HELENA – The first weeks of April are among the busiest times of year at the Montana Department of Revenue’s processing facility in downtown Helena.
“The Department of Revenue is hard at work, processing tax returns, sending out refunds,” said spokesman Sanjay Talwani. “We’re sending out thousands and thousands of refunds every day.”
Each year, the department hires about 80 temporary staff to assist during the tax season. They’ve already received about 307,000 income tax returns this year, and they’ve sent out almost 227,000 refunds.
Talwani said about 90% of returns in the state are now filed electronically.
“That’s really the recommended way,” he said. “It’s better for speed and security for people to file electronically. But as you saw, there’s still a whole lot of mail returns coming in, and we’re opening them, scanning them, keying in the data as we speak.”
DOR leaders know that many Montanans still have to file their taxes. State and federal income tax returns must be completed by Monday, Apr. 15, so people have just over a week left.
“There’s still time, and there’s still help available – free or at low-cost to a lot of people around the state,” said Talwani.
DOR partners with the Montana Legal Services Association, AARP Tax-Aide Montana, Opportunity Link and Rural Dynamics, Inc. to sponsor the Montana Free File campaign. The website montanafreefile.org provides links to free tax-help options in more than 40 communities around the state.
In the Helena area, the United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area is part of a “Free Tax Help Coalition.”
“We do a lot of direction to help folks make sure that they’re getting where they need to be in order to take advantage of those opportunities,” said Dana Friede, director of development and marketing.
Several organizations are still offering free walk-in tax clinics for people with basic returns. In Helena, the Good Samaritan Thrift Store will host clinics from 1 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Apr. 8; Thursday, Apr. 11 and Monday, Apr. 15. Helena College will host one on Saturday, Apr. 13, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
People attending a tax clinic should bring W-2s and other forms, photo IDs and Social Security cards for all individuals on the return, and a copy of last year’s return.
United Way Worldwide also partners with H&R Block to provide myfreetaxes.com. The online service is free for all households that earned less than $66,000 in 2018.
“It’s really simple to use,” said Friede. “We’ve had a number of folks going ahead and using it this year, and it’s been really great. They’ve had pretty great success with their tax returns and getting money back in their pockets.
Talwani said, while there will be resources available until the Apr. 15 deadline, you shouldn’t wait too long to access them.
“We really recommend you don’t wait to the last minute,” he said. “The help that’s available will be harder and harder to find on that last day.”
Talwani said it could take up to 90 days for Montana taxpayers to receive refunds, because of security measures the Department of Revenue is taking to protect against fraud and identity theft.
He also said, if you are filing income-tax returns for the first time in Montana and you change your mailing address, you need to let the department know. First-time filers always receive refunds as paper checks, and the post office will not forward those checks.