By Cynthia Pasquale
For decades, Don and Rickie Morgan used a certified public accountant to prepare their tax returns. But a few years into retirement, the Morgans wondered why they were spending all that money for their fairly simple returns.
Their solution? AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, a free tax preparation service aimed at low- and moderate-income taxpayers 60 and older, but available to all ages.
“We’d been paying quite a bit of money to have our taxes done privately, and we felt it was time to take advantage of the free program,” Rickie said. “It was very convenient and close to home.”
The Morgans, who live in Lakewood, have returned to the same Tax-Aide site for the past four years to have their taxes filed by Tax-Aide’s volunteer preparers.
The Morgans’ returns are fairly simple, but using the Tax-Aide service “takes the responsibility off of our shoulders,” said Don, 79.
And, said Rickie, 78, two people always check the return to ensure accuracy. “It’s so much better to have the experts do it.”
All Tax-Aide preparers need to complete training sessions and pass tax preparation and ethics tests. They are then certified through the IRS.
Volunteers who perform other tasks, such as greeting taxpayers and scheduling appointments, also must pass the ethics exam.
“It doesn’t take too long to run across someone who really needs that extra $300 they are saving by having their taxes done for free,” said John Meredith, 72, of Colorado Springs, a retired electronics engineer who is the volunteer state coordinator for Tax-Aide.
The Morgans’ return was one of more than 31,000 prepared and filed through Tax-Aide in Colorado in 2013. More than 500 volunteers staffed 50 Tax-Aide sites throughout the state last year. Meredith is working to open additional locations this year.
Tax-Aide volunteers work out of libraries, churches, senior care centers and other public spaces.
Hours vary, but many locations are open in the evening and on Saturdays. Some take appointments; others operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Spanish-speaking volunteers are available at many locations.
Volunteers file standard state and federal returns electronically to ensure speedier refunds.
More complicated tax returns—for instance those involving depreciation or rental property—are beyond the scope of the service.
Returns generally can be completed in one visit if the taxpayer provides all necessary documents:
- The 2012 tax return.
- W2s and 1099 statements and other forms showing income from interest, dividends, capital gains, stock sales or Social Security.
- Photo identification for filers as well as Social Security cards for each person included on the return.
- Receipts for medical and dental bills, prescriptions and insurance premiums.
- Property tax and mortgage interest statements.
- Receipts for charitable donations and other itemized deductions.
- Mileage records for volunteer work or for travel to medical appointments.
- Receipts for improvements, such as ramps and railings, to make a home safer for aging residents.
- Bank routing number and account number for direct deposit of refunds.
Tax-Aide returns the financial information after submitting the forms but keeps the taxpayers’ names, addresses and birth dates on file to make it easier if they return to Tax-Aide the following year.All information is kept confidential; nonfinancial personal details are kept in a central location, not on local computers.To find a Tax-Aide location, visit aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call toll-free 888-227-7669. Sites will be open Feb. 3 to April 15.
Cynthia Pasquale is a writer living in Denver