agreements, skip up to two installment agreement monthly payments, or delay their tax bill one time for 30 days. Callers have the option to speak to a representative after navigating through the application. If they are transferred to one of FTB’s larger contact centers, they may be given the option to wait on hold or request a call back without losing their place in the queue.

In 2011, FTB launched Live Chat as a fast and efficient way for the public to ask FTB representatives nonconfidential PIT and BE tax questions, locate a form or publication, and to get help with our website. In January 2016, FTB introduced Secure Chat as a companion to our general Live Chat service. Customers may access the Secure Chat service option by establishing their identity through the creation of a MyFTB account on FTB’s website. These customers, both taxpayers and tax representatives, are now able to chat securely with FTB regarding account-specific matters. This offers taxpayers a modern alternative to resolving account matters by phone or correspondence.

In FY 2018/2019, Filing Services Bureau experienced an 83.5 percent access rate overall for both Live and Secure Chat, responding to almost 120,000 contacts. Live Chat answered over 80,000 contacts while Secure Chat answered over 39,000 contacts.

FSB Chat Total Contacts Contacts Answered % Answered
Authenticated 49,753 39,262 78.9%
Non-Authenticated 93,420 80,253 85.9%
Total 143,173 119,515 83.5%

During FY 2018/2019, ARM’s BE and PIT Live Chat agents completed 19,143 chats with a 91 percent LOA.

ARM Chat Total Contacts Contacts Answered % Answered
Authenticated 9,209 8,360 90.8%
Non-Authenticated 11,833 10,783 91.1%
Total 21,042 19,143 91.0%

Ongoing Issues from the Annual Bill of Rights Hearing

Protest Update

FTB’s Audit Protest Section and Legal Division both resolve protests for assessments that taxpayers believe are incorrect. Our Protest Section is responsible for undocketed protest cases while the Legal Division resolves docketed protest cases. Docketed protest cases generally involve highly complex issues, issues of first impression, and/or large dollar amounts.

FTB has historically used 36 months as a benchmark for determining when cases have become “aged,” and we have discussed in prior years the inventory of the oldest protest cases, both docketed and undocketed, and the efforts taken to become current. As in prior years, we will report on the oldest protest cases, docketed and undocketed, including those that have aged at least five years.

Docketed Protests

Our Legal Division has continued to reduce the inventory of the oldest cases that are workable. Over the past six fiscal years, workable docketed protests have declined from 248 at the beginning of FY 2013/2014 to 126 at the end of FY 2018/2019.

During the most recent fiscal year, the number of oldest cases was revised to include 38 cases inadvertently omitted from the total number of oldest cases reported at the end of FY 2017/2018. At the beginning of FY 2017/2018, the inventory of over 36 month protests should have been reported as 118, of which 98 were workable. The remaining increase in the end of FY 2018/2019 inventory is a result of new cases, and a number of old cases which were previously not workable.

The number of workable docketed cases (matters) over 5 years old was 21 at the end of FY 2017/2018, with 12 of these matters being workable. The majority of these older matters involve highly complex issues which have taken longer than expected to develop. 

Undocketed Protests

Our Audit Protest Section’s overall volume of older (over 36 months) cases increased to 70 at the end of FY 2018/2019, up from 49 at the end of FY 2017/2018. Nine of these cases are over five years old; however, only five are currently workable and it is anticipated that all five will be closed during FY 2019/2020.

The increase in older cases is due in large part to limited staff resources, both from vacancies and a reduction in previously funded temporary positions. The Protest Section is currently working to fill its vacant positions and taking other steps to reduce its inventory of aged cases. Their goal is to close two-thirds of their older cases by the end of the FY 2019/2020. 

FTB’s Audit Protest Section and Legal Division both will be making taxpayer and/or representative contact at least every 6 months as follows: for unassigned cases (Audit protests), and for all cases (Legal protests), unless both FTB and the taxpayer establish a longer response time frame. This step will be an important part of managing their case inventory.

Audit Timeframes

The taxpayer’s journey through the Protest process, whether docketed or undocketed, nearly always begins with an Audit. Therefore, it may be helpful to also know the number of, and average timeframes for, the different types of audits FTB conducts as this was also a bill of rights issue.

During FY 2018/2019, FTB conducted just over 200,000 audits. Approximately 80 percent of these were based on an audit determination by the IRS, with FTB applying the same adjustments to the taxpayer’s California tax return. Another 15 percent were automated audits, based on the comparison of financial and other information provided to FTB with the information reported on a tax return. Both automated audits and those based on IRS determinations on average are completed by FTB within 1 month.

The remaining audits conducted by FTB are worked from the desk or in the field, with the auditor meeting in person with the taxpayer and/or representative. These audits average from 9 to 14 months to complete. Taking all types of audits into consideration, at the end of FY 2018/2019, 88 percent of FTB audits had been open for less than 2 years.

Audit management continues to work directly with the Advocate’s staff to address situations when they are brought to their attention. FTB audit management encourages taxpayers and representatives to contact the appropriate Audit supervisor or manager if they have any concerns about an audit. The necessary contact information is provided with the initial audit correspondence sent to the taxpayer and may also be obtained from the auditor at any time.

Conformity

With the recent significant federal changes, we are once again hearing concerns about conformity to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and how a lack of conformity by California increases complexity for taxpayers. In an effort to provide a forum for stakeholder input, on November 15, 2018, the Department held a Conformity Meeting. Once again, the overall message was that state conformity to federal tax law advances simplicity because a taxpayer only needs to understand one set of tax rules. The Loophole Closure and Small Business and Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2019 [AB 91 (Burke)] chaptered this year brought California closer into alignment with federal tax laws; however, there are still significant gaps. Increasing the standard deduction to reduce the need for many taxpayers to itemize is just one way California could help reduce taxpayer frustration.

Another area of concern relates to California law (R&TC § 17054), which is intended to allow individual taxpayers to reduce their tax liability (R&TC § 17041 or 17048) by claiming credits for their dependents. For tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2015, this law was amended such that taxpayers wishing to claim these credits must provide the tax identification number of the individual dependent(s) or the credit will be denied. As the result of federal changes, stakeholders are reporting certain groups of individuals are no longer able to acquire the required identification number(s) from the IRS.

Interested Parties Meetings

FTB staff holds public meetings to discuss or generate feedback from interested parties about specific topics, such as implementation of new laws or proposed initiatives, regulations, projects, and other topics of interest.

Education and Outreach

We strive to provide taxpayers and tax professionals with the information they need to file their state tax returns completely, accurately, and timely. The department continues to focus on education and outreach efforts, creating useful tools and resources, and improving services.

Education and Outreach plays an important role in communicating information to taxpayers, tax professionals, and external stakeholders. FTB uses mainstream, trade, and social media to communicate important information to taxpayers and tax professionals. We post information on social media platforms, create video clips and webinars, and provide public service announcements to educate taxpayers. We always look for ways to improve our website and provide more self-service options for taxpayers. Tax News continues to expand and has recently surpassed 31,000 subscribers.

Our Multilingual Communications program continues to provide vital services to our Limited English Proficient (LEP) taxpayers as well as to our bilingual customer service representatives and the tax preparers who serve LEP taxpayers.

Our goal is to ensure LEP taxpayers have equal access to the tools and resources available in order to file tax returns timely, accurately, and pay the correct amount without experiencing delays due to a language barrier. We have 29 webpages available in Spanish and have certain publications available in other languages.

New translations provided this year include:

  • FTB 855 RUS, California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) brochure in Russian.
  • CalEITC – 8 new notices in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Russian.
  • CalEITC – Text messages (Message Treatment) in Spanish and Vietnamese.
  • FTB 7904 SP, Vendor/Contractor Confidentiality Statement, in Spanish.
  • FTB 1034 SP, Disaster Loss – How to Claim a State Tax Deduction, in Spanish.

We provide access to our programs, services, and facilities in accordance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. At the taxpayer’s request, we provide reasonable accommodations in alternative format, including but not limited to, income tax booklets in large print and on audio CD.

In July, the department redesigned our website. The new and improved website is focused on the tasks our customers need to complete. This would include paying a tax bill, getting a tax form, filing a return, or checking on the status of their refund.

Quick links and plain language will also help users find what they need when they need it.

With the new website rebuild, Tax News was strategically moved to the Newsroom section of the site and now provides a print version for our tax professional community. We periodically send Tax News Flashes to inform taxpayers of changes to tax law, new programs, and current issues of interest.

The Processing Services Bureau’s Exempt Organization Unit participated in education and outreach events sponsored by Board of Equalization members, the State Controller’s Office, and various nonprofit groups. Presenters engaged with the public to discuss various aspects of exempt organizations including:

  • How to become an exempt organization.
  • Filing requirements.
  • How to keep exempt status.
  • Various issues, such as unrelated business income and suspensions.
  • Other items by audience request.

Filing

The Withholding Services and Compliance Section continues to work with our Real Estate Escrow Professionals through education and outreach. For FY 2018/2019, they attended three conferences including the Northern California Escrow, California Escrow Association, and the Escrow Institute of California. Additionally, we presented at 6 Real Estate Escrow Associations with representatives from across the escrow community. We are expanding our reach by partnering with the Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate’s Office to enhance our education with external stakeholders. For the first time, our educational materials were provided at the Latino Tax Fest and the IRS Tax Forum. Our collaboration will continue into the upcoming fiscal year.

Administrative Services Division (ASD)

FTB’s public affairs team educates taxpayers about filing requirements and other important tax issues through interviews with TV, radio and print media outlets, as well as through FTB’s website, videos, printed brochures, and webinars. We also send computer-equipped e-buses around the state to provide free tax return preparation for those most in need. The annual e-bus tour is organized by FTB in partnership with local community organizations, such as the United Way. These computer-equipped buses, which are staffed by IRS-certified VITA volunteers, visit communities around the state to offer free tax return preparation in English and Spanish. VITA volunteers also help connect taxpayers with the refundable CalEITC, which is designed to help low-income working families. This year, the e-bus tour included 52 stops, more than double the 25 stops made the year before. When promoting the CalEITC, we offer education materials in six languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, and Russian.

In June 2019, FTB redesigned its website. Focus was placed upon:

  • Customer tasks: Paying a tax bill, getting a form, filing a return, or checking a refund status
  • Trimming: We removed pages and documents with low or no visits for a leaner and cleaner website.
  • Improving user experience: Designed to make it accessible, easy to understand, and help customers find information faster and easier.

FTB’s website offers 29 pages in Spanish and we regularly translate major news releases into Spanish. We offer bilingual Facebook Live videos about tax issues in English-Spanish and English-Russian and we often also translate key social media posts into Spanish.

With over 18 million visits in 2018 alone, ftb.ca.gov offers help for individuals, businesses, and tax professionals at every level.

Accounts Receivable Management Division (ARMD)

As a result of the passage of AB 2503, and the implementation of the Administrative Dissolution Program, FTB has worked collaboratively with external stakeholders and the Secretary of State to educate taxpayers and their Representatives on the Voluntary Administrative Dissolution/Cancellation process. FTB has published Tax News articles, an external Public Service Bulletin, and Facebook Live Videos as part of our education and outreach efforts to bring awareness to this Program, and how taxpayers can qualify for administrative dissolution. FTB will publish additional Tax News articles and educational videos in the coming months and years.

Quality Assurance Practices

FTB follows quality assurance practices to ensure that it meets targets and deadlines, complies with legal due process requirements, and takes corrective actions.