Economic stimulus packet confusing for many seniors

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Lee Ann Sides Garrett
Salisbury Post
“It’s been constant,” says Anne McIntyre. “Everybody has questions.”
McIntyre works as a tax preparer and answers phones at Rufty-Holmes Senior Center. The center has volunteers who prepare tax returns for seniors and has been inundated with calls and questions about the Economic Stimulus Package since it was announced.
The IRS recently sent out a packet of information to seniors who normally don’t file tax returns, but the packet is hard to understand. Many who normally don’t have to file taxes must file this year to receive economic stimulus payments.
Persons having at least $3,000 in qualifying income or a tax liability qualify for the stimulus payments. Qualifying income can be a combination of Social Security benefits, Railroad Retirement benefits, veterans’ benefits and income such as wages, salaries, tips and self-employment.However, they cannot be eligible to be claimed as a dependent on another person’s return.
“Ninety-nine percent of questions are coming from the package that was sent in the mail,” McIntyre says. “The people who have already filed are confused by it. They think they need to do something else. They do not. They can throw that packet away.”
To make matters worse, the center has been suffering from the same phone woes that recently plagued the courthouse.
Although volunteers at Rufty-Holmes are preparing Economic Stimulus package returns, the center is swamped and has no more appointments. Appointments for regular returns are still available on Tuesdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The center has an information packet to assist people in preparing the 1040A needed to claim the stimulus payments. McIntyre says its three-page instructions are much simpler than the eight pages the IRS sent out.
“The forms are pretty straightforward,” says Bill Behrendt, local coordinator of the center’s tax program. “But it can still be confusing to someone who hasn’t had to file in years.”
The IRS has declared Saturday as “Super Saturday,” a day of help to those filing just to receive stimulus payments. About 320 IRS offices will provide free help preparing returns and answering questions. Information is available on the IRS Web site, irs.gov.
Free preparation of economic stimulus returns is also available at the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site at the Park Avenue Community Center. Individuals can call the center for an appointment at 704-216-7542.
Local CPAs and businesses like H&R Block and Jackson-Hewitt charge between $35 to $50 for economic stimulus returns. Information on Web sites offering free filing is available at irs.gov. The AARP TaxAide site offers an interactive stimulus payment tool. The public may also call 1-866-234-2942 on March 29 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. for answers to stimulus payment questions. “I wish we could help more people,” says Ray Raper, who helps man the center’s front desk. “But we’re limited on volunteers and space.”

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