For many people, filing income tax returns provokes stress, anxiety and dread. Not so for Phyllis Sonnenschein, a retired high school science teacher from Natick.
For the past several years, Sonnenschein, 74, has gotten free tax preparation help from AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers at the Natick Senior Center.
"It's a wonderful service," she said. "I actually look forward to it."
During tax season, an army of 600 trained AARP volunteers across Massachusetts will help low- and moderate-income residents, with a particular focus on those 60 and older, file their state and federal returns. There is no charge.
The volunteers are part of a nationwide program launched in 1968 that now serves 2.6 million taxpayers annually. Run in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), it is the largest free volunteer tax prep program in the country.
Clients are asked to bring 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.
Sessions take an hour
"We do the taxes on the spot, and it takes about an hour," said Tom Ligon, volunteer state coordinator for Tax-Aide. "People are very grateful."
Ligon, 76, of Wayland, became a Tax-Aide counselor eight years ago. A retired engineer, he was looking for volunteer work that was "useful and stimulating." Having always prepared his own taxes, he thought the Tax-Aide program would be a good fit. He finds deep satisfaction in helping people, especially when he saves them money.
"It's frightening for people if they don't know whether they will owe money, and if they do, whether they will have the money to pay their taxes or buy food," Ligon said. "One of the best feelings is when someone comes in and they didn't realize they were eligible for a refund."
In 2012, more than 39,000 Massachusetts residents got help from Tax-Aide volunteers.
"Taxes are one of the inevitable things in life, so there is a strong demand for help," said Linda F. Fitzgerald, AARP Massachusetts state president. "For many people, doing taxes can be overwhelming."