For Morton Grove seniors, this week is the first week to receive free federal and state income-tax-return assistance from volunteers through the AARP Tax-Aide program.
The free service, offered annually to low- and moderate-income residents over 55, pairs taxpayers with AARP volunteers who are certified by the Internal Revenue Service. Sessions are scheduled by appointment, by calling the Morton Grove Senior Hotline at 847-470-5223.
But don’t wait to sign up: The service is popular, and slots are filling up, said Department of Family and Senior Services Director Jackie Walker-O’Keefe. She noted that each year an average of 250 seniors sign up for the program, which has been available in Morton Grove for the past 20 years.
Appointments are available Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the American Legion Memorial Civic Center, from 9 a.m. to noon. You do not need to be an AARP member or a retiree.
AARP Tax-Aide was founded in 1968 and is the largest free tax-assistance program for federal and state tax returns, said AARP Illinois spokesperson Gerardo Cardenas.
“Our volunteers are trained to be up to speed on existing tax law, which changes practically every year,” Cardenas said. “This is critical; you give them your tax documents trusting they’ll file it right for you, meaning you won’t get a surprise letter from the IRS, saying you missed $2,000.”
He said AARP volunteers pride themselves on accuracy, efficiency, and helping seniors receive healthy tax refunds, noting that last year more than 35,000 AARP Tax Aide volunteers nationwide served approximately 2.6 million people, who received more than $230 million in Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable federal income-tax credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and families.
In 2010, 1,200 volunteers in Illinois helped 80,000 people file returns in 277 sites across the state, Cardenas said.
Joe Spieglan is among five AARP volunteers who serve Morton Grove residents; he’s been helping seniors file their taxes for more than 15 years. A retired electric contractor and estimator, Spieglan said numbers have always intrigued him, and with free time on his hand he doesn’t mind spending eight hours every year to take the annual certification exam, a requirement for all volunteers.
Spieglan said that since the IRS instituted e-filing, his job has become a lot easier, but some seniors, he said, are uncomfortable using a computer, so sometimes he still has to pull out his calculator to fill out paper returns.
“If you know how to read, you can fill out a tax return,” he said. “But some people get psyched out because it’s the government.”
He noted that AARP is not liable for any errors made on tax returns, but he could not recall a volunteer making a mistake since he’s been working for the program.
Seniors are only recommended to sign up for the service if they are filing basic income-tax forms, the standard 1040 or 1040A. For more complicated returns, seniors should hire professional accountants.
What seniors should know
- Standard senior deduction: People 65 and older who do not itemize their deductions can get a higher standard deduction amount if the person filing or his or her spouse is blind.
- Taxable amount of Social Security benefits: The IRS cautions taxpayers to use the Social Security benefits worksheet located in the instructions for IRS forms 1040 and 1040A.
- Credit for the elderly or disabled: Seniors can only get this tax credit if they file using the 1040 or 1040A forms, not Form 1040EZ. The credit is available depending on age, filing status, and income. Those who qualify include people over 65 (or under 65 if they are permanently and totally disabled); people whose income is less than $17,500 ($20,000 if married and filing jointly), less than $25,000 if married and filing jointly and both qualify), or $12,500 if married and filing separately but lived apart for the entire year. Additionally, the non-taxable part of Social Security or other non-taxable pensions, annuities or disability income has to be less than $5,000 (if single with a dependent child or married but only one spouse qualifies); $7,500 (if married and filing jointly and both qualify); or $3,750 (if married but filing separately and lived apart the entire year).
- For those who took out an early distribution from their retirement plans last year (“early” meaning before the age of 59 and a half), they might have to pay an additional 10 percent tax. However, distributions rolled over to another Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) or qualified retirement plan are not subject to the additional tax, as long as the rollover was completed within 60 days after the day the payment was received. There are some exceptions to this early distribution tax – if the person is disabled, used the money for certain medical or educational purposes, or bought a first home.
For more information, visit IRS.gov, call 800-TAX-FORM, or ask your AARP Tax Aide volunteer.