Free Tax Returns Prepared Locally

Free Tax Returns Prepared Locally

Tom Dwyer, AARP TaxAide volunteer with Marjorie Sauver who has come to get a free tax return prepared. Dwyer has been volunteering for 6-7 years “because it’s fun, you meet nice people and work with great people, too.”

Tom Dwyer, AARP TaxAide volunteer with Marjorie Sauver who has come to get a free tax return prepared. Dwyer has been volunteering for 6-7 years “because it’s fun, you meet nice people and work with great people, too.” Photo by Shirley Ruhe.

Karen Miller, local coordinator for AARP Foundation TaxAide in Northern Virginia says this week has been pretty quiet with people requesting assistance with their tax returns. But Melissa Azzam, who is checking in people at a front desk in the Central Library on Thursday morning, says there have been 13 people in the first hour with a waiting line in chairs along the wall. 

Miller says it will pick up closer to the deadline for filing returns. “We generally do about 800 returns at our site.” She said maybe 5 percent have some kind of rejection that they have to fix. 

The way it works is that when you arrive you will be interviewed by a tax counselor who will collect your information and then prepare your return. A second counselor will then review your return with you and answer any questions you may have. You will receive a printed copy of your return for your records and then your return will be electronically filed for you. 

A number of documents are necessary to prepare a return including a social security card, photo ID for each taxpayer and spouse and all tax documents and information on other income earned. Miller says one of the big things that people may not bring is a 1095a if they have had any healthcare from the marketplace during the past year. IRS needs it to explain the health subsidy. “A lot of people have, even for a few months, and don’t know it. IRS will find it and reject the return.” 

Another requirement is the identity protection pin number from IRS. If a person has been the victim of identity theft and requested an identity protection number from the IRS, they have to provide the number in order to have a valid tax return.

Miller says they do a lot of returns for retirees, food delivery and Lyft drivers. 

“One of the most complicated returns can be for a student who may or may or may not have to file or who gets a tax credit. But it can get complicated about whether the student or the parent is claiming the credit and how much they claim.” Miller says they may file separate contradictory returns. “We encourage the parents and students to come in together to be consistent. It is hard to clean up if they file differently.”

Marjorie Sauver had been getting her returns done through this program for “a bunch of years. “It’s good, it’s local and it’s free.” She says during Covid, she paid to have someone do her tax return and not only did it take longer but they made mistakes. “Here they have a record of previous years and it’s just easier.”

Miller says although some people think this is a program to assist low-income taxpayers, AARP Foundation TaxAide offers free tax preparation to anyone of any age. The fact sheet explains there is no income restriction but the priority is to assist those 50 or older or those who can’t afford paid tax preparation. 

Although the volunteers receive extensive training, some of the returns are out of scope for the volunteers. For instance, they can’t prepare returns for self employed if there are employees or for complicated capital gains and losses or for some rental income. Miller says in order to become a TaxAide volunteer, you must take a course with five full days of training, complete several returns accurately and pass an IRS exam. A second year volunteer also involves several days of additional training as well as correct completion of IRS returns. She says they have about 30 volunteers at the library site but 300 district wide. “A lot of people think we are retired accountants but I used to work in information technology.”

Miller coordinates one of the eleven sites in District 5 which is the Northern Virginia area. The Arlington office at the Central Library is open on Tuesdays from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and on Thursdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Feb. 1-April 11. Each office in the District sets its own hours of operation and its own opening and closing date for the services. Appointments are not necessary and walk-ins are welcome but appointments take priority. 

She says,”We want people to know about us. You can make an appointment or get more information at”

Miller has been volunteering for about 12 years. “It’s fun and we meet interesting people. And the people we work with are fun. We get together every year and have an end of season party. We tell jokes about things that happened and tell stories about our experiences.”

Also she remembers, “I have a picture I treasure of my dad doing taxes for someone. His picture was in the paper with his pencil and the old paper forms in front of him.”