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Free tax-preparation service available again

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program is almost at your doorstep

If you ask David Houghton, the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program might be one of the best-kept secrets around.

“Every year, people come in and say, ‘I didn’t know you were here,’” said Houghton, Southeast Washington County district coordinator for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program. It offers free tax preparation for people 50 and older with low- to moderate-incomes from Feb. 1 to April 18 this year.

The local AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program includes eight sites in Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood, King City and Multnomah Village.

“Volunteers are IRS-trained and certified each year, and they come from a variety of backgrounds, including some retired IRS agents,” Houghton said. “There are 80 volunteers in my district, and last year we did more than 1,900 returns, with more than 55,000 done statewide.”

The system is quite simple: People call the location where they want to go and make a one-hour appointment, although they are asked to show up 15 minutes early to fill out a form. Each preparer has a laptop and printer, and after a client’s tax return is prepared, it is reviewed by another tax-preparer on site.

“At each site, I have a client facilitator who welcomes people and hands them the form to fill out and then reviews it with them,” Houghton said. “This helps us to organize the return to make sure we have included everything. If we miss something, we must file an amended return, which is an inconvenience to the taxpayer.

“We e-file the federal return and will usually know within an hour if it is accepted by the IRS - it has only been that fast in the last couple of years - and if it is accepted, then we e-file the state return. We have really fine-tuned the process. If the facilitator sees that we can’t do something the client needs, we will send them to a professional tax-preparer.”

Volunteers in the program can prepare 21 different forms, including the 1040 with Schedules A, B and D, “but we are not trained to do rental income, for instance, or if someone is self-employed with a loss,” Houghton said. “If a client gets audited, they can call the site, and I will be notified. I’ll work with the site coordinator to get it resolved.”

Clients are given copies of their returns in an envelope and asked to bring them back the next year, with Houghton noting that “80 percent of our business is return clientele.”

He said that most new clients hear about the program by word of mouth and added that they don’t need to be members of AARP to use the service.

“I think it’s a wonderful program and that so many volunteers do it every year,” Houghton said. “Some have been doing it for 25 or 30 years. Of my 80 volunteers, more than half return every year.”

CASH (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) Oregon, in partnership with the AARP Tax-Aide program, recruits, trains and tests volunteers so they are qualified to prepare tax returns at more than 140 sites in 32 counties within Oregon; CASH Oregon, which is located at Lloyd Center, is open all year round if someone needs a tax return prepared at a different time than the regular tax season.

In addition to the Multnomah Village Center, sites in Houghton’s district include the Tigard Senior Center, the Juanita Pohl Center in Tualatin, the Sherwood Senior Center, the King City Civic Association Clubhouse and the Tigard Public Library.

For more information, visit aarp.org/taxaide or call 1-888-227-7669.