By Vanessa Ho
Tax time is stressful for many people, but not for Gloria Chou, a retired school guidance director in Shoreline. For the last two years, Chou has turned to AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, a free service for filing individual tax returns.
“I just don’t trust my calculations,” said Chou, 82. “I always feel so grateful for the generosity and kindness of these people to volunteer.”
Aimed at people 60+
Tax-Aide serves people of all ages with special attention to those 60 and older. Volunteer tax preparers are IRS-certified, for which they must take classes and pass a test. All returns are double-checked for accuracy.
Volunteers do not handle complicated returns such as those involving rental property or depreciation.
In Washington last year, more than 1,000 Tax-Aide volunteers helped about 78,000 taxpayers get more than $52 million in refunds. Because Washington has no state income tax, counselors focus on federal returns.
“I’ve been highly impressed with the program,” said Chad Solvie, CEO of Martha & Mary, a senior and child services agency in Kitsap County. Tax-Aide, which had about 150 sites in Washington last year, has set up seasonal offices at Martha & Mary for more than a decade.
“It’s very convenient for the seniors and families under our care,” Solvie said. “But more than that, this is really a community benefit.”
One-on-one sessions generally last 45 minutes to an hour at a library, community center or senior center. Some sites take appointments; others are walk-in only. Some sites do both.
Seattle will likely have about 15 Tax-Aide sites scattered widely across the city.
Taxpayers are asked to bring:
- Their 2012 tax returns.
- All W2s and 1099 statements and other forms showing income from stock sales, Social Security and any other sources.
- Photo identification for the taxpayer (and spouse if filing jointly) as well as Social Security cards for each person on the return.
- Receipts for medical bills, prescriptions, insurance premiums and charitable contributions.
- Property tax and mortgage interest statements.
- Mileage records for volunteer work and for travel to medical appointments.
- Receipts for improvements, such as ramps and railings, to make a home safer for aging residents.
- Bank account and routing numbers so refunds can be automatically deposited.
Tax-Aide is “fantastic,” said Charlotte Jorgensen, a 76-year-old retired nurse in Poulsbo.
She and her husband stopped doing their own taxes a few years ago after the IRS began moving toward electronic filing.
She said she likes how Tax-Aide volunteers figure out her credits and deductions and then file her return online.
“Filing tax returns is a very stressful thing for many people,” said Bob Grayson, Tax-Aide state coordinator for AARP Washington.
Also a tax counselor, Grayson has prepared returns for teenagers, people in their 90s and low-income families. He and other counselors have helped widows doing taxes for the first time and new immigrants confused by the tax code.
Grayson, 63, of Seattle, started with Tax-Aide about the time he retired as a real estate lawyer. Eight years later, he still enjoys helping other people.
“It’s really heartwarming to have folks come in and, when they leave, smile and say, ‘Thank you, see you again next time,’ ” he said.
Tax-Aide keeps a confidential, secure file of the taxpayers’ names, addresses and birth dates for reference if they return the following year.
Sites are open Feb. 1 to April 15. Visit aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call 888-227-7669 toll-free to find a site.
Vanessa Ho is a writer living in Seattle.