Anxious about filing taxes? AARP to the rescue for free

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is in full swing in the metro area, helping thousands of seniors file their taxes for free.

Tax-Aide is the nation’s largest volunteer-run free tax assistance program. Last year in Georgia, more than 33,000 federal and state tax returns were filed electronically for clients through the AARP program. About 95 percent of this was for seniors ages 60 and older.

You don’t have to be a member of AARP, or even a senior citizen, to receive the service. Tax-Aide will assist anyone filing a 1040EZ or 1040A form, according to Serene Garcia, AARP Georgia associate state director for communications.

The free tax preparation is available in 113 locations statewide through April 15. Most are held in public places in which older people are likely to congregate, such as senior centers and libraries. Each location sets its own hours, and most take clients on a first-come, first-serve basis.

This year, Georgia’s Tax-Aide is run by 850 volunteers, the majority of whom are seniors themselves. They all completed IRS training and will each put in around 20 to 25 volunteer hours each week during the tax season.

Paul McNulty is in his third year as a Tax-Aide volunteer, and this year he’s also the state coordinator. The retired corporate sales manager said he decided to get involved after hearing about it from a couple of business associates who were volunteers.

The first two years McNulty was a “client facilitator,” which is a fancy name for the person who greets taxpayers when they come in and helps them fill out an initial questionnaire. For many seniors the process can be intimidating.

“I’ve seen people come in who are absolutely, totally lost,” McNulty said.

For some, it was the spouse who had always handled such matters. Now it’s their responsibility and they have no idea where to begin, often coming in with a handful of papers that make little sense to them, he said.

Tax-Aide volunteers are prepared to handle such situations. Using the questionnaire, a reassuring volunteer will take the client through each step of the process.

“It makes the client feel a little more at ease because now they have someone putting their stuff in order,” McNulty said.

For other seniors, routine tax filings are no longer necessary because their income is not high enough.

“Some are shocked to learn that,” said McNulty. “I had one guy who couldn’t believe it. He said he’d been filing for years, but he didn’t need to.”

To participate in the free program, go to the AARP website at www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide/and select a convenient location, date and time.

Make sure you bring photo identification, Social Security card, bank statements and any other tax documents you’ll need to include in the tax returns. If you have a copy of the previous year’s tax returns, bring that along too. Some information is transferable from year to year.

After the initial questionnaire, federal and state tax returns will be prepared and filed electronically. Before the transmission is made the information will be double-checked by a second person for quality review.

You will receive a printed copy of the tax returns and go home with all your documents. AARP doesn’t keep anything. The whole process should take about two hours or less.

“It’s a great program, but it’s not as well-known as it needs to be,” McNulty said. “So many people out there are paying someone (to file their tax returns) without knowing this free service is available.”

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