Free tax help comes to Council on Aging

ALBANY, Ga. -- Taxpayers whose income falls in the low to moderate categories can get some free tax help -- including e-filing -- beginning Tuesday at the SOWEGA Council on Aging.

Carleen Flowers, District 10 director for the council, said Friday that the tax help will continue through April 18, which is the deadline for filing this year. Normally, taxes have to be filed by April 15, but that is a holiday in the District of Columbia, which gives taxpayers an extra three days to get their forms sent.

"We are the only (tax-preparing) site here in Albany," Flowers said of the program, "but it is also for the surrounding counties" served by the council.

AARP tax aide volunteers have been trained by IRS and Georgia Department of Revenue officials this month to handle the tax filings for participants.

"We have four instructors and all four of us were trained by the IRS," Flowers said, enabling them to train others. "This year, we will have 12 counselors working. Then we will have 11 client solicitors."

Though the program utilizes AARP volunteers and the council's site at 309 Pine Ave., the program isn't restricted to retirees or AARP members.

"They do not have to be AARP members and they do not have to be 60 years old or older," Flowers said.

The requirement is that the participant taxpayer's income is in the low to moderate range, which has to be determined by the preparers. Flowers said anyone who thinks they may qualify for the free service should make an appointment and let one of the counselors determine whether he or she qualifies.

"We'd rather they come and let us look at it rather than just go to somebody to pay," she said.

The program is expecting to lose some clients because of a change in Georgia's tax law this year regarding low income credit. Before Jan. 1, 2010, an individual could claim a low income state tax credit of up to $52 individual and $104 couple even if no state taxes were paid in. With that provision change, many low-income seniors with no liability will not file.

"In the past," she said, if they were 65, they've been getting up to $52 each. But that's no longer the case."

Taxpayers who itemize are eligible to take advantage of the service as well, Flowers said. "It does not have to be a simple form," she said.

Each participant should bring photo identification, a Social Security card for each person listed on the return, a copy of his or her 2009 tax returns, and all documents related to income and, if itemizing, deduction claims. Flowers said anyone who isn't sure a document is eligible for an itemized deduction should bring it anyway and let one of the counselors determine whether it can be used.

To participate, a taxpayer should call (229) 432-1131 to schedule an appointment. The service is available weekdays with appointments available from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.

The AARP Tax-Aide program is administered through the AARP Foundation in cooperation with the IRS. Albany area sponsors are the council, Doco Federal Credit Union, Winn-Dixie on Old Dawson Road and Harvey's on Stuart Avenue.