A patron walks past a table with tax forms and AARP Tax-Aide flyers at the Garland County Library on Thursday. – Photo by Richard Rasmussen of The Sentinel-Record
The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program will return to the Garland County Library this year to coordinate virtual tax preparation services to residents 50 years and older, or who are low- to moderate-income.
Traditionally set up inside the library and offering face-to-face consultations with multiple counselors and volunteers, contact will be minimal this year due to the pandemic. According to an AARP news release, the goal is to have two “extremely limited” contact meetings between the taxpayers and coordinator Bill Davidson. One meeting will be to interview the person and electronically record their tax documents. The second will be to review the return, sign it and provide a copy of the return.
Packets explaining the process are available at the library entrance and will need to be picked up prior to having in-person counseling, which will begin in February.
Davidson said as the only volunteer who has received the COVID-19 vaccine so far, he will be the only person conducting the in-person counseling and returning.
According to the release, all returns are prepared by IRS trained and certified AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers based on the 2020 tax law. They will work remotely and contact people, as needed, virtually.
“I decided to do walk-up appointments where it’s normal and where they come to the front door of the library and I have a greeter there that will give them an appointment for that shift, for instance where they can come back in 30 minutes, in 40 minutes, an hour; and sit down with a counselor and go over their tax return information,” Davidson said. “If they have everything they need we will scan that information into a secure cloud storage area that was developed by AARP tax aide.
“Then half of my counselors sitting at home will do their taxes online and then within a couple of days I will call the taxpayers back and they’ll come back to the same place they had their original counseling session at the front of the library, and we’ll give them their return, they’ll sign their return, and go home.”
Davidson said the most significant difference in the program this year is it’s going to be slow.
“Very, very slow, and we can’t make it any faster because of the pandemic requirements,” he said. “We try to do a good return instead of a fast return.”
If people wish not to wait on the program, Davidson said he encourages people who make less than $70,000 a year to utilize IRS Free File at IRS.gov.
“Because the overall income of a lot of people went down, they qualify to do irs.gov Free File, which is a really easy program where they don’t have to pay to do their taxes if they make less than about $70,000,” he said. “I wish more people would do it because I think if you can use your smartphone and social media, you can do your taxes because those software programs are pretty helpful nowadays.
“We always put a big sign up next to our window saying ‘Hey, if you don’t want to wait for your appointment, go try it on IRS.govfreefile.’ And a lot of people do it.”
A few other things noted in the release include:
• People do not need to be an AARP member to take advantage of this program.
• Everyone must wear a mask. They will be sanitizing the interview chairs and tables between each taxpayer interview.
• They will not do out of state returns.
• All tax records must be ready when signing up for service; one missing document will stop the process.
• Incomplete documentation packets will not be entered into the system.