Photo by Brian Kelly
Anne Rowland had paid accountants and used online software for years to prepare her tax returns. But four years ago, Rowland tried an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteer, and she hasn't looked back.
"Last time I had [a paid professional] prepare my return, it cost about $80. I thought it was pretty silly because my taxes are simple," said Rowland, 69, a retiree who lives in Albion.
See also: Cut your taxes for 2011.
Tax-Aide is the nation's largest free, volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance service. The program is targeted to low- and moderate-income taxpayers, with special attention to those 60 and older. But no one is turned away unless the tax situation is complex and beyond the scope of the tax preparers' training.
Rowland visits a Tax-Aide site at the senior center in Kendallville, where a volunteer completes her return in about 30 minutes.
"The people who are doing the taxes seem knowledgeable. That's why I keep going back," she said.
Volunteers will be available until April 17 at about 150 sites statewide in places such as libraries and senior centers.
Some sites take appointments; others work on a first-come, first-served basis, said Steve Vanderver, Tax-Aide coordinator in Evansville and incoming state coordinator.
Clients are asked to bring:
- Their 2010 tax return.
- All W-2 and 1099 forms, including ones for employment, pension, Social Security, annuities, interest income and dividend income.
- Information on dependents.
- Receipts or canceled checks for possible deductions, such as property tax payments and charitable contributions.
- Bank routing number and account number if they want refunds deposited directly into a bank account.
- A photo ID.
It's rewarding to help others with their taxes, said Mary Pulaski, 68, a South Bend resident and Tax-Aide coordinator for St. Joseph County.
For example, she said, one year a longtime client came in with her return incorrectly prepared by her daughter and indicating a large — and inaccurate — refund.
"We did an amended return for her, and the client said, 'I am always coming back to you,' " Pulaski said.
Vanderver, 71, who is retired from the Air Force and a pharmaceutical company, said he has worked with the program for 13 years because clients are really appreciative.
"Last year, when we finished an older lady's return, she thanked me for volunteering and providing such a valuable service. Then she went around to all eight volunteers at the site and personally thanked each one," he said.
"It was really an emotional moment."
'It is a great service'
Joyce Jozwiak, 80, of Granger, is another of those grateful clients. The retired elementary school teacher said she's saved a lot of money in the 14 years she's been a Tax-Aide client.
"It is a great service to us older people, and I appreciate it."
To find a Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669 toll-free or visit aarp.org/taxaide.
Volunteer tax preparers are always needed and welcome, said Pulaski, also a retired elementary school teacher. Volunteers come from all kinds of backgrounds, but they should be comfortable with computers and learning software.
Last year some 500 volunteers helped more than 44,400 Indiana residents. In addition to tax preparers, some sites also use volunteers as schedulers, screeners and greeters.
Tax-Aide tax preparers receive free training in December and January, which involves classroom work, presentations and practice using software. They must pass three tests and then are certified by the IRS, Vanderver said. To learn about volunteering for Tax-Aide during next year's tax season, go to aarp.org/taxaide.
You may also like: Frequently asked federal tax questions. >>
Nancy P. Johnson is a freelance writer living in Granger, Ind.
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