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Boreal Community Media

Free tax preparation available for some Cook County and Grand Portage community members

Feb 06, 2023 10:48AM ● By Content Editor
Photo: Kelly Sikkema 

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media - January 26, 2023


It's the most taxing time of the year. Bad jokes aside, it's true: tax season is officially upon us. 

For some Cook County and Grand Portage community members, the thought of doing taxes can be stressful. Fortunately, Cook County VITA/TCE tax assistance volunteers are once again ready to help.

Boreal Community Media spoke with Steve Deschene, who manages the service about how it works, and what community members can expect. 

Who is eligible?

Community members who are in the low to moderate income bracket are eligible for the service.

Additionally, the program is a TCE tax group, which provides tax counseling to the elderly (defined as anyone over the age of 60), regardless of income bracket. 

"There is no specific income amount one has to fall between; that is just how the IRS describes the particular group that we assist," said Deschene.  

Cost

The program is completely free. Deschene said that they cannot accept any monetary or other types of compensation. The IRS sponsors the service, and volunteers undergo IRIRS-approved tax training.

"These are members of your community that enjoy using their skills to help others in our community," said Deschene. 

Types of tax returns eligible

The service works with community members who need to file federal and Minnesota state tax returns. 

"We can also process and e-file Minnesota homestead property tax refunds and rent refunds for those eligible," Deschene added.

The certified tax volunteers use the e-filing option to submit all returns. 

What to prepare and bring

Deschene advises community members to prepare and bring the following:
  • all your tax documents
  • social security cards for all in your household to be listed on the tax return
  • picture IDs for adults

Taxpayers will be asked to do an intake form, and the volunteers will do an interview and review your documents before starting the return.

Walk-in dates and location

This year, there is an in-person option at the Cook County Community Center (315 West 5th Street in Grand Marais, MN) every Tuesday from Feb. 7th through April 18th. The hours are 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and assistance is on a first come first served basis - no appointments are needed or taken. 

What to expect

Deschene shared that when you arrive, the certified volunteer will review your documents and input the information into the tax software with you. Then, you'll receive a preliminary result. After that, another certified volunteer reviews the return with your documents to make sure it was done right and no input errors occurred (i.e transposed digits in a number).

"From there, community members will sign a form attesting to the completeness and truth of the information supplied, and the return is e-filed within a day or two", Deschene added.

Taxpayers will receive a copy of the finished return that same day. 

It is important to plan for a decent amount of time.

"It can take several hours by the time they wait their turn and for the two-step process to be completed. Generally, we are less busy in the afternoon, after the "morning rush," he said.

"We don't leave until everyone who arrived by 3 PM is taken care of."

Finally, there are some types of returns that can't be completed as part of the service, and the taxpayer will be notified right away to avoid having to sit for a long time before finding out. Deschene added that this situation is relatively rare, however. 

Drop-off dates and locations

In addition to an in-person option, there are two additional sites in Cook County that are available for "drop off & pick up later" tax processing.

One drop-off location is at the Tofte Town Hall from 9:00 AM to Noon on Tuesdays during the tax season starting Feb. 14th through April 18th.

The second drop-off location is at the Grand Portage Post Office starting Feb. 1st through April 14th during regular post office hours.

You may also opt for a drop-off option at the Cook County Community Center if you don't want to go through the in-person process.

What to expect 

Deschene shared that when dropping off documents, the taxpayer will sign a form that provides permission to hold the documents while processing. 

"This is an IRS requirement," he said.

From there, the forms are then given to a volunteer preparer to input into the software.

As a taxpayer, you can expect to receive at least one phone call throughout the process. 

"If the initial preparer feels the return documents are clear, the certified volunteer may not call unless they have a question.  But the reviewer will always call to tell the taxpayer how the return came out, and to get permission to e-file. They will also tell them when they can pick up their finished return envelope," he said.

As far as security measures, Deschene said that all documents are secured and locked up when not in use by a certified volunteer preparer. 

"We have to submit a plan on how we secure tax documents when not in use to the IRS for approval before they allow a drop-off process at our site."

Deschene mentioned that this is the third year the drop-off service has been an option.


For questions on the VITA/TCE tax assistance program, contact:

Steve Deschene 

Phone: 218-387-1767 

Email: [email protected]