Photo by Matt Roth
Since Edith Sofield began using the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program about six years ago to prepare her tax returns, she's spread the word.
"I told my friends. I told my neighbor. My neighbor is thrilled. He's been taking my garbage out since then."
Using Tax-Aide eases her mind. "I don't have far to go, and I know they're honest," said Sofield, 84, of North Brunswick, who is retired from a shipping company.
See also: Cut your taxes for 2011.
Tax-Aide, the nation's largest free, volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance service, helped some 30,000 New Jersey residents file returns last year. Run in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service, Tax-Aide is geared toward low- and moderate-income people 60 and older.
But the program doesn't turn anyone away unless the tax situation is complex and beyond the scope of the tax preparers' training.
"In today's economy, more and more people are facing unemployment situations and limited incomes," said Gary Blauth, 66, of Glen Ridge, a member of the Tax-Aide coordinating committee in New Jersey. "We're helping them by not only getting them tax refunds, but saving the cost of a paid preparer."
For instance, when Georganne Lee, 70, of Verona, was nearing retirement — and a limited income — about a decade ago, her parents recommended Tax-Aide, which they had used for years.
"Paying hundreds of dollars on a yearly basis to have my taxes completed and filed" would be difficult to do, said Lee, who worked as a credit manager for a machinery manufacturer.
About 150 New Jersey Tax-Aide sites will operate through April 17 at libraries, community centers and churches. To find a nearby site, visit aarp.org/taxaide or call toll-free 1-888-227-7669. Appointments are required in most cases, although some locations are first-come, first-served.
Several sites provide bilingual tax assistance, including in Spanish and in Filipino, Blauth said. If bilingual assistance is unavailable at a nearby site, he said, the client will be referred to another location.
Clients are asked to bring these documents to their appointment:
- Last year's tax return and a photo ID.
- Social Security cards or other official documentation for everyone on the return.
- All income information, including W-2 forms; unemployment compensation statements; and 1099 forms for Social Security benefits, pensions, annuities, interest income and dividends.
- Receipts or canceled checks if itemizing deductions.
- Bank routing number and account number to enable refunds to be deposited directly into a bank account.
900 volunteers assist
To show her appreciation, Lee volunteered this year with Tax-Aide. She's one of roughly 900 volunteers in New Jersey who prepare taxes, schedule appointments or greet clients.
Isabella Hayward, 65, of Eatontown, became a volunteer a few years ago when the Tax-Aide site in Shrewsbury was without a greeter.
A retired postal worker, Hayward now volunteers every Saturday during tax season, helping clients sign in and prepare for their appointments.
"I never really was a person for volunteering, but after I got my taxes [prepared], I said, 'Why not give something back?' "
To volunteer for next year, complete a form at aarp.org/taxaide or call 1-888-687-2277 toll-free starting in September.
Volunteer tax preparers don't need an accounting background, Blauth said. "We have people with Ph.D.s in chemistry and physics," he said. "We have business majors. We do have some accountants, housewives."
These volunteers receive one to two weeks of classroom training, plus homework, Blauth said. Tax preparers must pass IRS certification tests.
You may also like: Frequently asked federal tax questions. >>
Christina Hernandez Sherwood is a writer living in Collingswood, N.J
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