AARP AARP States

Bringing Citizens Many Happy Returns

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By Nancy Johnson

Jane A. Einstein has helped hundreds of people prepare their taxes, but she likes to recall the time she saved a married couple from overpaying $10,000 to the IRS.

Einstein, 65, a volunteer with the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program in Lafayette, filed a return for the newly retired couple, who were beginners at investing. The couple had transferred funds from one investment to another and had neglected to show it was a transfer, not a sale. After filing, they received a letter from the IRS demanding $10,000 in capital gains tax. Einstein figured out the problem and filed an amended return.

“Oh, they were relieved,” recalled Einstein, a lab technician in the physics department at Purdue University.

Einstein is one of approximately 550 Hoosiers who volunteer in the Tax-Aide program.

Begun in 1968, AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is the nation’s largest free, volunteer-run tax assistance and preparation service. Today, nearly 36,000 volunteers help more than 2.6 million taxpayers file their taxes annually.

The volunteers provide assistance to anyone, but the program is primarily for low- to middle-income individuals, focusing on those 60 and older, said state coordinator Steve Vanderver, of Evansville.

Intensive training


In January, returning volunteers receive three to five days of training, and new ones receive up to two weeks of instruction. Volunteers learn tax law, how to prepare returns and proper ethical procedures. Those who will prepare returns must pass an open-book test created by the IRS.

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In the 2014 tax season, Indiana’s Tax-Aide volunteers processed some 30,000 returns in 10 weeks, bringing clients more than $21 million in refunds, Vanderver said. “We help people pay their fair share but not overpay.”

Vanderver, 74, who is retired from a career in the Air Force and as accounting manager for a large company, has volunteered with the program for 15 years.

Tax-Aide is always looking for volunteers, Vanderver said. Those who work directly on preparing tax returns need to be comfortable using software, but other positions don’t require computer skills. Greeters handle incoming people, and facilitators sign in clients, help them organize their documents and keep the process moving smoothly.

No special background or education is needed, and volunteers come from all walks of life, Vanderver added. They include retired executives and educators, people who worked for tax preparation ser­vices or the IRS, and “even a former Army helicopter pilot.”

Einstein, a training specialist, enjoys teaching volunteers. She starts classes with an online refresher of tax preparation procedures, followed by a summary of new rules. Then, volunteers practice entering data and filling out sample returns.

The classroom camaraderie increases as the starting date approaches, she said. “You get everyone revved up. You give them the old information, and tell them what’s new. Then it’s ‘Go team!’ ”

Frank Krider, 73, of Palmyra, a retired engineer and administrator, is in his 20th year in the program. He teaches classes, helps clients with returns and prepares taxes for older people with mobility issues by occasionally driving to their homes.

Krider said he gets satisfaction from using his knowledge of tax laws to help people pay no more than is due, and he enjoys knowing that he saves his clients $200 or so in preparation fees. “We need to help our fellow man, and this is one way to do it.”

One of the best reasons for volunteering is hearing clients express their appreciation for the free tax assistance, Vanderver said. “People are so grateful for what you do, and they really thank you. That’s our pay.”

To volunteer, contact the AARP Indiana office toll-free at 866-448-3618 or by email at
in@aarp.org


Nancy Johnson is a freelance writer based in South Bend, Ind.

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