AARP Tax-Aide Program in Full Swing for 2012 Tax Season

Free tax preparation sites held around the state from Feb. 1 – April 15

Feb 7, 2012, 11:18 a.m.

Today, AARP Montana announced the launch of its annual Tax-Aide program – a volunteer-run AARP Foundation program that assists low- and moderate-income taxpayers in preparing and filing their tax return free of charge, with a special emphasis on assisting individuals 60 years of age and older.

“The incoming new year also ushers in one of the most inevitable and dreaded tasks: preparing taxes,” said Joy Bruck, AARP Montana State President. “For most people this involves hours of work, number crunching and hair pulling. AARP Tax-Aide, the nation’s largest free volunteer-run tax assistance and preparation service, helps seniors, as well as low to moderate income taxpayers of all ages, prepare their returns with substantially less stress.”

Trained and Certified Tax Preparers offer Service Free of Charge

Each year from February 1 through April 15, trained and certified AARP Tax-Aide volunteers prepare, free of charge, federal, state and local tax returns for low- and middle -income taxpayers, with special attention to those age 60 and older.

In Montana in 2010, more than 170 AARP Tax-Aide volunteers helped more than 10,000 Montanans file their federal and state tax returns for a total of 5,749 tax returns. The total amount returned to the people of Montana through the volunteer’s efforts was $3,136,478.

Concetta Eckel of Helena has volunteered with AARP Tax-Aide for 10 years as a tax counselor and also as a member of the state management team for five years. Having worked as a business owner for nearly twenty years, Eckel feels the program is a perfect match for her experience and expertise.

“I love being able to use my skills to provide services to those who can’t afford to hire a tax preparer,” said Eckel. “And I get to work with a great community of people – both clients and volunteers. All of our volunteers express joy at helping others and working with one another.”

“From our perspective at the IRS, volunteers are the most valuable resources that the free tax preparation program has,” said Fran Reichert, senior tax consultant for the Internal Revenue Service.

In Montana, all volunteers preparing returns in AARP Tax-Aide sites are certified through an advanced level of tax law training after passing a series of tests. Long-time volunteer Eckel has taken the test 11 years in a row.

Putting “Cash” in Hand

In Montana, an often overlooked tax credit is the Elderly Homeowner/Renter Credit. As the name indicates, this tax break is available to renters as well as homeowners as long as they were 62 or older by Dec. 31.

The claimants also must have lived in Montana for at least nine months during the tax year and occupied a Montana residence for six months or more during that time frame. Homeowners calculate their credit based on property taxes paid; renters use the amount of rent paid. Finally, the individuals must have gross household income of less than $45,000.

For eligible Montanans, the credit can be worth up to $1,000. Even better, it's a refundable tax credit, which means that if the credit amount exceeds the filer's state tax liability, the taxpayer will get that extra amount as a refund. In order to claim the credit, a form 2EC needs to be used. The form can be sent as part of the state income tax filing or separately if a Montana tax return is not required. Form 2EC also can be e-filed.

Additional refunds, mainly due to deductions and credits, make a significant difference for seniors’ and low income families’ budgets and stimulate local economies, Eckel said.

“When someone comes to you for help who is having trouble making ends meet and you are able to help them obtain a credit they didn’t know about previously – well, there’s almost no better feeling because the people you help are overwhelmed with gratitude,” she said.

From Modest Beginnings

From its modest start in 1968 with four volunteers, Tax-Aide has grown to become the nation’s largest free, volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance program. Approximately 35,300 AARP Tax-Aide volunteers, trained in cooperation with the IRS, help more than 2.6 million taxpayers file their federal, state, and local tax returns each year. The AARP Tax-Aide program is offered at approximately 6,500 locations nationwide in senior centers, libraries, community centers, and at other convenient locations across the country.

To find out more about the Tax-Aide program or to find a Tax-Aide site in Montana, visit www.aarp.org/taxaide or www.montanafreefile.org call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669). The Tax-Aide program also has an online assistance tool where individuals can pose questions to Tax-Aide volunteers year-round.

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