Just as the holiday whirlwind wears off that inevitable and dreaded task tops the to-do list: preparing taxes. For most this involves hours of work, number crunching and hair pulling. AARP Tax-Aide, the nation’s largest free volunteer-run tax assistance and preparation service, helps seniors and low to moderate income taxpayers of all ages prepare their returns with substantially less stress.
In 2009, Oregon’s Tax-Aide program filed nearly 51,000 returns on behalf of about 64,000 taxpayers, with an average refund of $1,120 per return filed – equating to about $57 million back into the pockets of Oregonians.
Bill Ensign, Tax-Aide Volunteer State Coordinator, expects to file even more returns for 2010 at the 146 sites that will be operational across Oregon, including the Multnomah County Mobile Unit, which travels to service homebound seniors and assisted living and nursing facility residents. Tax preparation services are available from Feb. 1 through Apr. 15.
Putting “Cash” in the Hand
Administered by the AARP Foundation, Tax-Aide is fueled by the IRS-trained/certified and dedicated legion of volunteers like Ensign – 1,110 strong in Oregon and nearly 35,000 nationwide.
Additional refunds, mainly due to deductions and credits, make a significant difference for seniors’ and low income families’ budgets and stimulate local economies, Ensign said.
“When you have someone who comes ‘living on the edge’ and is totally unaware that they’re entitled to credits and is then overwhelmed with gratitude, there’s almost no better feeling,” he said.
In the Portland Metro area, the Tax-Aide program works hand-in-hand with CASH (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) Oregon, said Executive Director Rob Justus, through recruitment and training of Tax-Aide volunteers, providing technology and more.
“So much of our work is about building trust and relationships,” said Justus. “When our assistance with tax prep creates a huge refund , there is a moment of opportunity to teach about investing and saving.”
Currently, CASH Oregon works with low-income families and individuals in the tri-county area, but plans to expand its partnership with Tax-Aide statewide. CASH Oregon is also looking to develop other economic development opportunities for low income people in the near future. To learn more or volunteer with CASH Oregon, call 503-243-7765.
In addition to Tax-Aide, the AARP Foundation’s Money Management www.aarpmmp.org also offers vital services to seniors and vulnerable adults and their families. Volunteers can help with daily money management services to budgeting, paying routine bills and keeping track of financial matters.
Immediate Rewards of Volunteering
Jeff Malmquist, 59, has volunteered with AARP Tax-Aide for seven years first in St. Paul, Minn. and now Portland, Ore. acting as site coordinator in 2009. This year, Malmquist is district coordinator, overseeing the state’s largest site, Lloyd Center, that expects to process more than 3,000 2010 returns. Having worked with a commercial tax-preparation company for four years as a licensed tax consultant, Malmquist feels the program is a perfect match.
“I love being able to use my skills to provide services to those who can’t afford tax and financial advisors,” said Malmquist. “And I get to work with a great community of people – both clients and volunteers.”
If you’re not a numbers person, there are still many other ways to get involved with AARP Tax-Aide, from serving as a greeter at tax assistance sites or managing volunteers, to talking about the program in community venues or helping provide technical assistance on technology. Oregon’s program is still actively recruiting and training new volunteers for the upcoming tax season. Learn more and volunteer.
Well Trained, Professional Assistance
“From our perspective at the IRS, volunteers are the most valuable resources that the free tax preparation program has,” said Kathy Howell, senior tax consultant for the Internal Revenue Service.
In Oregon, all volunteers preparing returns in AARP Tax-Aide sites are certified through an advanced level of tax law training after passing a series of tests. Long-time volunteer Ensign has taken the test 27 years in a row.
Howell says the IRS has established mandatory requirements to ensure taxpayers visiting volunteer sites receive quality service and accurate return preparation, along with full privacy, confidentiality and security of their data. Each return also undergoes a quality review process.
AARP Tax-Aide sites are operational from February 1 through the middle of April. During that season, taxpayers can get help or find the Oregon Tax-Aide site nearest them online or by calling 1-888-AARPNOW (1-888-227-7669) toll-free or 2-1-1 for information and referral services in Clackamas, Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Lane, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties. Online tax counseling is available all year round.