Photo by Katja Heinemann/Aurora Select
When a client handed Roger Ditman a W-2 form last year showing an annual income of $100,000, he was about to hand it back.
See also: What's new for taxes in 2012?
Ditman, 70, of Brooklyn, is a state coordinator for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program in New York. He was startled at the client's income level because Tax-Aide is geared toward people 60 and over with low and moderate incomes, although it's open to all ages.
"Then the man told me he'd been laid off and now had no income at all," said Ditman, who has volunteered with the program for the past 10 years at St. Margaret's House, a low-income senior apartment community in Manhattan. "The stories grab your heart."
Established in 1968 with the cooperation of the Internal Revenue Service, the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program is a free service. Last year, more than 111,000 people were helped by 1,440 volunteers at 459 sites throughout the state, said Luci de Haan, AARP New York communications director.
Nationwide, nearly 36,000 volunteers help more than 2.6 million taxpayers annually.
The program runs through April 17.
Volunteers certified by IRS
Ditman used to work for the IRS, but that type of background is not necessary.
"We get college deans, engineers, the whole gamut of volunteers," said Ron Tucker, 69, a Tax-Aide state coordinator from Rochester.
Whatever their background, Tucker said, "the volunteers know what they're doing. They are trained by AARP and certified by the IRS every year." The service includes a quality review of each return. "It helps to have a second set of eyes" double-check the figures, he said.
Tax-Aide sites are found in libraries, senior or community centers and even town halls. While hours vary, most sites are open a minimum of one day a week for three to five hours. Most sites are staffed by three to six volunteers and require an appointment, but some accept walk-ins.
Appointments usually take about an hour, Tucker said.
Tax-Aide volunteers are trained to handle all the basic IRS forms. No one is turned away unless the tax return is very complex and beyond the scope of the volunteers' training.
New sites open each year to serve demand. For example, in Perinton and Victor last year, every available slot was scheduled by the second week in March. When Tucker reviewed the demographics, he found that about 30 clients were from the nearby town of Macedon. So this year there is a new site in Macedon.
Some sites have bilingual volunteers. Check the Tax-Aide site locator at aarp.org/taxaide for this information, and call the site to confirm availability of this service.
Taxpayers should have their materials in some kind of order, Ditman suggested. Documents they should bring include:
- A photo ID and a copy of last year's tax return.
- All W-2 and 1099 forms reporting income, interest, dividends, pensions, annuities and Social Security benefits.
- Social Security cards or other official documentation for yourself and your dependents.
- Unemployment compensation statements.
Canceled checks and receipts if you plan to itemize deductions. For further information about what documents are necessary, go to the Tax-Aide website. If you want to have a refund deposited directly into your account, bring your checkbook with routing and account numbers.
"We provide a real service to those who don't really have any other options," said Ditman. Returns are filed electronically, and clients receive a printed copy for their records.
To find the site nearest you, go to the Tax-Aide locator or call 1-888-227-7669 toll-free.
Starting in September, people interested in volunteering for next year should fill out the application form on the Tax-Aide website.
Also of interest: Frequently asked federal tax questions. >>
Cathie Gandel is a freelance writer living in Bridgehampton, N.Y.