AARP volunteers swamped with seniors needing tax filing assistance
The Brainerd Public Library is currently fielding over 60 calls a day, which entails detailed information, explanations and counseling.
Volunteers are working double-time to meet the needs of seniors filing their taxes this season while numerous factors have caused a logjam of applicants seeking assistance.
Seniors are calling Brainerd Public Library in droves this year, said Nancy Henningson, a library assistant. The library serves as a primary resource for seniors, who are typically less tech literate, as they seek tax filing assistance during a global pandemic. A plethora of external factors are forcing more and more seniors to seek help from fewer organizations in a shorter time frame, Henningson said, and that means volunteers are fielding 60 or more calls a day as they direct local Crow Wing County residents where they need to go.
“We’re very, very busy because there's such a huge demand for this. It’s pretty intense at this point to get those appointments in,” Henningson said. “The process for it is also very different because it's not an in-person type of event. We're just trying to help people find the information, get the info about where to go and when to go. It's a lot of detail. A lot of people have a lot of questions. (American Association of Retired Persons) volunteers are doing all they can.”
The most obvious factor is COVID-19 itself. For seniors, who are most vulnerable to the virus, the prospect of filing taxes or seeking assistance in the traditional face-to-face manner isn’t an option this year, while institutions who once provided help — such as The Center in north Brainerd — are temporarily closed, funneling people to fewer and fewer outlets that have a larger load to handle in the first place. For a region of the state like the Brainerd lakes area — where one out of five Crow Wing County residents is over 65, while Aitkin County consistently ranks as the county with the on-average oldest population in the state — these compounding factors are particularly evident in the 50+, lower-income brackets.
Tied to that, Henningson said, is the fact that the traditional filing period from January through mid-April has been truncated this year.
“Usually we start way ahead of time like in January,” Henningson said. “Then the IRS came out with that statement that they weren't going to process anything until Feb. 12. The AARP had to take a big step back and adjust what they had planned, and we did as well.”
As such, people need to be patient and remember that patience, civility and goodwill go a long way to meeting their needs, Henningson said, whether they’re applicants or volunteers.
“I hope that people recognize — and most people are very grateful for this service, but some people do not recognize it — this is all volunteer work,” Henningson said. “AARP volunteers do the training, time, everything. I certainly hope that people express that appreciation.”
The application process
AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers in Brainerd will prepare income tax, renter’s property tax refund and homestead credit refund forms free of charge to anyone with a special focus on taxpayers who are 50 or older or who have low to moderate income.
Appointments and masks are required. Call the Brainerd Public Library at 218-829-5574 and ask for a tax appointment. At the first appointment, tax documents will be scanned to secure cloud storage so volunteers working from home can prepare the forms. An implied second appointment one week later at the same time of day will be to review the forms and authorize e-filing.
Before the first appointment, people will need to pick up and complete an intake packet at Westgate Mall. The intake packet contains more detailed instructions, forms and worksheets.
After that date, intake packets will be available at the old Vanity store from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Fridays.
Income tax returns for tax years 2017-20 as well as renter’s property tax refunds and homestead credit refunds for tax years 2019-20 can be filed. For the 2020 property tax refund, a 2021 property tax statement is needed, available in late March.
Those who had 2019 income tax returns prepared last year at one of the Brainerd Tax-Aide sites and are filing for last year’s homestead credit refund will need a 2020 property tax statement, 2020 income tax return, completed intake packet Form 14446, Minnesota homestead credit refund parts 1-3 worksheets and a driver’s license.
Within certain income limits, Tax-Aide will offer taxpayers with free access to software to prepare taxes on their own, or taxpayers may request assistance from a volunteer to coach them through the process via phone or computer screen-sharing. This service is expected to start in early February. Visit aarpfoundation.org/taxaide and aarpfoundation.org/taxhelp for more information.
Minnesota taxpayers have until Thursday, April 15, to file and pay their state and federal income taxes.
In a news release, the Minnesota department offered tips to income tax filers as they prepare to file their taxes:
See if they qualify for free tax preparation. If their adjusted gross income is $72,000 or less, they may qualify to file electronically for free. Use the links on the department's website to see if they qualify for free state and federal income tax filing.
They may also qualify for free tax preparation for their returns. There are free tax preparation sites available across Minnesota through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and AARP Tax-Aide programs. Some sites offer in-person options while others offer virtual services. Most sites are open through April 15. Applicants can visit our website to find free tax preparation sites near they .
File electronically and choose direct deposit. Electronically filing their return and choosing direct deposit for their refund is the most secure and convenient way to file their taxes and get their refund. Learn more about their electronic filing options and the benefits of choosing direct deposit .
Check for accuracy. Enter their name, and any dependent’s names, exactly as they appear on Social Security cards, Individual Taxpayer Identification Number cards or letters. Double-check bank routing and account numbers used on tax forms for direct deposit. Incorrect information on tax forms can result in refund delays.
Save their receipts and other tax-related documents. If they claimed certain deductions or credits, be sure to include all required documentation when filing and save copies in case they need to reference them in the future.
File their return by the April 15, 2020 due date, even if they owe more than they can pay. Pay as much as they can by the due date and contact us as soon as possible to set up a payment agreement for the remaining balance. they can include their banking information on their electronically filed return to make the payment or pay electronically with the department’s e-Services Payment System . they can specify when the payment will be taken from their checking or savings account in advance or on the due date.
Military members can now electronically submit Form M99, credit for military service in a combat zone. Created based on feedback from military service members, the electronic submission of this form is an easy way for service members to claim this credit.
After they file
Track their Refund. They can track where their refund is in the process by using the department's Where’s My Refund? system. they will be able to track which of the four stages their refund is in and whether they need to take any action to allow us to complete the processing of their refund. They will see the date their refund was issued when it has finished processing.
Contact the department if they move residences after filing their return. That way, anything sent to them will reach them, such as refund checks or requests for more information. They should do this even when requesting a direct deposit. Call representatives of the department at 651-296-3781 or 1-800-652-9094 to change their address.
Do not spend a refund until the money is in a bank account. Returns may take longer to process because of the increase in attempted refund fraud due to scams, stolen personal information, and identity theft. The department will take the time necessary to review returns to make sure we are keeping their money out of the hands of criminals. Learn more about the department’s efforts to protect their information .
Property Tax Refunds
Wait to track a property tax refund. Many taxpayers file their property tax returns at the same time as their income tax returns. By law, the department cannot begin processing property tax refunds before July 1. Check back later this year for updates on current year property tax refunds.
- There is limited in-person services at the department’s St. Paul office on weekdays 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The service desk will accept and process payments by check, money order, or cash. Visit the department’s website for more information about the services available .
GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .