Free tax prep services return to community centers

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 1/31/17

While volunteers for the IRS-certified AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program will be returning to Jefferson County to prepare and electronically file taxes for free, starting Feb. 1, they would ask …

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Free tax prep services return to community centers

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While volunteers for the IRS-certified AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program will be returning to Jefferson County to prepare and electronically file taxes for free, starting Feb. 1, they would ask clients to be patient.

Ron Ryan, coordinator for the county program, explained that new computer software has been adopted this year, which means preparers can’t simply carry forward their clients’ tax data from last year.

“In previous years, because we were using the same software from year to year, we could pull some of that data forward,” said Ryan, who’s been doing this for six years. “We’ve all done test runs on the new software, but you can never do enough prep work, as far as I’m concerned.”

Ryan is allotting a window of roughly one hour per return, but he’d like to shrink that to 45 minutes if he could. To that end, he’s requesting that clients put their paperwork in order as much as they can.

“We’ve had folks bring in envelopes full of stuff that we’ve had to sit down and total up for them,” Ryan said. “Some of them come in with envelopes they haven’t even opened yet. If we’re not too busy, of course we’ll do what we can, but our time is valuable, too. It really does help if you’ve already compiled your forms by income and deductions.”

Ryan estimates that Port Townsend alone served more than 300 clients during last year’s 12-week window of AARP Tax-Aide preparations, and welcomed clients to return to the Port Townsend Community Center between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Tuesdays and Fridays. Tax-Aide services are also to be available in Chimacum at the Tri-Area Community Center, 3-7 p.m. on Mondays and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Wednesdays.

“Those aren’t always the easiest hours for working folks, but I’ve seen them make it happen,” Ryan said.

The Quilcene Community Center also offers free Tax-Aide preparation services, by appointment, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25; Thursday, March 16; and Saturday, April 8. Call 360-765-3321 to make your appointment for Quilcene, 385-9007 for Port Townsend, and 732-4822 for Chimacum.

“We’re offering it on those Saturdays to try and capture more working folks who might not be able to do it during the week,” Ryan said.

Tax-Aide volunteers are authorized to prepare most basic tax returns for low- and middle-income taxpayers, making sure they receive all eligible deductions and credits. Volunteers are not able to prepare returns for taxpayers who have income from rental properties, or complicated business returns.

Port Townsend and Chimacum each are set to be staffed with a greeter, four counselors preparing returns and another counselor doing quality reviews of the prepared returns, while Quilcene is slated to have two counselors preparing returns and another doing quality reviews.

“All completed returns have a quality review, checked by a second counselor,” said Carol Volk, AARP Tax-Aide communications coordinator. “This is the reason we have such an accurate return rate.”

Although the program is sponsored by the IRS and the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) you do not need to be a senior to benefit.

“I used to teach driving safety courses for AARP before I got into this,” Ryan said. “We’re not all accountants, but we have an error-free rating that’s at least in the high 90s. A lot of folks are afraid of the IRS, so we’re more than happy to do their returns for them. It’s so gratifying that you get hooked on it.”

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