By Jessica Mathews /

Free tax preparation is again being offered to low-income Livingston County residents but through a new electronic process due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Accounting Aid Society has long offered preparation and filing of federal, state and city income taxes for free, along with various credits. Amended returns can also be done. There is no age limitation and the only eligibility requirement is that household annual income be less than $56,000, which includes tax-able and non-taxable. John Dillon is a longtime volunteer and site coordinator for the various Livingston County locations that are typically held during tax season such as local libraries and senior centers. He says the Accounting Aid Society was forced to shut down all sites in mid-March and they already had many clients scheduled. He says they wanted to work out a way to continue to serve clients as most are low income and receive returns and credits, which could be helpful during this time when many are unemployed or facing other difficulties. He says the AAS has developed a virtual process in which everything is done electronically online. It’s titled VITA or Volunteer Income Tax Assistants, which is a nation-wide program for the IRS. He says they’ve now put an ACE designation behind it - which stands for Accessible, Convenient and Electronic.

Dillon noted that within Michigan, AAS is the lead unit in implementing this new process of having tax preparers complete returns from home electronically. Dillon says they have well trained preparers who are very familiar with tax law and take classes and exams every year, which is required by the IRS. He said it’s taken some time to get things set up because the IRS had to approve all of the processes and make sure everything is secure. He says Livingston County is the first group of AAS preparers to implement it and things have been going well, and preparers have been doing around 50 returns a week. Dillon says there are always start-up issues and a lot of new questions but things will move quicker once everyone gets more familiar with the process and retrieving files and information. Dillon noted this year’s tax filing deadline was extended to July 15th due to the national pandemic.

Clients can schedule an appointment via phone or online and someone will call them back and go through everything all of the tax information they need to provide. Since it’s an electronic process though Dillon says clients will need a smart phone, tablet or computer to scan or photograph documents and have an email account to provide information through a secure location to the interviewer. Dillon noted the process goes a little bit slower than when meeting with clients face-to-face as in the past. He says there’s a detailed intake interview process with various questions. Once everything is provided, everything is put on a protected website with AAS that tax preparers can access from home – including password protection and virus protection. Once the tax return is prepared, Dillon says an interviewer will get back to the client by phone, review the return and go over everything in detail. The client then electronically signs their return and it gets filed. Those interested can set up an appointment by phone at 844-806-5780 or visit the provided web link.