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AARP Foundation Tax-Aide offers free help for older taxpayers and people with limited incomes

In this work, you've got to be on your toes — there are "pressures," he said. "You've got to be up to date and be able to work in the community with a lot of different people."

The pressures Keeble mentioned include a rigorous training process. Every year, each volunteer must complete three to five days of classroom instruction (the length depends on prior experience in the program). Each must pass an IRS certification exam.


"Tax-Aide is one of our key national partners," said Michael McBride, acting director, headquarters operations, of the IRS's Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication programs. With the largest number of volunteers among the free services, Tax-Aide generates 1.5 million returns.

In addition to volunteer certification, the IRS provides tax preparation software, lends computers and printers and helps fund operations with cash grants.

Like the one at the Blount County library, most AARP Foundation Tax-Aide sites run by appointment only, although some accept walk-ins. Hours vary by site. A typical appointment takes from 30 to 40 minutes, but can be longer if the return is complex. (Occasionally, a return will be deemed too complicated to handle, with the taxpayer being advised to seek services elsewhere.) This year, the Maryville site and all others in the program included a volunteer to recheck the work of the preparer.

A service for younger people, too

It's not only older people who benefit from the free assistance. Brad and Carla Sellers, a married couple in their 30s, used AARP Foundation Tax-Aide for the first time this year.

"Last year, we paid to have our taxes done," Carla Sellers said. "When we got our check, they had to take their money out." So when they learned about AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, they decided to give it a shot.

"They're very respectful here. We were a little nervous, but we'll be back," Carla Sellers said.

Volunteers said the couple's attitude and experience were typical of first-time users, many of whom doubt the service is free. That reluctance is understandable, according to a local volunteer coordinator, Tom Hendrix. "Everybody hears about the IRS and the horror stories," Hendrix said. "We just put their mind at ease."

Hendrix, who has been a volunteer for 18 years, says the two groups that AARP Foundation Tax-Aide helps, older people and those on limited incomes, can be particularly vulnerable to scams. It's important, he said, to create the right environment for first-time users or for people who are simply stopping in to learn more about the program.

It's a lot of work, but he's happy to do it. In the end, he said, it's fun saving money for people.

Angela Bryant Starke is a writer in Tennessee.

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