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How AARP Massachusetts Is Helping Residents With Taxes Through the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program

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Donald Reynolds, a retired banker, helps seniors with the free tax aide program.
Jake Belcher

As a longtime AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteer, Don Reynolds handles a few cases every year that make his efforts especially worthwhile. 

For instance, he helped a man who was facing $40,000 in state and federal taxes after withdrawing money from an individual retirement account without understanding the financial impact.

Reynolds, who retired from a career in banking, dug into the tax code and found a way for his client to avert the hefty bill. Instead of paying $40,000, the man ended up with a small refund.

“That makes a difference for the rest of that man’s life,” says Reynolds, 70, of Mashpee, who is Tax-Aide district coordinator for Cape Cod and the Islands. “Cases like that keep me coming back.”

In its 54th year, Tax-Aide is the nation’s largest free volunteer-run tax-preparation service. It’s open to everyone but focuses on low- to moderate-income people who are 50 or older or who cannot afford to pay for professional preparation.

In Massachusetts, more than 600 volunteers staff the program, filling a variety of roles, from scheduling appointments and preparing taxes to acting as translators, says Tax-Aide volunteer state coordinator Joan Gong, 70, of Chelmsford. 

Last year, volunteers helped about 25,000 Massachusetts residents navigate tax codes, ensure proper credits and deductions, and file federal and state returns. Those filings resulted in $19 million in refunds. Nationally, the program aided more than 1 million taxpayers, securing nearly $685 million in refunds for them.

Volunteers are Key 

There are more than 100 Tax-Aide sites throughout Massachusetts, at places such as senior centers, libraries and churches. 

Volunteers will begin preparing returns Tuesday, Feb. 1, and continue until the Friday, April 15, filing deadline.

Tax preparers undergo training, are IRS-certified and stay up to date on the latest tax code changes. To ensure accuracy, another volunteer reviews each completed return. There are limits on the types of issues volunteers can handle. Complex cases, such as those involving investments, trusts, cryptocurrency and rental income, are beyond the scope of what they can do, Gong says.

Reynolds says volunteers help taxpayers find the credits and refunds they are eligible for, such as the state’s Senior Circuit Breaker Tax Credit for homeowners and renters 65 and older who meet specific income requirements. The maximum Circuit Breaker credit for tax year 2021 was $1,170. 

“The Circuit Breaker is so important for some people,” he says, noting that those who qualify can get retroactive refunds for up to three years.

Again this year, taxpayers have to report any COVID-19-related stimulus payments they received from the federal government.

While the money is not taxable, it is “reconcilable,” so if people did not receive the full amount they were entitled to, it could boost their refund, Reynolds says.

On Cape Cod, many of the clients who use the Tax-Aide program are low- to moderate-income residents who work in the service industry, supporting the sizable population of older people living in the region, Reynolds says. It is satisfying for volunteers to know that their efforts help those workers, he adds.

“Big picture, if you look at the Cape, we probably saved our taxpayers over $1 million in tax-prep fees last year,” he says. 

This year, Tax-Aide will offer virtual, drop-off and in-person options amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The availability of these alternatives may vary by site, so it’s best to check in advance. Find a nearby location at aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call
888-227-7669.

Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury, Mass. 

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