Every year between February and April, Lynn Black does a couple of hundred puzzles, but not the kind most people think of—she prepares tax returns.
The 78-year-old from Fayetteville performs this task as a volunteer for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program.
“I look at every tax return as a puzzle—you take every piece and put it where it belongs,” Black said. “When you get through, you have a picture.”
Last year some 800 Tax-Aide volunteers helped more than 60,000 Georgians piece together their federal and state returns. Since 1968 the program has helped more than 68 million Americans prepare their taxes.
Its services are free to anyone, though they are intended for low- and moderate-income taxpayers and older adults. AARP membership is not required to take advantage of Tax-Aide.
Many of the same volunteers return each season to senior centers, libraries, churches and other temporary tax-preparation locations.
When Black started volunteering with the program, 17 years ago, she calculated her taxes using paper and pencil. The retired software engineer now does them, fittingly, by computer.
Not all volunteers have backgrounds in technology or accounting; rather, they come from all walks of life.
IRS-trained and ready to serve
The Tax-Aide program is offered in coordination with the IRS, and every preparer goes through rigorous training and must pass a test to become certified. Volunteers can handle most types of individual returns but do not tackle complicated cases such as rental properties or home-office deductions.
Black said the people she helps fit into one of two categories: those who are afraid of the IRS and those who feel overwhelmed by the tax return itself. “We help people get every single tax break they are entitled to,” she noted.
Although tax law can change, one aspect of the Tax-Aide program remains constant—the personal connections that form between volunteer preparers and their clients. “You just meet these amazing people,” Black said. “We have many clients who come back year after year. I have a client who, when I see her in the store, she calls me the ‘Tax Lady.’ People appreciate that you are helping them.”
Like Black, Jerry Kibler, 79, of Douglasville, not only prepares taxes but also trains other volunteers and manages one of the preparation sites.
As a “figures-oriented person,” Kibler said being able to help others is satisfying. His clients either cannot afford to use a commercial tax preparer or don’t know how to file their returns, he observed.
“I see a lot of widows—their husbands had always done the taxes,” said Kibler, adding that he enjoys the number crunching and the interaction with other volunteers. “We have a real good crew.”
Need free assistance with your returns? The Tax-Aide program will be in operation beginning Feb. 1 and continuing through April 15.
To learn more about scheduling an appointment or becoming a Tax-Aide volunteer, go to aarpfoundation.org/taxaide or call 888-AARPNOW (888-227-7669).
Ann Hardie is a writer living in Atlanta.
This story is provided by AARP Georgia. Visit the AARP Georgia page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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