//With coronavirus closing free tax-prep sites, July 15 deadline poses problems

With coronavirus closing free tax-prep sites, July 15 deadline poses problems

<span class="image" data-attrib="Tasos Katopodis / Associated Press" data-caption="

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing Tuesday. The IRS, which Mnuchin oversees, is still requiring tax returns be filed by July 15.

“>a man standing in a room: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing Tuesday. The IRS, which Mnuchin oversees, is still requiring tax returns be filed by July 15. © Tasos Katopodis / Associated Press

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing Tuesday. The IRS, which Mnuchin oversees, is still requiring tax returns be filed by July 15.

The Internal Revenue Service has confirmed that it won’t extend the July 15 deadline for filing and paying 2019 taxes, and that’s a problem for many people like Rosanne Liggett of San Francisco.

“I’m a senior and have for the last few years had AARP Tax-Aide do my tax filing for free. This year they shut down early due to COVID(-19) restrictions. I don’t have a computer so I can’t go to the IRS website to file that way,” Liggett said. “My tax situation is pretty straightforward, but last year was a little different and as a result I might owe money this year whereas in past years I have not owed anything. Does a person need to file if taxes are not due?”

Many seniors and low- to middle-income people have their taxes done, in person, for free every year by trained volunteers at Tax-Aide clinics, sponsored by the AARP Foundation, and VITA clinics sponsored by the IRS. Both have been shut down most of this tax season, leaving people without a computer, internet service, and basic technology and tax know-how nowhere to turn for free assistance — unless they have a friend or family member to help out.

The IRS has a website where people (with a computer!) can locate a VITA or Tax-Aide site, but there are no Tax-Aide sites open in the Bay Area.

“While Tax-Aide provides free tax preparation and filing services to all taxpayers, many of its clients are over 65, a group considered by health experts to be at higher risk of developing complications from the illness,” Tax-Aide said in a statement. “If we are allowed to open any sites, it will be on an appointment basis, not walk-in, for the remainder of this tax season,” its local spokesman Gregory Gendron said.

The IRS locator shows five VITA sites open in the Bay Area, but the one in East Palo Alto is only doing remote tax preparation via Zoom, which requires a computer and internet, and the one in Fremont is not accepting new clients after Wednesday, July 1. The Dublin site is scheduling 15-minute outdoor appointments, but only for Wednesday, July 8. I could not confirm whether two in Oakland are accepting clients.

The IRS suggests that people who can’t go to a VITA site use the Free File Alliance, a group of companies that makes free tax-preparation software available to people who meet various income, age and other requirements. But that requires a computer and internet.

Tax-Aide is also offering free access to two types of tax-prep software to people who make less than $36,000 or $69,000. Its volunteers will also help people use the software, over the phone or via screen sharing. But it can’t help people fill out paper forms.

“Even getting a return requires going to IRS.gov and downloading forms,” Gendron said.

The post office used to provide basic tax forms but no longer does, according to its website.

When libraries were open, people could use their computers to download forms there, but no Bay Area public libraries are letting patrons in.

Many tax preparers have continued to do business throughout the coronavirus without seeing clients in person. H&R Block says it has some Bay Area offices open, but they are generally requiring clients to drop off their tax information. Of course, these options are not free.

Whether you need to file a return depends on your age, income and filing status. If you were single and older than 65 at the end of 2019, you must file a return if your gross income was at least $13,850. (Whether you need to include Social Security benefits in gross income gets complicated.)

If you must file and can’t by July 15, you can get an extension to file by Oct. 15 simply by filing IRS Form 4868, electronically or by mail. If you fail to file by July 15, or by Oct. 15 if you request an extension, you could face a penalty if you have a filing requirement and owe taxes, said Mary Kay Foss, a CPA in Walnut Creek.

In California, taxpayers are automatically granted an extension to file their 2019 state income tax return until Oct. 15; they do not have to request one.

Remember, however, that for both federal and state income taxes, if you owe taxes for 2019, you still must pay them by July 15 to avoid a penalty.

If you pay estimated taxes, remember that first- and second-quarter taxes for 2020 are also due July 15. The IRS reminded people not to combine 2020 estimated tax payments with any balance due for 2019.

Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: kpender@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kathpender