Worried about your taxes? A tax assistant can help

Worried about doing your taxes?

you are not alone.

Many of those who come to Tax-Aide to help prepare income taxes have the same fear, says longtime program volunteer Robert Felton.

Felton, one of the people in charge of the program in Bonner County, said they often hear from those they help how grateful they are for the program.

“If you really look at the process, it’s really not that difficult,” he said. “But people are terrified. I think they’re afraid of the IRS, I think they’re afraid of numbers. They’re afraid of forms. Even now with that, you know, a lot of it is on the Internet… People are very hesitant about it.”

Starting in early February through the end of tax season, the AARP Foundation is offering free tax preparation help through its Tax Assistance Program.

Tax-Aide offers free tax preparation and assistance to anyone, especially those 50 and older, who can’t afford a tax preparation service. Since its inception, the program has helped more than 68 million taxpayers.

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide has grown since opening its team of just four volunteers in 1968. The program now has 35,000 volunteers and serves more than 2.5 million taxpayers annually in nearly 5,000 locations across the country.

Felton was involved in an AARP program, held in partnership with the IRS and tax software companies, when someone walked into the church office where he was working at the time. Felton, a paid tax preparer with 10 years at a previous job, said he’s interested in his affinity for numbers and his desire to help others.

“People are very appreciative,” Felton said. “It’s really amazing. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, how long they wait, how complicated it is or not. People really, really really appreciate us.”

Felton encourages those interested in getting help with their taxes to get a copy of the Tax Aide Receipt Booklet at the library in advance if possible. This will give them a head start in gathering the information they need to do their taxes.

Because the program is offered on a first-come, first-served basis, Felton said there could be a huge demand for help — especially when the program begins in February.

“I just want people to understand that there is a limit to what we can do,” he said. “It might make more sense to wait a little longer versus trying to come right away. But, when people come, we’ll do our best to serve them.”

While it may be too late for this year, given the number of tests and requirements needed for certification, Felton said volunteers are always needed. To become a Tax Assistance Program volunteer, those interested can go online at bit.ly/3Jj1hQ5 to register. Volunteers will then be contacted in the fall when courses are held, usually in January before tax season.

Training includes classroom work, usually about 40 hours, and numerous exams from tax preparation to ethics. Felton said ensuring volunteers are properly trained and have what they need to prepare tax returns is something the AARP, IRS, and software companies take very seriously.

But, he added, for those who love to help others and are interested, there is no better program they could be a part of.

In the Greater Bonner County area, program volunteers will be located in two locations – in Sandpoint and Newport, Washington.

At Sandpoint, they’ll be at the Sandpoint Library every Monday and Wednesday, starting February 6th and running through April 12th, to help with tax returns. Volunteers will be in the library from 9 am to 3 pm

In Newport, volunteers will be at the Newport Hospitality Senior Center, 215 N. Washington Ave. Newport, Washington, on Fridays. They will be on site from 10 am to 3 pm

Returns will be taken on first-come, first-served, first-served paperwork and sign-up sheets will be at both locations on days of service.

In order to prepare for a return, officials said residents must fill out a receipt booklet before AARP can help them prepare their return. Those requesting assistance may pick up the booklet at any time during library hours at the Sandpoint Library Information Desk or on service days.

When going to the library to meet with volunteers from the Tax Assistance Program, residents must bring all tax documents for that tax year as well as a photo ID and Social Security card for all returning persons. Residents must also bring their 2021 tax return, if applicable.

A tax assistant has several options for providing taxpayer assistance. These options vary by location and are subject to change. For additional information including what to bring to the tax aid website and additional locations, visit the AARP Idaho States.aarp.org/idaho website.

Information: Phone, 208-651-9140; or online, aarpfoundation.org

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