When a program has been around for 43 years, it's easy to take it for granted. But the results of the 2011 AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Customer Satisfaction Survey show that the 2.6 million people who use our free, volunteer-run tax preparation service every year understand its value. In fact, 82 percent say Tax-Aide gives them a more favorable impression of AARP itself.
The AARP Research and Analysis survey found that a stunning 95 percent of those who use Tax-Aide are very satisfied with its service, and 96 percent would be highly likely to recommend it to others needing help. Eighty-one percent have already done so. Almost all — 98 percent — said the quality of service was excellent (86 percent) or good (12 percent.)
OK, talk is cheap. It's possible that the 247,071 clients who took the time to fill out and return the mail survey were just being nice. (Highly unlikely, but possible.) But coming back for the service year after year is something else. Among AARP Foundation Tax Aide's clients, nearly 80 percent have used it more than once, and 16 percent have used it for at least seven years.
Who uses Tax-Aide? Primarily the people the program is designed to serve — older, low-to-middle-low income people. Almost four out of five (78 percent) are 60 or older, 63 percent are women and 59 percent are AARP members. Household incomes aren't high: 8 percent say theirs is less than $10,000; 24 percent report it's between $10,000 and $20,000; and 25 percent receive $20,000 to $30,000 a year. Only 9 percent reported an annual income above $50,000.
In 2010, AARP Foundation Tax-Aide's 35,000 volunteers helped their clients receive $1.2 billion in tax refunds and $233 million in earned income tax credits. More than half — 55 percent — of those surveyed said they used their refunds to pay bills. One in four (25 percent) bought food, medicine or clothing, and one in four put the extra money into savings.
Finally, 51 percent said they would have paid someone to do their taxes if Tax-Aide weren't available, and 19 percent said they would call on friends or family for help. Just 17 percent said they would do their taxes themselves. The answers to this question no doubt are as much a reflection of the increasing complexity of tax forms as they are of Tax-Aide, but they're also another strong indicator of the value of the program to all those it serves.
The only downside to the survey, in fact, is that relatively few low-income African-Americans and Latinos are using Tax-Aide's free service, despite a two-year outreach effort. Nine out of 10 clients in 2011 were white. AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is recruiting volunteers — particularly minority volunteers — for the 2012 tax season through Dec. 15. Learn more and sign up today.
AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is offered in cooperation with the IRS.