By Bonnie Blackburn
Robert “Skip” Lomont, of Fort Wayne, was reading his local newspaper several years ago when he stumbled across an ad for AARP Foundation Tax-Aide. The free program helps people prepare and file their annual state and federal tax returns. He and his wife, Marvel, decided to give the service a try, and the couple have been using it ever since.
“Sometimes you’ve got to wait in line a little, but it’s not a problem,” said Lomont, 67, who works in a local auto shop.
The program began with four volunteers in 1968 in coordination with the Internal Revenue Service. Now, roughly 35,000 trained volunteers help more than 2.6 million taxpayers file their taxes. Tax-Aide is open to anyone, even non-AARP members, though it gives special attention to low- and moderate-
income people 50 and older.
Certain complex returns cannot be handled by the program.
Last year, more than 46,000 Hoosiers were served by 567 Tax-Aide volunteers at 119 sites across Indiana. And demand for the service is growing. Indeed, the number of taxpayers seeking help with their returns in Indiana outstrips available volunteers, said Eldon Anderson, 73, the Tax-Aide district coordinator for the Fort Wayne area.
“We are in need of volunteers to join the program so that we can serve more people,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately, we are forced to turn people away because we do not have enough volunteers to prepare a tax return for them.”
Paul Thieroff, 70, a retired accountant from Fort Wayne, has been a Tax-Aide preparer for about 11 years. During an initial three-day training, Thieroff learned the basics of tax law, such as how to determine filing status, and became familiar with the overall tax return documents. His training is updated annually to keep up with changes in the law. Like all the volunteer preparers, he is certified by the IRS.
Thieroff is now busy through the end of the tax season, working at various locations in Fort Wayne, including library branches and local community offices.
He noted that the “average client is retired, with Social Security or a pension” being their main source of income. “It’s nice to be able to help people who can’t afford a paid professional,” Thieroff said.
To find a location near you, go to aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call 888-227-7669 toll-free. Because of high demand, taxpayers are urged to make an appointment in advance.
You don’t need to be an AARP member to receive tax preparation help. Still, the service was enough to prompt the Lomonts to join AARP.
“They seem to know what they are doing,” Skip Lomont said. “If one of the guys preparing the form has a problem, they always call somebody else over that oversees it. They’ve always been able to solve any problem I have.” All returns are double-checked by a supervisor before being electronically filed.
What to bring
To receive help, bring a photo ID, such as a driver’s license, for everyone filing the tax return. You’ll need last year’s state and federal tax returns. Bring all income information, including W-2 forms; unemployment compensation statements; and 1099 forms for miscellaneous income, Social Security benefits, pensions, annuities, interest income and dividends.
Under the Affordable Care Act, you’ll also need to document your health insurance status. The ACA requires everyone to have a minimum level of coverage. If your insurance changed—say, with a shift in your place of work—document that. Also, bring a blank check from a bank account that would receive any refund deposit.
For a full list of necessary documents, go to aarp.org/taxdocs.
Volunteers, including tax preparers, greeters and people with computer experience, are needed. Anyone interested in learning more about volunteering for next year can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888-687-2277 toll-free. Training and materials are provided for new preparers to become IRS-certified.
Bonnie Blackburn is a writer living in Fort Wayne, Ind.