By Bob Moseley
Phil Corbesato, 70, under went a life change two years when he got married. So as he got ready to file his 2011 tax return, the Shelton resident knew he had a question to answer: Would it be more advantageous to file as a married couple or individually?
But he wasn’t stressed about finding the answer. Corbesato knew he’d find it through AARP Tax-Aide, a no-cost service that he used in previous years to file his tax returns.
Tax-Aide is the nation's largest free, volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance service. Tax-Aide volunteers are available from Feb. 1 through the mid-April filing deadline at more than 90 sites throughout Connecticut. To find a location, visit aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call 888-227-7669 toll-free.
The program focuses on helping low- and moderate-income people, with special attention to those over age 60. No one is turned away, although Tax-Aide volunteers can’t help file complex returns.
"The majority of our clients are seniors. But because of the economy, we are seeing younger people and unemployed people. We don't turn anyone away," said Linda Avery, 48, a Tax-Aide volunteer from Wethersfield.
Avery, who has been a Tax-Aide volunteer for five years, said people who use professional tax preparers often pay "$150 to $300 to get a simple tax return done. We can do it for free. People come back year after year."
Federal and state tax laws frequently change, and sometimes state tax credits and deductions are modified.
Tax-Aide volunteers attend training sessions each year and must pass three IRS certification tests and an ethics exam before they can assist taxpayers.
Some Tax-Aide centers take appointments, while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
Taxpayers are asked to bring a government-issued ID; their 2011 tax return; all W-2 and 1099 forms, including ones for employment, pension, Social Security, annuities, interest and dividend income; information on dependents; receipts or canceled checks for possible deductions, such as property tax payments and charitable contributions; and bank routing and account numbers if they want refunds deposited directly into a bank account.
Last year nearly 600 Tax-Aide volunteers helped roughly 33,000 Connecticut taxpayers, who got $19.4 million in refunds. About 95 percent of the returns are submitted electronically, which means people get their refunds more quickly.
Dan Arnold, 75, Tax-Aide coordinator for both Connecticut and the New England region, said grateful taxpayers who use the service often reach for their wallets or checkbooks.
"We are prohibited from accepting money," the Bloomfield resident said. "Sometimes people come in with plates of cookies. We can accept that."
Bob Moseley is a writer living in Shelton, Conn.