Photo by Chris Hinkle
Phoenix resident Lois Swanagan was worried about finding the money to pay her property taxes. Then a neighbor told Swanagan, an 85-year-old widow, about the Arizona property tax credit program that refunds up to $502 of rent or property taxes paid by low-income people 65 and older.
It was a lucky conversation.
Swanagan's neighbor was Frank Perazelli, 72, the state coordinator of the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, a free service that helps people file their tax returns. He's also well-informed about the tax credit program.
See also: Cut your taxes for 2011.
Swanagan hadn't filed tax returns for several years because her income was below the filing threshold. But with Perazelli's help in 2010, she filed a state form that non-filers can use and was able to get about $500 through the property tax credit program.
"When you live on $1,065 a month, it really comes in handy," she said.
Swanagan is one of more than 47,000 Arizona residents who use Tax-Aide each year.
Laraine Stewart, chief operating officer of Maricopa County's Area Agency on Aging, said it's particularly valuable to have Tax-Aide volunteers helping with the property tax credit.
"Seniors have lost their homes because they weren't able to pay their property taxes."
Like Swanagan, older Arizonans whose yearly incomes are below $3,751 for singles over 65 and $5,501 for couples, not counting Social Security income, may be missing out on the property tax credit program because they aren't aware of it, Perazelli said.
"It's not on the radar of many who retire here because it is a state refund and not widely publicized," he said.
Tax-Aide is targeted at low- to moderate-income people 60 and older, although it is open to anyone. Volunteers are certified by the Internal Revenue Service after attending training sessions and passing three tests.
About 1,200 Arizona Tax-Aide tax counselors, greeters and schedulers are working until the April 17 federal tax-filing deadline at about 80 sites in senior centers, libraries, shopping centers, colleges and churches, Perazelli said.
Documents to bring
Many of the Tax-Aide sites have walk-in service, but some sites take appointments to reduce waiting, said Fran Molleur, 69, of Gilbert, volunteer and communications specialist for the Arizona program.
Clients are asked to bring:
- Last year's tax return and a photo ID.
- Social Security cards or other official documentation for everyone on the return.
- All income information, including W-2 forms; unemployment compensation statements; and 1099 forms for Social Security benefits, pensions, annuities, interest income and dividends.
- Receipts or canceled checks if itemizing deductions.
- A bank routing number and bank account number to enable refunds to be deposited directly into a bank account.
Most tax returns take an hour to prepare, said Alberta Sigman, 71, of Mesa, a volunteer tax preparer for 15 years.
Carol Lyons, 69, of north Phoenix, has been a Tax-Aide client for six years. She worked in accounting for 40 years, so Lyons is good with figures. "But the law is much more complicated than it used to be. It would be so easy to make a mistake on your own."
Tax-Aide volunteers reap benefits, too.
"It helps keep my brain sharper," said Pat Hedgpeth, 78, of Prescott Valley, a Tax-Aide tax preparation volunteer for 24 years.
She even persuaded her 33-year-old grandson to volunteer. They work as a team. She answers his questions about tax preparation; he answers hers about computers.
Some sites offer bilingual help. To find a Tax-Aide location or to find out about volunteering for the 2013 tax season, call toll-free 1-888-227-7669 or visit aztax-aide.org.
You may also like: Frequently asked federal tax questions. >>
Maureen West is a writer living in Phoenix.