By Christopher J. Gearon
• Linda and Bobby Fields, of Cumberland, used to pay an accountant to do their taxes. But after a friend who oversaw the Internal Revenue Service’s education program recommended AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, the couple tried the free program last year.
Now there’s no going back.
“Everybody at the AARP tax site was very knowledgeable, and you’re not paying $100-plus to get your taxes done,” said Linda, 64, a retired Verizon operator who now works as a part-time cashier. Her husband, 62, is a car salesman.
Tax-Aide is the nation’s largest free, volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance service. The program is targeted to low- and moderate-income taxpayers, with special attention to those 60 and older. But no one is turned away, even young families, unless the tax situation is complex and beyond the scope of the tax preparers’ training. Tax-Aide counselors must pass three exams and an ethics test each year before being certified by the IRS.
To find a Tax-Aide site or to schedule an appointment, call 888-227-7669 toll-free or go to aarp.org/findtaxhelp.
Through April 15, nearly 800 Tax-Aide volunteers will staff about 160 sites in community centers, churches, libraries and other locales throughout Maryland. Some sites take walk-ins on a first-come, first-served basis; others prepare returns by appointment only.
Taxpayers are asked to bring :
- A government-issued ID.
- Their 2011 tax return.
- All W-2 and 1099 forms, including forms for employment, pension, Social Security, annuities, interest and dividend income.
- Information on dependents.
- Receipts or canceled checks for possible deductions, such as property tax payments and charitable contributions.
- Bank routing and account numbers if they want refunds deposited directly into a bank account.
“We helped 42,000 people throughout Maryland last year,” said state Tax-Aide coordinator John Lawrence, 70, of Chestertown. Counselors helped people claim nearly $27 million in refunds.
A retired National Security Agency mathematician, Lawrence started volunteering as a Tax-Aide tax preparer in 2000.
“The fellow volunteers were great to work with, and the clients were so appreciative. I got hooked. Twelve years later, I still am,” he said.
Christina Incognito, 50, of Silver Spring, turned to Tax-Aide four years ago. That first year she got back about $5,000 in tax refunds and has been coming back ever since.
“I hate numbers,” said Incognito, a registered nurse.
“I like the way they cross-check at AARP,” she said, referring to Tax-Aide’s practice of having a second reviewer double-check the work of the tax preparer.
Last year, Tax-Aide volunteer Kathleen Thomas, 64, of Silver Spring, prepared Incognito’s taxes. Thomas, an energy sector management consultant, began volunteering with Tax-Aide two years ago.
“Being able to help people is very satisfying,” said Thomas, who logs eight to 10 hours a week over the 10-week tax season.
“There are a lot of people living on the margins or just making ends meet,” she said. “Anything we can do with the Tax-Aide program to make their lives easier helps.”
Lawrence said Tax-Aide volunteers sometimes “actually changed peoples’ lives,” referring to taxpayers who have received a significant portion of their total income from their refund and recent widows who didn’t know how to file because their spouse had always done the taxes.
Christopher J. Gearon is a writer living in Derwood, Md.