Free tax help is available for seniors

Even in a pandemic, the tax season goes on.

Free tax preparation help for seniors goes on, too, albeit with some changes.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers free tax help to people who make $57,000 or less, people with disabilities and taxpayers who speak limited English and need assistance in preparing their tax returns. The program is not specific to seniors; if you qualify in any of the categories above, you may use the program.

In addition to VITA, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program offers free tax help, particularly for those who are 60 and older. The program specializes in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.

While the IRS runs the VITA and TCE programs, the sites are managed by IRS partners and staffed by IRS-certified volunteers who provide tax counseling.

Tax assistance programs are not segmented by county like the vaccination sites are. If you live in California and meet the qualifications, you may receive tax help at any site.

Virtual and drop-off tax assistance only

Through the VITA program, tax assistance is offered either virtually or by drop-off through April 30. No in-person assistance is available.

To file a tax return virtually, go to GetYourRefund.org/vcunitedway. Instructions will be provided for uploading tax documents using a computer or cellphone.

For the drop-off program, filers must print and fill out two forms from vcunitedway.org or vchsa.org/tax-preparation. The sites list all the other information needed. All documents should be copies, not originals.

When a tax filer has compiled their documents, they’re asked to place them in an envelope marked “VITA” and drop it off at a secure metal drop box at one of four sites.

These services are designed to allow people to physically drop off their documents and have the tax return done at a later time.

The VITA program offers drop-off locations at the East County Community Service Center, 2900 N. Madera Road in Simi Valley, as well as sites in Oxnard, Ventura and Santa Paula. The tax filer will be contacted by phone, email or text when their tax return is complete.

For questions about this program, call 211 or the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging at (805) 477-7300.

Hybrid appointments

In the past, many seniors would go to Agoura Hills Recreation Center, Moorpark Active Adult Center or Simi Valley Senior Center as part of the TCE program to get their taxes done. This year, those sites are closed and are not offering tax preparation assistance.

But the Conejo Senior Volunteer Program in Thousand Oaks is offering limited hybrid income tax assistance appointments to seniors 60 and older, at any income level, as well as to people with an income of $56,000 or less.

These appointments will take place at the Goebel Adult Community Center; the program does not have access to the Newbury Park Library or Conejo Creek South community building as it has in the past.

For an appointment, call (805) 381-2742. You may need to leave a message.

On the date and time of your appointment, and with all your necessary documents, you will enter the Goebel Center through a special entrance. (The main entrance is being used for COVID-19 vaccinations.)

The preparer will be socially distanced from you and will provide guidance on how to scan your documents—it’s like using a copy machine.

The preparer will answer any questions you have then will send your documents (securely) to a tax preparer off site. Tax returns generally take several days to complete.

You will then receive a call to pick up your completed return via drive-thru.

The tax program at the Goebel Center will resume in-person appointments when Ventura County moves to the red tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Keep kind mind: all VITA/ TCE services are free, and they are a reliable and trusted source for preparing tax returns.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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