By CJ Woodring
It’s been said the best things in life are free. And that pretty well describes the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, said Robert J. Dietrich, a coordinator for the service.
“It hits the nail on the head with what our goal is: to provide a service to people at no cost, and from the little bit that I hear from clients, they’re very thankful for that service,” the 75-year-old Evansville resident said.
After four years as a tax preparer, Dietrich volunteered for his current position and is now in his fifth year. The retired leather tannery production planner said he always files his own taxes, but he understands that, for many people, it’s an annual headache.
“Probably 80 percent of clients here are 65 and older,” he said. “Some of them have no clue as to tax forms, and it scares them. Our service is able to alleviate those concerns.”
Now in its 50th year, Tax-Aide remains one of the best free services for the low- to moderate-income individuals who use it. Operating from about 5,000 locations—libraries, banks, malls and community and senior centers—it is the nation’s largest free, volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance service.
Each year, about 35,000 trained and IRS-certified volunteers assist roughly 2.6 million taxpayers in filing their returns. Although geared toward individuals 50 and older, services are available to anyone filing a simple return. AARP membership is not required for assistance.
Last year, nearly 500 Tax-Aide volunteers worked in more than 100 Hoosier sites, serving about 43,500 taxpayers, according to AARP Foundation.
One of those volunteers was district coordinator Carl Weissgerber, 71, of Decatur Township, a retired reliability engineer who operates from the Mooresville and Plainfield libraries.
“I’ve done other volunteer work. Sometimes you go home and wonder, ‘What have I accomplished today?’ I never have that feeling volunteering for Tax-Aide,” he said.
“We generally schedule interviews from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and handled about 1,000 returns at three sites last year. We’re trained very well, and have two sets of eyes looking at everything. Without us, I’m not sure where a lot of people would have their taxes done.”
Clients and preparers benefit
Janice Carrico, 80, is entering her fourth year as a tax preparer. A retired accountant, the Elkhart County resident said she’s glad she’s still capable of doing the work. “Clients are delighted and express how happy they are, and working with them is a good experience for both of us,” she said.
Elkhart district coordinator Merritt Lehman, 75, a retired financial planner and tax preparer, oversees four sites in Elkhart, St. Joseph and Marshall counties.
“This is an activity in which I have some skill and knowledge,” he said. “Most of our clients are very appreciative they can get this free service from what we consider very qualified people. I enjoy doing this because I want to give back to the community, which has been good to me.”
“Tax-Aide really is one of the best free things,” Weissgerber said, “and the motto says it all: ‘Free tax assistance for those who need it most.’ ”
Because of the high demand, AARP Foundation suggests taxpayers schedule appointments well in advance. To find a Tax-Aide location near you, go to aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call toll-free 888-227-7669.
CJ Woodring is a writer living in Fort Wayne.