By Cathie Gandel
• When a taxpayer handed Roger Ditman a W-2 form in 2011 showing an annual income of $100,000, he was about to hand it back.
Ditman, 71, of Brooklyn, is a state coordinator for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program in New York. He was startled at the man's income level because Tax-Aide is geared toward people 60 and over with low and moderate incomes, although it's open to all ages and income levels.
"Then the man told me he'd been laid off and now had no income at all," said Ditman, who has volunteered with the program for the past 11 years at St. Margaret's House, a low-income senior apartment community in Manhattan. "The stories grab your heart."
Established in 1968 with the cooperation of the Internal Revenue Service, the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program is a free service. Last year, more than 118,000 New Yorkers were helped by nearly 1,800 volunteers at 430 sites throughout the state. They helped taxpayers obtain refunds of almost $60 million.
This year, Tax-Aide volunteers are available from Feb. 1 through the mid-April filing deadline. To find a nearby location, visit aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call 888-227-7669 toll-free.
Tax-Aide sites are found in libraries, senior or community centers and even town halls. While hours vary, most sites are open a minimum of one day a week for three to five hours. Most sites are staffed by three to six volunteers and require an appointment, but some accept walk-ins. Some sites have bilingual volunteers. Appointments usually take about an hour.
Tax-Aide volunteers are trained to handle all the basic IRS forms. No one is turned away unless the tax return is very complex and beyond the scope of the volunteers' training.
Taxpayers are asked to bring a government-issued ID; their 2011 tax return; all W-2 and 1099 forms, including ones 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; and bank routing and account numbers if they want refunds deposited directly into a bank account.
"We provide a real service to those who don't really have any other options," said Ditman. Returns are filed electronically, and clients receive a printed copy for their records.
Cathie Gandel is a freelance writer living in Bridgehampton, N.Y.