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Tax-Aide Help Goes Virtual in Missouri

Tax

Janelle Simoneau, 53, of Kearney, is getting ready for her 27th year as a volunteer counselor for AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, but preparing taxes will be different in 2021, thanks to COVID-19.

“I love being able to help others and take the stress of tax prep off them,” Simoneau said. “I’m not sure how we’ll manage this year, but we’ll get them done.” 

As an activity director at an independent and assisted living facility for seniors, Simoneau worries about bringing the coronavirus there. She’s glad AARP is finding ways to keep everyone safe through virtual services but will miss in-person counseling.

“When I show them the numbers, I build a relationship,” Simoneau said. 

She inherited the tax gig from her father, an AARP volunteer. 

“A lot of people he helped came to me. I’m carrying on his legacy,” she said. But just how that work will carry on this year at each of the state’s more than 100  sites is a work in progress.

Tax-Aide’s services are available to anyone, but the program concentrates on people who are over 50 and have low to moderate income. Missouri has roughly 500 volunteer preparers who are trained and certified by the IRS every year to make sure they understand the latest changes to the tax code. 

Adapt and overcome

Ken Bowman, 73, the state coordinator for Tax-Aide and a regional coordinator in the Kansas City area, said that when COVID-19 arrived last year, the program was ordered to shut down on March 16. 

“We did about half of our normal return volume,” he said.

This tax season, Bowman said, options for people using the service will vary, based on the site. “We’re trying to minimize
person-to-person contact.” 

The options available in Missouri will be:

  • Traditional scan, where the taxpayer makes an appointment for an in-person interview with a volunteer, who then scans the documents. The return is prepared remotely, and the taxpayer comes back to review and sign it.
  • Low contact, using document scanning, video or phone conferencing, and remote return preparation by volunteers.
  • Contact-free, by which taxpayers send a digital scan or photograph of their tax documents to the volunteer using a secure email address. The preparer discusses the completed return with the taxpayer by phone or video, then e-files it.
  • Help with the Missouri Property Tax Credit (PTC), available to low-income households, people over 65 and those with 100 percent disability, who are eligible for a rent or property-tax rebate from the state. This service can be done over the phone, or people can drop off their information at a Tax-Aide site. The return is mailed to the customer for filing.

Taxpayers eligible for the PTC rebate can also use a form available on the Missouri Department of Revenue website, dor.mo.gov. The form calculates the rebate; filers then print out the document and mail it in.

Bowman noted that qualified taxpayers with basic computer skills can do their own returns at no charge by going to the Internal Revenue Service’s Free File site, irs.gov/freefile. This program has different filing options based on your income.

To learn more about Tax-Aide  and to find a location near you, go to aarpfoundation.org/taxaide or call 888-227-7669.

Timothy Poor is a writer living in Clayton, MO.

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