By Bill Sanders
Dave Clark is an exception to many Americans’ attitude about the IRS 1040 form: He looks forward to tax season.
Clark, 66, of Crossville, is one of about 400 Tennessee residents who volunteer with AARP Foundation Tax-Aide.
Going on 10 years volunteering with Tax-Aide, the retired Air Force officer and real estate agent finds it rewarding to share his expertise in tax preparation with others who can use his help.
Tax-Aide organizers in Tennessee hope to add more volunteers to the program, which will operate for 10 weeks beginning in February.
Some volunteers help prepare and file tax returns; others contribute in ways that make the system run smoothly but without involving math or tax law.
The free service is aimed at low-to moderate-income people 60 and older. Tax-Aide volunteers cannot provide assistance on complicated personal or business returns.
Tax-Aide volunteers work in public sites: shopping centers, senior centers, libraries and churches.
For the 2012 tax season, Tax-Aide volunteers assisted more than 38,000 Tennessee residents.
Bob Willis, 73, of Fairfield Glade, chairman of the Tax-Aide national technology committee and a former Tennessee Tax-Aide state coordinator, hopes more people will volunteer with Tax-Aide this year.
Not all volunteers have to be savvy with taxes or computers.
Facilitators, or greeters, make sure people have brought all the documentation they need and try to make them feel comfortable if they seem ill at ease.
Others help with scheduling, assist with computer equipment or track volunteers’ assignments.
Volunteers who handle tax returns must undergo training—usually about four or five days for first-time volunteers—and pass an IRS tax law exam. In some cases, the classes can be taken online.
People who are returning as tax-preparer volunteers take shorter classes but must also pass the IRS tax law test.
All volunteers, including those who don’t work on tax returns, take a one- or two-hour class in ethics and must pass an open-book test created by the IRS.
Each return is double-checked by a second certified tax counselor before it is filed.
Rita Marvin, 84, said she has gone to Tax-Aide volunteers in Crossville for at least a decade. “I like it because it is free, and they are good,” she said of the tax preparers.
“Everyone there is so social and nice. I trust them, obviously, or I wouldn’t go back year after year.”
Clark said it’s people like Marvin who make him love tax season.
“Seeing the same people year after year is great,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of people I meet here are so grateful and cooperative, and it makes it worthwhile. We don’t get paid. It’s pay enough to know that you’ve helped people.”
Time commitments for Tax-Aide volunteers vary, depending on the site, Willis said. Most sites have four-hour shifts one or two days a week from Feb. 3 to April 15.
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 a Tax-Aide coordinator.
Bill Sanders is a writer living in Acworth, Ga.