Free, in-person tax preparation sites for low- to middle-income taxpayers have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are still ways to get returns prepped and filed at no cost.
Local tax-prep sites operated by the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona and Catholic Community Services, part of the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, shut down in March as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.
Likewise, AARP has closed all of its free Tax Aide tax-prep sites until further notice.
But Catholic Community Services is offering drop-off tax prep services at one Tucson-area VITA location, and at sites in Cochise County and Ajo, and the local United Way is offering online tax-prep help as part of a larger pilot program. Taxpayers must return to sign their returns.
Tucson-area taxpayers can drop off their tax documents at Catholic Community Services’ Pio Decimo Center, 848 S. Seventh Ave., between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays.
The United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona is offering free tax prep and filing through GetYourRefund.org, a nonprofit service built by Code for America in partnership with VITA sites nationally.
The local nonprofits say they will evaluate pandemic conditions for possible re-opening of in-person VITA sites — which offer free tax prep and electronic filing to taxpayers earning up to $66,000 annually — closer to the extended tax-return filing deadline of July 15.
Though the filing deadline has been extended, taxpayers owed refunds need that money more than ever, and some people may need to file to be eligible for the federal COVID-19 stimulus payments of $1,200 per person and $500 per child.
“People are being laid off and they’re not getting their paycheck, so they really need it,” said Liz Thomey, VITA program manager for Catholic Community Services.
People who haven’t filed a tax return in the last two years because they earn less than the normal income limits for filing, and certain other taxpayers, must file returns to get federal COVID-19 stimulus payments, Thomey noted.
But the IRS has also set up a special online tool, tucne.ws/nonfiler, where non-filers can enter their information to get stimulus checks without filing a tax return.
The IRS also has partnered with major tax-preparation software companies to offer free tax preparation and electronic filing for taxpayers with income of $69,000 or less through Free File.
Before the pandemic hit, the United Way had already adopted GetYourRefund.org as a pilot this year as one of four original VITA partners on the program, said Rae Pilarski, senior director of financial wellness initiatives for the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona.
“It was perfect timing to offer something like this opportunity, to continue to serve our community,” Pilarski said.
Information taxpayers upload to GetYourRefund.org is stored in a secure database and sent to local partners like the United Way.
Within a few days, a tax preparer will call the taxpayer to discuss their tax situation and the process for electronic signature and filing, before the return is prepared and double checked, typically within five to 10 business days.
The GetYourRefund.org process doesn’t provide same-day service like the physical VITA sites but still offers one-on-one service with the same local, IRS-certified VITA volunteers who had staffed the in-person tax-prep sites, Pilarski said.
In Cochise County, Catholic Community Services’ Sierra Vista VITA site at the Arizona@Work center, 2600 E. Wilcox Drive, is open from 5:15 to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
The VITA program’s office in Douglas is accepting drop-offs on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m. at CCS’ Assets for Families, 1065 F Ave., Suite 7.
In Ajo, tax return information can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays at the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, 38 N. Plaza St.
VITA sites operated by Catholic Community Services in Safford and Yuma have been closed with no drop-off service currently available, though Thomey said the nonprofit is looking at possibly reopening them next month.