By MEGHAN McCOY
The Beacon of H.O.P.E. and AARP Foundation Tax-Aide have joined forces this year to offer island residents free tax return services at a central location.
The AARP tax site will be provided at the Beacon of H.O.P.E. every Friday, from Feb. 1 through April 12, from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.
AARP Foundation Tax-Aide began the free volunteer based program in 1968 with four volunteers. In 2012, more than 35,000 volunteers worked at nearly 6,000 tax-aide community based sites, which helped 2.6 million people with their tax returns.
One of the important programs that volunteers help their clients become aware of is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is helpful for low-income workers because it can reduce the tax liability and generate a tax return for them.
If You Go
What: AARP Foundation Tax-Aide
When: Every Friday from Feb. 1
through April 12 from 9:30 a.m.
until 5 p.m.
Where: Beacon of H.O.P.E., 5465
Pine Island Road
The program was introduced to Pine Island for the first time in 2000 due to Phil Perkin's efforts to offer the services at the Pine Island Library. Those services remained at the library for five years before moving to the Matlacha Community Center. The programs at the community center grew, which left little room for AARP to conduct its services, so it left the island for two years while providing services at Lake Kennedy Senior Center.
Grace Collins, an AARP volunteer, said it was primarily through Jack Orzalli's efforts, who has been a volunteer with AARP since 2003, that the free tax services were brought back to the island for individuals to use. AARP Foundation Tax-Aide was held at the St. James City Civic Association for three years.
Collins said they have been trying to get back to the Center of Pine Island for a couple of years. After the Beacon and AARP had a meeting, that effort turned into a reality.
She said they are combining their efforts this year to help low-income people, as well as those over 60 who may not be computer literate.
This year the free tax aide will include 16 volunteers, all of whom live on the island.
Collins said all of the volunteers are trained and IRS certified on a yearly basis, so they can keep up to date with the new laws.
She said they are all local people who want to help the people on the island with their tax returns.
The volunteers have an assortment of jobs that range from greeting to sorting paperwork, providing a questionnaire for the clients, preparing tax paperwork and providing a quality review of the tax documents.
After Jan. 23, individuals can call the Beacon at 239-283-5123 to set up an appointment. Appointments can be made for Friday services between 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Collins said the services are only offered by appointments only.
An individual does not have to be an AARP member to receive the free services.
Individuals seeking the service, Collins said, should wait until they receive all of their tax related documents until they make an appointment with the Beacon.
She said individuals should bring a picture ID and Social Security Card, tax documents and a copy of their prior years tax return. Collins said a picture ID and Social Security Card are important because it will prevent identity theft from occurring.
One of the services that the AARP group cannot provide assistance with is a state return. Collins said since Florida does not have state returns they are not trained to do them.
AARP also cannot prepare schedule C (business profit and loss) if a loss or expense exceeds $5,000; complicated schedule D (capital gains and loses) without proper paperwork; schedule E (rental property); schedule F (farm income); 2106 (employee business expenses); 3903 (moving expenses); 8615 (minor's investment income); portions of schedules A and B; schedule K-1 (depreciation or deductible expenses); other rental income or business income and returns farther back than three prior years.
Collins said they prepare the individuals' tax return, print the tax return for them for their records, as well as e-file the documents if that is what they chose. The tax return can also be mailed.