AARP has been providing tax assistance in the Rim Country for more than 20 years. Joan Stephens has been part of that service since 1994. She started as a counselor, helping residents prepare their tax returns and is now the program coordinator, a post she has held for at least 10 years.
"The first year I participated there were about 300 people helped, last year we helped 700," Stephens said. "Every year we try to help at least 100 more."
Initially the program was "Tax Counseling for the Elderly." But since the town was too small to offer the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, the AARP volunteers asked to provide the service to residents who would have qualified for that program. Stephens said with the addition of the VITA services, the Rim Country AARP tax assistance program can help just about everyone.
"It is generally for people with low to moderate incomes, but almost everyone qualifies and we don't want to turn anyone away."
There are 25 counselors working with the program each year, giving at least one day's worth of assistance.
"They're a great group of people," Stephens said. "Many of them come back year after year."
All receive training before the start of each new tax season and then must pass a test the Internal Revenue Service has prepared before they work with the public.
Stephens said the biggest change in the service she has seen in the years she has participated in the program has been the advent of using the computer and e-filing.
"It's a godsend," she said. There are only a few things that cannot be filed through e-mail: real estate tax claims and the new telephone tax reimbursement.
There is a whole list of materials a participant must bring in order for the volunteers to help them with their taxes:
- Photo identification;
- Social Security card for all persons claimed on your return;
- Your tax return for 2005; and
- Your 2006 tax documents
Stephens said some of the additional items needed are records of investments and retirement income.
"They want to get their taxes done, so they come in as soon as they have their W-2s and the documents for records investments and retirement income come in later."
She said the investment and retirement documents usually arrive about two weeks after the W-2s.
Appointments can be made for assistance by calling Stephens at (928) 472-6229, but they are not necessary.
"Just show up, it's on a first come, first served basis," she said.
The time it takes to get returns completed depends on the individual. It can take as little as 30 minutes or up to 90 minutes. The average time is less than an hour, Stephens said.
"We deal with a fantastic group of people in our clients. They're enjoyable. We try to help them as much as we can."
The AARP Tax-Aide program will be offered through April 16. The service is available at:
The Payson Elks Lodge, Airport Road and Beeline Highway
10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday
Gila Community College, Mud Springs Road
10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday
"We encourage everyone to come," Stephens said.