Tax season begins in earnest Tuesday, and AARP will again offer free tax preparation at numerous Tax-Aide centers in the Inland Northwest. John Viveiros is the Spokane district coordinator for the program.
Q. What service is AARP providing?
A. We provide free tax preparation, mostly for seniors and low-income families. The completed forms are filed electronically.
Q. About how many do you help?
A. We see about 5,000 each year. The numbers were down a little last year, but the total refunds were higher. They’ve increased from $3.8 million in 2008 to $4.7 million in 2009 to $5.2 million last year. That $5.2 million going back into the community just has to have a multiplying factor.
Q. How many counselors do you have, and what sort of training do they get before they get started?
A. About 130 volunteers. I’m amazed at their preparation. Most do 20 to 40 hours of self-study before taking an 18-hour course, and absorbing a workbook, which may take another 18 hours. Then they take IRS tests that qualify them to prepare returns. It’s a significant amount of time before they even do a tax return.
Q. What are your qualifications?
A. I’m a geophysicist by training. After 16 years in the oil business, my wife and I moved to Spokane from Texas to raise our family.
I’m comfortable with math and computers, and I responded to an advertisement for tax preparers. That was 2002. Now, it’s old hat. I also keep the books for my church, St. Mark’s Lutheran.
Q. How many clients qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides refunds for parents who have not filed in the past, or who did not earn enough income to pay any income tax?
A. About one-fourth of our clients received the credit, which last year generated one-third of total client refunds. … One single mother who had not filed received a credit for more than $10,000. Now she knows the income tax is something she need not fear.
Q. Who funds what you do?
A. AARP buys the equipment and software, arranges the donations of space where we meet clients, and covers our travel to the sites.
Q. What don’t you do?
A. We want to help everybody that comes through the door. We cannot help businesses unless they are single-provider, have no inventory, and report less than $10,000 in expenses. We may be able to help (stock) day-traders, but we try to put them off to hours when we are not so busy. It can take 30 minutes just to input their trades.
Q. What kind of relationship do you have with the IRS?
A. The IRS counseling center is off the lobby of the Thomas S. Foley Federal Courthouse, and our Tax-Aide center is on the Fourth Floor. If we have a question, we can get an answer quickly. And they can refer some clients to us for help. It’s a two-way street.
Q. What do the returns you see tell you about the state of the local economy?
A. We get a real good overview. For example, in the 2008 tax year, we had maybe five returns that included unemployment benefits. For 2009, we were doing one or two a day for clients who had collected unemployment.