Photo by Misty Keasler
En español | After retiring from his job as an auditor with the federal government, Lupe Gonzalez knew he still wanted to do something that would use his analytical skills.
In 2003, Gonzalez started volunteering as an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide counselor in Arlington.
"I get everyone from college students to 80-year-olds. I volunteer because these people can't afford to go anywhere else," he said. "I plan to keep volunteering until I just can't do it anymore."
Gonzalez, 68, is one of more than 2,200 Tax-Aide volunteers in Texas who work out of more than 300 sites in places such as libraries, community centers and senior centers. Last year, Tax-Aide volunteers helped nearly 160,000 Texans file their returns.
Begun in 1968, Tax-Aide is a nationwide program provided in cooperation with the IRS. Today, over 35,000 trained volunteers nationwide help more than 2.5 million taxpayers file their taxes annually. Tax-Aide's target audience is low- and moderate-income people 60 and older, but it is open to everyone.
"It's a needed service because the IRS is going towards electronic filing, and a lot of the people who come to us don't have access to computers," said Ron Craig, the regional volunteer coordinator for the program in Texas, Colorado and New Mexico. "We are their access."
Increase in Hispanic clients
Craig said he has seen an increase in the number of Hispanics using the Tax-Aide service, but there are no specific figures because the program doesn't ask for the ethnicity of the taxpayer. Hispanics are the largest minority in Texas, with 38 percent of the state's 25.1 million residents. African Americans make up about 12 percent.
"We do have a push to recruit volunteers from the minority population," Craig said.
David Baltimore, a Tax-Aide coordinator responsible for 72 of the state's 254 counties, said the program has had some difficulty recruiting bilingual volunteers.
"When dealing with sensitive financial information, Spanish-speaking clients might prefer to have a volunteer who can speak directly to them, instead of having to communicate through a translator," Baltimore said.
Gonzalez volunteers twice a week at a site in a library. "Many times I'll get the people who only speak Spanish, because I'm fluent in the language. I know they feel comfortable with me, especially because we're dealing with financial information."
Gonzalez said those seeking help should bring their 1099 and W-2 forms, plus copies of important receipts and a copy of last year's tax return. Taxpayers receive assistance on a first-come, first-served basis.
Bobbie Drennan, 83, of Grapevine, has been using the AARP Tax-Aide program since the mid-1990s.
"I've always trusted them and have never had any problems. The volunteers are very knowledgeable, and they're prompt in getting me in to get my taxes done," she said.
Training begins in January
Volunteers don't need any specific qualifications, except basic computer skills, nor do they need to be AARP members. Volunteers don't have to have experience doing taxes but must be interested in helping people, Baltimore said. Volunteer tax counselors get a week of free training online and in the classroom. They must pass an IRS certification test that covers their knowledge of tax laws. Volunteers only prepare forms such as the 1040, 1040-A and 1040-EZ.
Anyone interested in volunteering must apply by Jan. 1. Volunteers can apply online or they can call toll-free 1-888-687-2277 (English) or 1-877-627-3350 (Spanish). Volunteers train in January and work from February to mid-April.
"I call it the smileage program, because that's how we get paid — in smiles," Baltimore said.
Also of interest: Find an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide location. >>
Rebecca Aguilar is a freelance writer living in Dallas.