Dreading Taxes? Free Help in Maryland Is Here

Posted on 02/28/21 by Effie Dawson

Barbara Wimbush, 68, of Port Tobacco, used to get hugs, and sometimes homemade cookies, as thanks for preparing people’s income-tax returns.

This year, Wimbush, state coordinator for AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, will miss that personal contact. But she’s glad she and more than 700 other volunteers will again be able to help Maryland taxpayers.

A year ago, the coronavirus pandemic cut short assistance from Tax-Aide, the largest free, volunteer-based tax-preparation program in the country. Maryland’s 125 sites were closed. For this filing season, there will be options such as videoconferencing to ensure the safety of tax filers and volunteers.

“We should be able to meet their needs,” said Cris Brook­myer, 67, of Elkton, a 10-year volunteer. “It will look a little different. It will feel a little different. But we’re going to do this in a safe manner for them and for us.”

Tax-Aide is available to anyone, but focuses on people over 50 with low to moderate incomes. Preparers are trained and IRS-certified to navigate the complex and changing tax code. They help with many forms and schedules but not with every complicated situation.

“Doing taxes is something that I know how to do,” Brookmyer said. “It’s easy for me to do, but I realize it’s a terror, an absolute panic, for some other people.”

Brookmyer volunteered at the only Maryland center that reopened in 2020. In June, Cecil County had low coronavirus rates and the large Calvert Grange hall available, so 500 clients got help in person when the filing deadline was extended.

Taxpayers put their documents into a bin in the parking lot, and preparers took them inside, filled out the returns and finalized them curbside. Some filers got help by phone while preparing their own returns.

Statewide, Tax-Aide preparers filed 18,993 federal returns in 2020, about 11,000 fewer than the year before. Taxpayers received over $20 million in federal refunds. Across the nation,

1.5 million taxpayers received more than $1 billion in refunds.

This year, Tax-Aide has these four options:

Low contact: A taxpayer makes an appointment and takes documents inside a local facility and waits while they are scanned into a secure system. A preparer works on the return at home, calling or emailing questions.

When the return is completed, the taxpayer goes to the center to review it with a preparer and to file it electronically.

Contactless: Clients interact with volunteers online or by phone and exchange documents electronically.

Self-preparation: Taxpayers receive free access to software to prepare their taxes, with phone or online assistance available.

In person: Meetings may be available in areas with low virus infection rates, a status that could change daily. Strict safety measures will be in place.

Volunteer Robert Welenc, 68, of Severn, said he expects the low-contact option to be popular with people less savvy with computers, and with volunteers who want to work at home.

“The program is critical to our clients,” Brookmyer said. “A lot of them are on fixed incomes and don’t have the money to pay $300 to get their tax return prepared.”

For Tax-Aide services near you, go to aarpfoundation.org/taxaide or call 888-227-7669.

Effie Dawson is a writer living in Arnold, Md..

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This story is provided by AARP Maryland. Visit the AARP Maryland page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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