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Tax-Aide Volunteers Prepare Returns for Free

Get help with your 1040 and related forms

Long before many people even thought about filing their 2010 tax returns, G.M. Ziller was hard at work in October training volunteers for the AARP Foundation's Tax-Aide program.

Ziller, 65, of Norfolk, leads a group of about 120 men and women who expect to help roughly 10,000 clients this year at eight sites in the Tidewater region complete their federal and state tax returns. Tax-Aide works only because of its dedicated volunteers, Ziller said.

"I have a very good retirement," he said. "I feel this is giving back to the community for having this time available for me to do this type of work."

75 Tax-Aide locations in Virginia

Ziller, who retired from the Navy after 31 years, is one of 188 Tax-Aide coordinators in Virginia. Last year, they filed 43,500 returns statewide. This year, they expect even more Virginians to take advantage of getting their tax returns done for free at 75 locations before this year's April 18 tax filing deadline.

"Most people are practically doing jumping jacks because they are getting their taxes done for free," Ziller said.

Visit the Tax-Aide website to find the location nearest you.

Tax-Aide is an AARP Foundation program provided in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service that offers tax preparation services to low- and moderate-income people, with a particular focus on those 60 or older.

The Tax-Aide program maintains rigorous standards to ensure clients get the best possible service in handling their taxes, a task that often can be confusing and nerve-racking for many taxpayers.

Every return is handled by a trained and IRS-certified Tax-Aide volunteer and then double-checked by another counselor. At all Virginia sites, the returns are filed electronically.

Bilingual tax counselors available

It usually takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete the process, said Arthur Welch, AARP Virginia state coordinator for Tax-Aide and a retired accountant who was the chief financial officer of the Association of the United States Army.

Welch, of McLean, said sometimes there are bilingual counselors, principally Spanish-speaking aides, at Virginia centers where translation services are needed. In the Tidewater region, there also are sign language interpreters to help hearing-impaired taxpayers.

Tax-Aide has sites in libraries, senior centers, churches and recreation and community centers. Approximately 1,000 volunteers were recruited and trained in Virginia. The AARP Foundation program expects to save Virginia taxpayers more than $6.75 million in tax preparation fees this year, based on an average fee of $150 per privately prepared return.

Tax-Aide volunteers are certified after taking a five-day course that teaches them how to handle the IRS 1040 form and its related forms. They are recertified every year after a six-hour refresher course. The yearly test, conducted in cooperation with the IRS, has 80 to 90 questions.

"We take training very seriously in Virginia," Welch said.

Counselors also have been brought up to speed on the latest tax code changes.

Tax-Aide volunteers generally have very satisfied customers. But that doesn't mean taxpayers always walk away happy.

Jane Alcorn, 64, a retiree and the Williamsburg coordinator, said she enjoys meeting and helping people from all walks of life, but she has had taxpayers break down in tears when they get bad news about their tax bill.

"There's always pain when you have to pay taxes," she said. "The pain comes … when people owe money or didn't realize they must pay penalties for cashing in a 401(k)" retirement fund.

Document checklist

Here's a list of items taxpayers should bring with them:

  • Last year's tax returns, all of their W-2s and 1099 forms and any statements that show interest or dividends or sales of stock and mutual funds.

  • A Social Security card or identification card with a Social Security number on it.

  • A photo identification card.

  • A Social Security number and proof of date of birth for each dependent claimed. Parents claiming education expenses for student dependents need a form sent by the college.

  • Taxpayers who donated a car need a form sent by the charity.

  • Taxpayers signing for elderly parents need a copy of the power of attorney.

Taxpayers who bring all of the necessary paperwork only need one trip to the Tax-Aide office, Welch said.

Judi Hasson is a freelance writer based in McLean, Va.

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