By Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member
It may sound strange, but Stewart Smith actually enjoys volunteering for a task that most of us dread this time of year. For the past two years, as a Senior Corps-RSVP volunteer for the AARP Tax-Aide program, Stewart has been helping low- to moderate-income seniors prepare their 1040s, which includes wading through those pesky alpha-numeric schedules.
Stewart-a retired chemical engineer who also holds an MBA-has been doing his own tax returns for the past 50 years, so when he saw that AARP was looking for people to serve as tax consultants, he signed on. This year, he will serve two mornings a week from early February through mid-April.
Stewart does more than just fill in forms. He digs deep to uncover the optimum number of deductions available to seniors. For example, two of his clients, a woman and her daughter, believed they had to file separate returns so the daughter could qualify for Medicaid. As he examined their financial situation, he realized that they weren’t required to file independently in order to obtain Medicaid assistance. Furthermore, the daughter’s income was low enough that she didn’t need to send in a return. This meant that the mother could claim her daughter as a dependent by filing as head-of-household. Those elements combined added to a savings of $800 that year. Best of all, the counseling and tax preparation cost her nothing.
In another situation, Stewart not only found a way that a senior could qualify for a deduction, but also went the extra mile and offered to file an amended return, so she could obtain an additional refund for the previous year.
It’s a rewarding way to volunteer, Stewart says, and local AARP Tax-Aide Coordinator, Marilyn Neuman, agrees. She says Stewart’s story is typical of all the dedicated tax consultant volunteers throughout the area. Seniors with limited resources appreciate the service Tax-Aide staffers provide and those volunteers get great satisfaction in helping those seniors with number crunching, exploring tax credits and weaving through deduction possibilities. In the end, clients are given a finished copy of their tax return and they’re all set. The original is filed electronically. Here’s Stewart’s free advice for all taxpayers: “It’s important for people to double-check the beneficiaries for any IRA’s or bank or brokerage accounts they own and consider consolidating IRA’s, bank and brokerage accounts to simplify record keeping, tax return preparation and potential estate issues.”
Stewart also notes that because tax laws have changed considerably this year, past family situations may not qualify for the same deductions as they had previously.
For those that may be interested in volunteering as AARP Tax Aides next year, Stewart advises that people with basic math and computer skills who also enjoy working with people should definitely apply. Training includes five days of classroom training combined with a few days of home study during January to read the tax manuals provided and to complete practice returns. There is also an on-line exam near the end of January to receive IRS certification each year. Classroom training is needed only for the first two years. Thereafter, all returning volunteers must complete the IRS on-line certification exam. A couple of days of classroom training are offered to the experienced, returning volunteers to review special topics and any changes to the tax laws.
Taxpayers should also bring the following paperwork: Photo ID and Social Security card or SSA-1099; copies of all tax documents for year 2018; copy of their 2017 federal and state income tax returns (1040); receipts and information for all planned itemized deductions (i.e., medical and dental expenses, taxes and interest paid, gifts to charities and other miscellaneous deductions – please total your receipts before coming); real estate tax bills for property taxes paid in 2018; closing statements for any real estate sold in 2018 (also, original cost of property and cost of any improvements); Social Security SSA-1099 for 2018; railroad retirement forms for 2018, RRB-1099 and RRB-1099R; any Affordable Care Act Forms (i.e. 1095); and bank direct deposit or direct debit information.
Seniors must call their closest Tax-Aide site in advance for appointments. Marilyn says it’s best to register early, because each site operates only one or two days a week for a few hours. If clients are filing a joint return, both spouses must be present or bring a signed financial power of attorney.
AARP Tax-Aide sites include:
- Alcott Center in Buffalo Grove, (847) 850-2100
- Arlington Heights Library, (847) 392-0100;
- Arlington Heights Senior Center, (847) 253-5532
- Des Plaines Library, (847) 827-5551
- Elk Grove Village Adult Center, (847) 364-7224;
- Frisbie Senior Center in Des Plaines, (847) 768-5944
- Harper College Learning and Career Center in Prospect Heights, (847) 925-6001
- Indian Trails Library in Wheeling, (847) 459-4100;
- Mount Prospect Senior Center, (847) 870-5680
- Palatine Senior Center, (847) 991-1112
- Wheeling Township Center in Arlington Heights, (847) 259-7730
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