When Martha Hatcher first started preparing taxes for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, she filled out every form by hand. A lot has changed over 19 years, including converting to computerized systems in 2003, but she stills volunteers her time when tax season arrives.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Tax-Aide is a free tax preparation service originally created for anyone 50 years or older who couldn’t afford a tax preparation service. Now it’s open to all ages.
“It grew from there,” Hatcher said. “
We’re federally funded, so there’s no cap on income or age, so anyone can come. There are certain things that we’re not trained to do. If they have a business and a big loss, we do not do those. And we do not do depreciation. We refer them to a paid preparer.”
For most filers, however, the service is able and ready.
As the Piedmont region district coordinator, Hatcher oversees the training of the program’s counselors in Chester, Fort Mill, Lancaster, Clover and Rock Hill. Last week, she helped instructors train about 20 people for the upcoming tax season that begins Feb. 1.
“We have 60 people in our district who we train,” she said. “You do not have to have prior experience, but you do have to have training. There’s a 40-hour course you take, approved through the IRS, and you have to pass a three-part test with a minimum score of 80 percent.”
Instructors also undergo continuing education to stay abreast of changes in the tax laws. Hatcher said tax laws change from year to year, sometimes up until the first day of tax season.
“For instance, for several years mortgage insurance premiums were an itemized deduction on your schedule A,” Hatcher said. “But that stopped in 2016. So, for 2017, you don’t get to deduct mortgage insurance premiums.”
Last year, Tax-Aide changed its computer program system. The lines were a little longer because every user had to start from scratch – no importing information from last year’s tax return for returning filers.
This tax season the process should run much smoother, Hatcher said, because everyone who participated last year will already be in the system. Wait times will vary based on the number of counselors at each site. Walk-ins are welcome and some sites accept appointments, Hatcher recommends calling the site to confirm.
“It takes a good hour to do somebody’s tax return, then it’s quality reviewed to make sure there are no mistakes,” she said. “We have two sets of eyes on every return.”
Once the return is reviewed and signed, it’s e-filed to the IRS.
Although many people dread tax season, Hatcher said she looks forward to it every year because she can give back to her community. She sees Tax-Aide as an outreach program.
“A lot of people, all they have is retirement income, social security and maybe a small job,” she said. “If we can help those folks or the minimum wage workers who can barely meet their daily living expenses...we need to be helping those people, to keep money in their pockets and keep their kids fed.”
Retired CPA Cindy Marcelais volunteers her time as the Piedmont region district training coordinator and as a Fort Mill site tax preparer. She said she loves doing taxes – she’s done them all her life. But now, she’s able to offer her services for free.
“It is so valuable for people who need to comply with the law to be able to do that without having to pay,” Marcelais said. “To live within the parameters of the law, and all the good things that we as citizens need to do, it shouldn’t have to cost people money to comply with that. So we’re hopeful we can do that for them.”
Volunteers prepare state and federal tax returns at sites in Chester, Fort Mill, Lancaster, Clover and Rock Hill. The Fort Mill site is at Fort Mill Public Library located at 1818 Second Baxter Crossing, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Friday. The service is also available from 12:30 to 6 p.m. on select Thursdays – Feb. 1 and 15, March 1, 15 and 29; and from noon to 5:30 p.m. on select Saturdays – Feb. 3, March 24 and April 7.
Stephanie Jadrnicek: email@example.com
Here’s what you need to bring
The program started in 1968 with just four volunteers at one site preparing 100 tax returns. AARP Foundation Tax-Aide now involves more than 35,000 volunteers and serves 2.6 million taxpayers annually at more than 5,000 sites nationwide. For more information, visit aarp.org.
The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program asks you to bring the following items:
▪ Last year’s tax return
▪ Social Security cards or other official documentation for yourself and every individual on your return
▪ Photo identification for each taxpayer
▪ Checkbook if you want to direct deposit any refund
▪ W-2 from each employer
▪ Unemployment compensation statements
▪ SSA-1099 form showing the total Social Security benefits paid to you for the year, or Form RRB-1099, Tier 1 Railroad Retirement benefits
▪ 1099 forms reporting interest (1099-INT), dividends (1099-DIV), proceeds from sales (1099-B), as well as documentation showing the original purchase price of your sold assets
▪ 1099-R form if you received a pension, annuity, or IRA distribution
▪ 1099-MISC form
▪ Information about other forms of income
▪ State or local income tax refund
▪ Payments: All forms and canceled checks indicating federal or state income tax paid, including quarterly estimated tax payments
▪ Deductions: Most taxpayers have a choice of taking either a standard deduction or itemizing their deductions. If you have a substantial amount of deductions, you may want to itemize.
You will need to bring the following information:
▪ 1098 form showing any home mortgage interest
▪ A list of medical/dental expenses (including doctor and hospital bills and medical insurance premiums), a list of prescription medicines, costs of assisted living services and bills for home improvements, such as ramps and railings for people with disabilities
▪ Summary of contributions to charity
▪ Receipts or canceled checks for all quarterly or other paid tax
▪ Property Tax bills and proof of payment
▪ Health Insurance
▪ 1095A forms if you purchased insurance through the Marketplace (Exchange)
▪ 1095B/1095C forms (if applicable)
▪ Any exemption correspondence from the Marketplace (if applicable)
Credits: Dependent care provider information (name, employer ID or Social Security number)
▪ 1098-T and 1098-E forms related to tuition and student loan interest