Cost-free tax options available to Tri-Lakes residents

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published February 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 22, 2013 at 10:52 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Jill Williams, right, an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteer, helps Lloyd Myer with filing his taxes at the McAuley Center outside of Hot Springs Village.

With tax season upon us, many Arkansans who aren’t able to hire someone to do their taxes have access to cost-free options in their communities.

Multiple locations are open in the Tri-Lakes area to offer free tax-preparation service geared toward Arkansans with low incomes and senior citizens.

Every tax season, the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program offers free, individualized tax preparation for low- to moderate-income taxpayers, especially those 60 and older, at nearly 6,000 locations nationwide, the AARP website states. The program has been in place for more than 40 years.

In addition to the AARP Tax-Aide program, the Internal Revenue Service has its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which provides free basic income-tax-return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals. The IRS website states that the VITA program generally offers free tax help to people who make $51,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their tax returns.

Charlotte Smith, site coordinator for the VITA program at the Hot Spring County Library, said the free tax-preparation program allows her to see people who normally wouldn’t come into the library.

“We have a full schedule,” Smith said. “We’re already booked until the last day.”

Smith said the library has a waiting list for individuals who weren’t able to schedule an appointment earlier in the tax season.

Debra Brown, district coordinator of AARP Tax-Aide for the southwest area of Arkansas, said she has been volunteering with the program for six years.

“I wanted to give back to my community, and it was something that I was interested in,” Brown said.

Brown, who volunteers with the McAuley Senior Center AARP Tax-Aide location in Hot Springs Village, said the 26 volunteers who prepare taxes for the center are great.

“Last year, we did 1,088 tax returns,” Brown said.

The program has allowed members of the Hot Springs Village community to save a lot of money by utilizing this program, Brown said.

“[Tax-Aide] is important because of the financial impact,” Brown said.

Since the service is completely free, Brown said people

who use the Tax-Aide program can take the money they would have used to pay someone to prepare taxes and buy groceries or gas instead.

Although the programs are geared toward people who are over 60 and have a low income, Brown said there is no requirement to have your taxes done for free.

“We’ve done taxes for any-one from 16 to 98 years old,” Brown said.

Brown said the McAuley center prepares about 100 tax returns a week this time of year.

Last year, the IRS issued nine out of 10 refunds to taxpayers in less than 21 days, and the same results are expected for 2013,

according to the IRS website.

More information on finding an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide center near you is available at www.aarp.org. Information on finding a VITA site near your location can be found at www.irs.gov.

Staff Writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501)244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online Reporter Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-378-3887 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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