Tax preparation for seniors at no charge

Sign-in sheets, document checklists, informational fliers and pamphlets are ready to go for AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program attendees as volunteers prepare for the approaching busy tax season.

MARQUETTE — Retired senior citizens without income to report to the IRS may not file annual tax returns, as it may seem unnecessary as well as time-consuming, complicated or expensive.

However, Rich Brich, local coordinator for the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program, wants people to know there are many good reasons to file annually and with the program’s help, filing doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.

AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program offers free tax preparation help for low-to-moderate income individuals and households, with preference given for those 50-years-old and above.

“We really want folks to use the service,” Brich said. “This is a nationwide program and we are affiliated with the IRS. There’s no charge, they get both Federal and State Returns (done) and free e-filing with both of them.”

The program is a valuable service for many low-to-moderate income filers who would otherwise pay fees to file their taxes. Brich noted people with even very basic returns can be charged as much as $65 to have it done.

John Greenberg, AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteer works at the computer as he speaks with fellow volunteer Bonnie Pergande during AARP Foundation Tax-Aide training last week. AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers provide electronic tax preparation assistance to eligible seniors and community members.

“Many of the folks we get are actually (a) little more complicated than what the basic return is,” Brich said. “I did a little calculation and (the total combined cost would have been) over $20,000 just for the few folks that we are doing here.”

Even if a filer does not have taxable income to report, Brich still encourages them to file their taxes, as they may be eligible for various tax credits. He also noted filing taxes early and regularly can also help prevent or alert someone to potential identify theft, as the IRS only allows one tax return per social security number.

Volunteers who are trained in conjunction with IRS standards will be available by appointment to help individuals file state and federal Income taxes, as well as the Homestead Property Tax Credit and the Home Heating Credit.

The program offers a great opportunity for volunteers to serve their community by offering tax assistance to senior citizens and community members.

Locally, the program is “in desperate need of volunteers,” Brich said. “We want folks that would be willing to help us, especially from the Gwinn area, Munising…we could really use the help anywhere.”

While becoming a volunteer may sound complicated, or as if it requires a specific educational or professional background, Brich notes anyone can become a volunteer tax preparer with AARP Foundation’s extensive Tax-Aide training and IRS certification program.

“If you can send an email, you can do this,” Brich said.

Furthermore, volunteer training and assignments can be tailored to individual skills and preferences. Brich mentioned there is more to volunteering than working directly with tax returns, greeters who help attendees sign-in and get required documents in order are also needed and can be trained more quickly than tax prepares.

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program will host tax-filing assistance appointments throughout tax season in multiple U.P. locations, including Marquette, Gwinn, Newberry, Houghton, Escanaba, Iron Mountain and Munising and Sault Ste Marie.

Locally, the Marquette location still has appointments available, but appointments at Munising and Gwinn locations are completely filled at this time, Brich said.

One-hour appointments are offered in Marquette on Tuesdays and Fridays in February, between the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Interested individuals can call the Marquette Senior Center at 228-0456.

There are many important documents that attendees should bring to their appointments, including photo identifications, Social Security cards for all persons on the return, a copy of the previous year’s completed tax return, as well as applicable 1099 forms and W-2s. Brich also noted married couples should make sure both partners are available for the appointment.

For a complete list, see: https://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/info-01-2011/important-tax-documents.html

While the Tax-Aide program aims to offer assistance to as many people as possible, they are not able to file returns for individuals with complex investments, rental income, farm credits, businesses except CEZ forms, or any other returns they are not trained to or comfortable with completing.

For those who are interested in free tax assistance but are not able to use the Tax-Aide program, the IRS offers a locator service for sites that offer Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/free-tax-return-preparation-for-you-by-volunteers

AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide website also offers answers to frequently asked tax questions, with a special focus on tax matters affecting those 50 and over. Individuals can also submit questions about Federal Tax Returns to be answered by trained volunteer within three-to-five business days.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.