By Christina Hernandez Sherwood
Sixteen years ago, Carol Ober answered a newspaper advertisement seeking volunteers for AARP Foundation Tax-Aide. A former middle school mathematics teacher, Ober felt confident she could help other New Jersey residents prepare their taxes.
“I’ve always done my family’s taxes,” said Ober, 70, of Princeton.
For about 10 weeks every winter since, Ober has helped dozens of New Jersey residents complete their tax returns. In Mercer County alone, Tax-Aide volunteers assisted more than 4,000 people in filing returns last year.
Now the Mercer County coordinator for the Tax-Aide program, Ober also served a six-year stint as the program’s state coordinator. Before tax season each year, she trains other Tax-Aide preparers, who don’t need an accounting background but must pass certification tests.
“The program started with the concept of seniors helping seniors,” said Ober, who last year received the AARP New Jersey Andrus Award for her Tax-Aide service. “Many of these seniors are quite frightened of even attempting to do [their tax returns] correctly. The relief and joy of people when they get through the process is rewarding.”
Tax-Aide volunteers, including Ober, helped more than 61,000 New Jersey residents file tax returns last year as part of the nation’s largest free, volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance service.
Tax-Aide is open to anyone, though it gives special attention to low- and moderate-income people 60 and older. Tax-Aide volunteers can help with most returns unless a tax situation is too complex.
“All of my volunteers do this for the personal satisfaction of helping other people,” said Gary Blauth, 68, of Lavallette, the Tax-Aide state coordinator. “We’re saving hundreds of dollars per taxpayer in tax preparation fees. We are IRS-certified preparers. We’re giving them quality service, as well.”
Sites available statewide
About 150 New Jersey Tax-Aide sites staffed by some 950 volunteers will operate through April 15 in senior communities, libraries, churches and elsewhere. To find a local site, call 888-227-7669 toll-free or visit aarp.org/findtaxhelp. Some sites require appointments, while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
Clients are asked to bring the following documents to their Tax-Aide appointment:
- Last year’s tax returns, a photo ID for each filer and proof of Social Security number for everyone on the return, including children.
- 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 and account numbers to allow for direct deposit of refunds.
A few New Jersey Tax-Aide sites offer bilingual tax assistance in Spanish and Filipino, Blauth said. Clients who need tax services in languages that aren’t provided at their local site can be accommodated by IRS telephone translation services or will be sent to another Tax-Aide location.
Every March for at least the last five years, Ravindra Kumar, 83, of Kendall Park, has visited the Princeton Tax-Aide site as one of Ober’s clients. A retired accountant, Kumar said he wholeheartedly trusts Ober with his tax returns.
“She’s a very professional lady,” he said. “Nobody can do better.”
Kumar, who volunteers in the state’s AARP communications office, was so impressed with Ober’s Tax-Aide work that he nominated her for the Andrus Award three years in a row before she won last year. “We got someone an award she deserved a long time ago,” Kumar said. “More people should be awarded something like this to encourage more volunteering.”
Christina Hernandez Sherwood is a writer living in Collingswood, N.J.