When he was hired by the Oakland Public Library in 1996, Pete Villaseñor discovered that free tax preparation was offered at some of its branches through AARP Foundation Tax-Aide.
What particularly interested Villaseñor, now manager of the César E. Chávez Branch, was that tax preparation help was offered in Spanish and English.
For many years Villaseñor, 45, prepared his own tax returns — often ending up with discrepancies. That changed five years ago when he decided to try Tax-Aide.
"It is so much easier to go to Tax-Aide. I would definitely recommend it," he said. "Our Spanish-speaking patrons are especially grateful for the help in their first language."
Begun in 1968, Tax-Aide now has more than 35,000 volunteers helping roughly 2.6 million taxpayers at some 6,000 sites nationwide.
Last year, about 3,100 Tax-Aide volunteers served nearly 192,000 California taxpayers, who received $92.7 million in federal refunds and $25 million in state refunds.
This year, Tax-Aide runs from Feb. 1 to April 15.
The program targets low- to middle-income taxpayers with a focus on older people, said Helen Crisman, of San Carlos, the Tax-Aide Pacific regional coordinator.
"But we will take [almost] anyone who walks through the door," Crisman said, noting that volunteers do not prepare complicated returns.
What to bring to a center
All of the volunteer preparers receive about a week of training. They also must pass an IRS certification test annually.
Clients are asked to bring these documents to their Tax-Aide appointment: last year's tax returns; forms related to income from employment, pensions, annuities, Social Security, dividends or other sources; and canceled checks or other paperwork showing payment of state or federal taxes. If filing jointly, your spouse should also attend.
Duane Anderson, 90, has been using the program for four years at the senior citizen center in his hometown of San Carlos.
The professionalism and pleasant demeanor of the volunteers has kept him going back.
"They put you at ease. And I've never had a problem with the IRS," Anderson said.