By Bill Sanders
Peter Tartikoff, of Sandy Springs, doesn’t mind missing a few rounds of golf during tax season. Time away from the fairways isn’t a sacrifice because he likes assisting people who look to AARP Foundation Tax-Aide for help with their returns.
Its focus is on low- and moderate-income taxpayers 60 and older, but it is open to anyone. Tax-Aide requires a small army of volunteers to provide the free service.
For 10 weeks during tax season, Tartikoff, 71, a semiretired CPA, lends his expertise to Tax-Aide as one of about 800 volunteers who help Georgians file their state and federal tax returns.
Nancy Tartikoff occasionally volunteers with her husband, serving as a greeter, called a “facilitator.”
AARP Georgia is looking for more people like the Tartikoffs—people willing to be trained to prepare tax returns as well as volunteers who help the process run smoothly but don’t work on returns.
A few hours per week
Time commitments for Tax-Aide volunteers vary, depending on the site, said Tax-Aide state coordinator Brig Simmons, 68, of Douglasville. Most sites have four-hour shifts one or two days a week from Feb. 3 to April 15.
“We can use all the help we can get,” he said.
More than 55,000 Georgians turned to Tax-Aide to help prepare their 2012 returns.
Tax-Aide volunteers work in public locations such as shopping centers, senior centers, libraries and churches. Tax preparers meet individually with taxpayers to prepare the returns and help file them. Most are filed electronically. Each return is double-checked by a second certified tax counselor before it is filed.
Facilitators make sure people have brought all the documentation they need and try to make them feel comfortable if they seem ill at ease.
“A lot of what we see are older people, and the first time they come in, it can be a little intimidating for them,” Nancy Tartikoff said.
Other volunteers help with scheduling, assist with computer equipment or track volunteers’ assignments.
“A lot of times, volunteers are hesitant about getting trained to do taxes, so they are a facilitator the first year or two. Then some move on to become trained tax counselors,” Simmons said.
All volunteers must attend a one- or two-hour training session on ethics and pass an open-book test created by the IRS. In addition, volunteer tax preparers must attend training sessions of four to six days, generally during the week but sometimes on weekends, and pass an IRS tax law test. Some or all of the training may be online instruction. People who are returning as tax-preparer volunteers may take a shorter class but also must pass the IRS tax law test.
Fred Allen, who has received Tax-Aide help for three years, is a believer.
“I saw on the bulletin board at the senior center that I could get tax help,” said Allen, 82, of Atlanta. “I thought, ‘Why not give it a try?’ I was really surprised at how well they do,” he said. “All the people are well trained, and if there is something they aren’t comfortable with, they say it is out of their scope, and they don’t try to bluff it.”
The AARP Tax-Aide program is set up to assist with simple tax returns but not complicated personal returns or business returns.
With tax season just a few months away, Simmons said, now is the time for Georgians to sign up to volunteer with Tax-Aide.
To become a Tax-Aide volunteer, visit aarp.org/taxvolunteer. After submitting basic information, volunteers will receive a confirmation email followed by a call from an AARP coordinator.
Bill Sanders is a writer living in Acworth, Ga.