FRANKLIN COUNTY – With February comes a number of important events – Groundhog Day (Phil saw his shadow), Valentine’s Day (don’t forget your sweetheart), President’s Day (your late winter holiday?).
And of course, tax season and time to make an accounting to Uncle Sam and his Internal Revenue Service.
For many, tax season is the most dreaded time of the year. And it might be even more so this year with last year’s changes in the tax law.
Roger Schwalm, who coordinates the local AARP Tax Aide program at the Chambersburg Rec Center, says there is here is no reason for people to dread tax time, even with the new law and new tax forms it brings with it.
The AARP Foundation has been providing its tax aide service to the public for five decades, at locations around the country, including 36 years in Franklin County.
As an AARP certified Tax Aide counselor, Schwalm says the program makes it easy for most local taxpayers to file with assurance their taxes have been done accurately and without a big hassle or expense to them.
The service is completely free and AARP won’t try to sell you anything, not even a membership.
Changes in the tax law
“The PATH Act (the name for the new tax act) will have very little effect on the majority of our clients,” Schwalm said. “If their income and life style tax events remain largely the same as in 2017, they will be little if any change in their 2018 returns as compared to 2017.”
Mostly, the new tax law will affect those with higher incomes, those with high property, state and sales taxes and those that have expenses that were used to itemize last year.
The new tax law doubles the standard deduction but eliminates personal exemptions, which for a couple with one child pretty well makes the higher deduction almost a wash.
On the state and local level, there is little to no change in the state tax process, as well as local earned income tax.
There is no change in the rental and property tax rebate programs either. The tax aide program will have the forms available and fill them out for both of those programs. Taxpayers will need their supporting documents to claim the rebates.
Program open to most area residents
While geared toward seniors and low- to- moderate- income residents, the Tax Aide program is open to most area residents, Schwalm said.
Some exceptions are businesses that have employees and/or inventory, farmers, or landlords with rental income that requires depreciation.
Those individuals or businesses will need to get a paid preparer to do their returns, or do it themselves with one of the computer tax software packages.
Still, most taxpayers will qualify for the free help from the AARP program, Schwalm said.
“We can do Schedule C and Schedule E and rentals if there is no depreciation involved,” he said.
An example, he said, would be rental of land to a company who wants to put a cell phone tower on it, or a few acres to someone who wants to put in a crop or garden.
Another would be a person with a home-based business who doesn’t have depreciation for equipment, or complicated expenses or inventory.
Volunteers are at the heart of the program
“Our counselors and facilitators are a special group of people,” Schwalm said.
A total of 59 counselors work at the program’s five sites and 10 senior centers and retirement communities across Franklin County and in Fulton County.
There are 26 facilitators who manage the flow of clients and assist the clients with the intake forms that are required by IRS and AARP.
“These people dedicate a large amount of volunteer time and do an absolute marvelous job supporting their communities,” he said. “They are all required to attend class and pass a test on their specific areas of participation and then volunteer at least 40 hours over the 10 week tax season.”
Without their participation the program would not be able to function, he said, and that would be a major loss to the community.
The local program serves about 3,500 individuals and families every year, Schwalm said, and the number is increasing.
What it takes to be an AARP tax expert
Counselors take a week-long tax prep course becoming familiar with the software used to prepare the returns.
Facilitators take a half day class on procedures and ethics.
Then they have to pass an IRS test in order to be certified before they can actually go to work preparing taxes.
They must do that every single tax year, Schwalm said.
Everyone involved in the program must also take an ethics test to prove they know how to handle confidential information and what they should and shouldn’t do with it.
The training and dedication of the volunteer tax preparers are factors that inspire confidence in people who use the free service.
It takes the AARP volunteers about an hour to complete the average return, although Schwalm said a complicated return can take up to three hours.
Clients can wait an hour or so to see the tax expert who does their return
Once it is finished, another volunteer checks it over for accuracy before the final return is filed electronically – all at no cost.
The last step is to give the paper copies of the return to the client, along with any appropriate tax advice for next year.
AARP Tax Aide prep sites:
- Chambersburg Rec Center, 235 S. Third St., Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- American Legion, 755 Philadelphia Ave, Chambersburg, Wednesdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- American Legion Post 561, 611 N. Fifth St., McConnellsburg, Wednesdays only, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Knights of Columbus, 42 W. Second St., Waynesboro, Thursdays only, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Greencastle Senior Center, 10615 Antrim Church Road, Greencastle, Tuesdays only, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
What you need before you start:
- Last year’s tax return
- Social security numbers for taxpayer and dependents
- W-2s from each employer
- All 1099 forms (for a variety of miscellaneous income)
- Brokerage statements
- Educational tuition (1099 B and/or 1098-T)
- Forms K1 or W2G)
- All retirement and pension forms (1099-R)
- For property tax or rent rebates, stamped and paid tax reciepts or rent certificate signed by landord
Filing facts: Electronic filing is the safest, fastest way to file. It’s usually also free.
Tax Return Processing Times: from 6-8 weeks for paper returns, up to 3 weeks if filing electronically
Check refund status: At IRS Refund Hotline (800–829–1954). When you call, you will need to provide your Social Security number, your filing status and the exact whole dollar amount of the refund shown on your return.
There’s an app for that: Check refund status with IRS2Go, a smart phone application that lets you interact with the IRS using your mobile device. Simply enter your Social Security number, which will be masked and encrypted for security purposes, then select your filing status and the exact whole dollar amount of your refund shown on your return.
Vicky Taylor can be reached at 717-372-0079 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org