By Tim Poor
Shirley Becker dealt with corporate taxes as a payroll supervisor at Saint Louis University Hospital. When she retired, she figured she’d had enough.
“You just reach a point where you don’t ever want to fill out a tax form again,” said Becker, of south St. Louis County. Fortunately, volunteers from AARP Foundation Tax-Aide were available to help her and her husband complete their taxes.
“I think it’s a wonderful service,” said Becker, 80, who has used the service for about five years. “You go by appointment, you don’t have to wait. The preparers are very knowledgeable.”
And, it’s free.
“That’s the best part of all,” she said. A service she had been using charged $200.
Tax-Aide is available to anyone regardless of age, income or AARP affiliation, though it gives special attention to low- and moderate-income people and those 60 and older. Last year, the service helped 64,100 Missourians, according to Lynn Boulware, state coordinator for Tax-Aide. Clients got more than $23 million in refunds and saved some $4 million in tax preparation fees, she said.
The service is offered at libraries, senior centers and other locations. To find a site, visit aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call 888-227-7669 toll-free.
Preparers are certified
Preparers are volunteers who must pass an IRS test to be certified and then get recertified each year. The training booklet and program are provided by the IRS. To volunteer, fill out an application at aarp.org/taxaide.
Boulware said the service is geared toward individuals with basic tax returns and taxpayers with small businesses. Preparers don’t handle returns that involve depreciation, inventory or rental income.
The service relieves a lot of stress for worried clients.
“It’s amazing how many people are afraid of their taxes, and afraid of messing them up,” said Boulware, a retired accountant who lives in Lebanon. She said the volunteers who help people with their returns get a lot out of the work. “It’s nice to have the person smile when you tell them they’re getting money back,” she said. “It’s rewarding.”
Bob Juergens agrees. He’s a retiree from Boeing who is the district coordinator for the program in the St. Louis area.
“They’re just so grateful you’re doing this for them. You’ve taken a huge load off their shoulders,” he said of the people he helps. “If they get a refund, they’re even more grateful.”
Juergens, 71, helps people with their tax returns at the International Institute in St. Louis, a center for immigrants from all over the world. “A lot aren’t citizens yet,” he said.
“Many aren’t even aware they need to file a return. When I’m finished with their return, I always go over it with them to show them the big picture of how the tax system works,” he added. “That will help them be a better client in the future because they’ll know what to keep track of.”
Clients need to bring these documents to their appointment: 2012 tax returns; a photo ID for each filer; proof of Social Security number for everyone on the return; all income information; 1099 forms for Social Security benefits, pensions, annuities, interest income and dividends; receipts or canceled checks if itemizing deductions; and bank routing and account numbers for direct deposit of refunds.
Each year, Shirley Becker appreciates the personal touch from the preparers: “You can relate to them because they understand the things that elderly people would have on their taxes. It’s like an old friend. You just feel comfortable with them.”
Tim Poor is a writer living in Clayton, Mo.