By Johnny Jackson
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) volunteers are preparing for a new tax season, in which they hope to provide free tax-prep services to thousands of low-to middle-income residents.
"Last year, the AARP volunteers in Georgia did 41,117 returns," said AARP volunteer, Elaine Childs. Childs is an AARP Tax-Aide site coordinator in McDonough, where some 450 returns are prepared for free each year. AARP Tax-Aide, established in 1968, is a free tax-preparation service offered through the organization and its affiliates, in partnership with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and its Tax Counseling for the Elderly Programs.
AARP's web site notes that there are 34,600 volunteers, like Childs, trained and certified to assist more than 2.6 million taxpayers in filing their federal, state, and local returns.
About a dozen volunteers work between the two AARP Tax-Aide locations in Henry County, and several more at locations in surrounding counties, such as Clayton County, according to Childs.
The web site estimates that there are approximately 6,500 locations nationwide, in senior centers, libraries, and community centers. Henry County's two perennial AARP Tax-Aide sites are Hidden Valley Senior Center, at 600 Spraggins Memorial Pkwy., in Stockbridge, and Heritage Senior Center, at 1050 Florence McGarity Blvd., in McDonough.
Childs coordinates operations at Heritage Senior Center, and Linda Holcomb is the site coordinator at Hidden Valley Senior Center. Both are Henry County retired educators, each with more than a decade experience working in the AARP Tax-Aide Program.
Holcomb said the program's volunteers are trained to assist with filing the 1040 Form and other standard-schedule forms, using electronic filing (e-filing) software.
The free tax aid will be available at Hidden Valley Senior Center beginning Feb. 3, from 9 a.m., until 3 p.m., and will continue every Thursday thereafter until April 14, Holcomb said. Free tax help begins at Heritage Senior Center on Feb. 7, from 9 a.m., until 3 p.m., and will continue every following Monday until April 11.
The site coordinator added that the service will be available by appointment only, and only through e-filing, for middle-to-low income residents, with special attention to taxpayers age 60 and older.
"So many of ours [clients], we've built a relationship with them, and they feel very comfortable with bringing their returns to us," Holcomb said. "We continue to get more and more every year. There are times, if the need is there, that she [Elaine Childs] and I go to alternate sites to do tax returns."
Childs said each AARP Tax-Aide site seeks to expedite returns within an hour's time, to ensure as many taxpayers as possible are served in the process. "We schedule appointments every hour, and we prefer not to do any that take longer than an hour," said Childs. "We need people to take all of their forms out of the envelope and get them organized before they come to us."
The IRS recommends that taxpayers go to their appointments prepared with proof of identification and Social Security Cards for the taxpayer, and spouse, as well as dependents, or a Social Security Number verification letter issued by the Social Security Administration. The birth dates of the taxpayer, and spouse, as well as dependents are also necessary.
Tax preparers will need wage and earning statements: Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, from all employers, as well as bank routing numbers and account numbers for Direct Deposit service, according to IRS Spokesman Mark Green. A list of other recommended materials are available on the IRS web site, at www.IRS.gov.
Holcomb said those interested in training to become AARP Tax-Aide volunteers should visit the AARP web site, at www.AARP.org, to learn more. Information about other nearby AARP Tax-Aide sites will be available through the web site, soon.
To make a reservation for AARP Tax-Aide at Hidden Valley Senior Center, Holcomb suggests calling (770) 288-7002. To make a reservation at Heritage Senior Center, call (770) 288-7001.