Do you know anyone who has said, “Yay, tax time is here! What fun!”
Of course not. Tax laws can be mind-boggling and change from year to year. For seniors, filing taxes can be especially costly and stressful-IRA distributions, interest income, withholdings-the list goes on. And using a professional accountant for even the simplest 1040 often strains a limited budget.
That’s where the AARP Tax Aide Program comes in. For seniors in the Northwest Suburbs the program keeps the headache and stress to a minimum, thanks to Senior Corps-RSVP members, Marilyn and Chuck Neuman and their team at AARP’s District 11 (three sites in Arlington Heights, two sites in Des Plaines and one site each in Elk Grove Village, Buffalo Grove, Mount Prospect and Palatine). This year alone district volunteers helped more than 2,800 seniors wade through seemingly endless schedules, deductions, and receipts saving them over $700,000 in filing fees.
Marilyn has been volunteering since 2004; Chuck started four years later. She’s a retired high school math teacher who always prepared her own taxes, so when she saw an article in AARP magazine calling for people to assist seniors in filing, she called. Helping seniors has always appealed to her, and this area of volunteering was the perfect fit. One of the reasons she continues to do it is the satisfaction of seeing the relief on a senior’s face after the taxes are in order, receipts sorted and appropriate lines filled in.
She tells the story of a widow whose husband had always prepared their taxes. “She was very nervous; didn’t know what documents to bring so she had a brown Jewel grocery bag full of all kinds of documents. We up-ended the bag on the table and sorted through. After finishing her taxes, she was really relieved and happy, and knew what to bring the next season.”
Marilyn and Chuck Neuman are lining up volunteers for the 2018 Tax Aide program
Marilyn serves as the Coordinator for District 11, managing nine sites. There are a total of 104 volunteers and many, about 36, are Senior Corps-RSVP members. She’s responsible for training, processing all prospective volunteers and certification reporting to AARP and the IRS. She also holds a state-level position as part of the Management Team for all of Illinois north of I-80, and handles the volunteer data base information for over 700 volunteers, 134 sites and 24 districts.
Chuck is District Technology Coordinator. He takes care of the equipment loaned by AARP and the IRS. There are a total of fifteen AARP laptops and 35 IRS laptops used in the district in addition to printers and routers at each of the nine sites. Keeping them all up and running from January through April can be nearly a full-time job.
Eighty-nine of the 104 volunteers in the district handle the actual tax preparation. There are five positions involved at each center.
“The Client Facilitator (greeter) is the first face the taxpayer sees,” Marilyn said. “He/she confirms the accuracy of the appointment, begins the intake process, helps the taxpayer complete the intake sheet and arranges the taxpayers’ forms.” This is a position perfect for those who don’t feel comfortable with crunching numbers. Facilitators are not required to certify in tax law, so those positions are open to anyone who likes to work with people and is detail-oriented.
The Tax Preparer interviews the client to learn what is needed to prepare the return and enters it into the IRS software, reminding the client that information on the return is the taxpayer’s responsibility. The Quality Reviewer is a more experienced volunteer and as the name implies, this person reviews the return for accuracy. The Electronic Return Originator transmits the information to the IRS. And finally, the Site Coordinator makes sure everything runs smoothly, arranging with the site host for appointment and volunteer scheduling, and is the go-to person if a taxpayer has questions.
Incidentally, for those who can easily navigate codes, apps installations, etc., Chuck can always use assistance in the technical department.
The tax preparation volunteers can give themselves a solid pat on the back for all the returns they helped file this year-specifically, 2,874 returns in all for an approximate taxpayer savings of $720,000, based at $250 per return. To qualify for the free tax return preparation service, taxpayers do not have to be seniors or AARP members. There are no minimum age limits or even income limits at this time, although the program is designed to serve low to middle income seniors. Tax Aide personnel will prepare taxes for anyone with an uncomplicated return. This year the average income for tax clients was $30,000.
Marilyn Neuman (left) participated in the recent Volunteer Fair at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. Senior Corps-RSVP member Carol Spitz (right) is the library’s Tax Aide site coordinator.
These who are interested in volunteering for the program should keep in mind that tax law training will be held in January. New volunteers are trained for six days; returning volunteers for two days, plus one morning for policy training for all. New volunteers with a busy schedule can use a combination of online training, self-study and classroom learning. Certification and tax preparation tests are open-book. Volunteers are not subject to liability since all are protected by the Volunteer Protection Act.
Marilyn says that those who are detail-oriented with good computer skills and a desire to help others, would make perfect candidates for the AARP Tax Aide volunteer program. The best part-no experience needed. Training materials are provided. For 2018, the Tax Aide District 11 anticipates needing additional tax prep volunteers.
AARP Tax Aide District 9 will need additional volunteers to prepare tax returns at the Bloomingdale Senior Center and Glendale Heights Senior Center. Training for these two locations is for three days.
Senior Corps-RSVP Member