Throughout their 56-year marriage, Gladys Fortsch’s husband always did the couple’s taxes. But when he died, in 2014, the 83-year-old widow found herself spending more than $100 for a professional tax preparer.
Until, that is, she heard about AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, a free service that helped nearly 40,000 Tennesseans file state and federal returns last year.
The Tax-Aide preparers she met were very professional, recalled Fortsch, of Athens. “They did a good job. They made me feel at ease.”
AARP Tennessee’s Tax-Aide program is growing, especially as new technology allows it to reach more filers. Its services are open to anyone, but the primary focus is on lower- to middle-income residents and older adults.
IRS-certified tax counselors helped Tennesseans qualify for more than $20 million in refunds last year alone. The program runs from February through mid-April and has locations throughout the state.
Need Help? Find a Tax-Aide Location
Last year, AARP Tennessee launched a new process, known as facilitated self-assistance, through which people can visit a Tax-Aide location and use software to prepare their taxes, with preparers on hand to assist.
“We help them navigate the software,” said Pam Holcombe, 62, of Greenville, central region coordinator for Tax-Aide in the state. “We answer any tax-law questions they have, but they prepare the returns themselves.”
Counselors are available to do the full document preparation for those who prefer that to self-assistance.
Filers can also have preparers upload their information to secure online storage and complete their returns remotely, Holcombe said. Although most returns are filed electronically, paper forms are available, too.
No experience necessary
AARP Foundation Tax-Aide has helped 68 million Americans file taxes since its inception in 1968, and today the service boasts 35,000 volunteers nationwide.
Last year, the program served upward of 2.5 million people, resulting in refunds of more than $1.4 billion.
It’s part of AARP’s focus on improving the quality of people’s lives, Holcombe said.
“Anything you can do to lessen their stress level on things like preparing taxes, or bolster their income by helping them get more of a refund, definitely improves people’s quality of life,” she said.
Volunteers can process most types of individual returns but don’t handle more complex situations, such as rental properties. They work with filers at senior centers, libraries, churches and other temporary sites.
Preparers undergo background checks and receive training and IRS certification. All returns are checked by a second preparer.
People should bring a photo ID, Social Security card, last year’s returns and 2019 tax-year documents. Some locations may require an appointment.
Tax-Aide is always seeking more people to help out; no background in accounting is necessary. Volunteers can also welcome people, organize paperwork and complete intake forms.
Go to aarpfoundation.org/tax aidevolunteer to sign up.
For help with your returns, find a nearby Tax-Aide location at aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call 888-227-7669.
Sheila Burke is a writer living in Nashville.
More on Taxes
This story is provided by AARP Tennessee. Visit the AARP Tennessee page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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