Yes, February is here, and that means it’s time to think about filing our 2014 tax forms. In fact, today is opening day for AARP Tax-Aide, a free countywide service for middle- and low-income tax filers. There are 64 volunteers with 51 certified tax preparers available to help in Cambria, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Nipomo, Grover Beach, Atascadero, and two locations in Paso Robles. Last year, the service filed more than 3,100 returns.
“We started taking appointments Jan. 19 for six of the nine centers,” said Dale Johnson, operations site coordinator. “We have eight volunteer schedulers who make appointments from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. I also want to thank our volunteers at the Morro Bay Senior Center for making all the reminder calls before appointments.”
The schedule center is based at the Morro Bay Church of Christ at 1001 Las Tunas St. Vicki Ryal coordinates the schedulers and is a longtime certified tax preparer, one of six on-site in Morro Bay. She said the first step is to call 354-1157, and the scheduler will ask whether the client is new to the AARP Tax-Aide service or is a returning client. This is important because it is faster to return to the center and the tax preparer most familiar with the original file.
Next, the volunteer verifies whether the caller’s return is within the scope of the AARP Tax-Aide program. Although most of the clients served in the past were seniors, there is no age restriction. For example, college students with part-time jobs or small businesses that can show a profit with expenses of at least $10,000 could be candidates for the free service.
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Once scheduled at a center, the volunteer will remind the client what paperwork to bring, including photo identification, last year’s IRS return and this year’s income receipts. Another item that is important in 2015 is proof of health insurance.
“Most of our clients are with Medicare,” Johnson said, “so this won’t be an issue. But now that the Affordable Care Act is a law, everyone must show proof of insurance when they file or there is a penalty.”
Ryal reminded filers without health insurance that Feb. 15 is the deadline to enroll in a plan for 2015.
AARP Tax-Aide preparers are trained and certified. New preparers receive a week of training for two consecutive years. Returning preparers retrain for two days annually. All must pass a certification test before working with clients. And if audited, AARP Tax-Aide will stand behind the returns filed through the service.
Appointments are filling up; Ryal suggested calling as soon as you have the necessary paperwork. Definitely call before April 1. More details are available at www.ccfreetax.org.