For Carol McClusky, 64, the long-dreaded chore of collecting paperwork and filling out income tax forms has taken a turn for the better.
"I used to panic to go back a year and match up forms, but now it's very peaceful," the grandmother of five said.
McClusky attributes her peace of mind to AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, a free program that helps seniors and low- to moderate-income taxpayers do their taxes.
By close of business on Tax Day — this year extended to April 18 — AARP Foundation Tax-Aide will have helped McClusky and an estimated 2.5 million other taxpayers navigate complicated tax codes, ensure proper credits and deductions and file their returns to the Internal Revenue Service and state and local tax agencies.
Established in 1968 with four volunteers, the AARP Foundation program has blossomed into a national program with about 35,000 volunteers, each one trained by AARP and certified by the IRS. Last year, the volunteers helped users get refunds totaling $1.2 billion and earned income tax credits totaling $233 million.
The program is one of AARP's largest service activities, with people signing up as future volunteers year-round.
Typical of the program's 6,500 sites in all 50 states and the District of Columbia is the Blount County Public Library in Maryville, Tenn.
A few weeks ago, McClusky lugged her bundle of papers into the brand-new red-brick library. Beyond a big sign declaring "AARP Tax-Aide," a greeter checked her in, made sure she had all the documents she'd need, then introduced her to the volunteer who would be working with her.
The volunteer — wearing an official AARP Tax-Aide button-down denim shirt — sat down with her at a long table in a community room. Privacy screens helped ensure that the discussion remained confidential.
Together the two pored over her year's worth of receipts, forms and other materials. Her income and other numbers were typed into a laptop computer running special tax software. A short while later, McClusky's completed 2010 return was filed electronically, traveling in security-encoded form over the Internet from the Maryville library to the IRS.
Whew! My taxes are done
"For me, it's a big relief and a great offering," she said. "If I didn't go here, I'd have to go to a tax service, so the savings really helps."
Among the volunteers at the library that day was 90-year-old Jim Keeble, a former accountant who has volunteered with AARP Foundation Tax-Aide for 29 years. "The best part about this is being able to be of some help to somebody who's lost and doesn't know what to do," said Keeble, who's also active at his retirement facility and church.