Shaking the Tax Season Blues
Upper Valley Senior Center Offers Volunteer Tax Assistance
As spring approaches, the dreaded April 15 filing day for federal taxes looms nearer. But does tax season have to be a source of annoyance and anxiety?
The tax preparation volunteers at the Upper Valley Senior Center in Lebanon beg to differ. These volunteers are part of the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, a national volunteer-driven program that offers free tax preparation help at locations throughout the county.
Each year, program volunteers set up shop in the Upper Valley Senior Center on Tuesdays from February through April 15, helping nearly 300 people complete their annual tax returns.
“It’s fun,” says Phil Bush, a volunteer at the Lebanon location. “We’ve got a great group of volunteers. Everybody helps each other. It’s a very supportive environment.”
Though the program specializes in tax needs for retirement-aged adults, their services are available to people of all ages and income levels, including Vermont and New Hampshire residents. There are limits to the complexity of returns that the volunteers will handle. “We just do simple returns,” says Bush, which generally includes Social Security, an IRA or pension, and W-2s.
For more complex returns involving stock sales or itemized deductions, the team advises individuals to seek the help of an accountant.
Interested participants should call the Upper Valley Senior Center to schedule a 75-minute appointment. Appointments are available every Tuesday from February 7 through April 11 starting at 9:45 a.m. Each appointment begins in the open area of the Upper Valley Senior Center, where applicants fill out a short form describing their income, deductions, health care coverage, and applicable tax credits.
Individuals then work one-on-one with a volunteer tax preparer who helps them fill out their tax return and seek refunds using the Tax-Aide program’s online software. Upon completion, every return is double-checked by another volunteer before being submitted.
Participants should bring last year’s tax return, a photo ID, and supplemental materials including any W-2 and/or 1099 forms, 1095 health care forms, and any other relevant documentation. First-timers filing at the Senior Center should also bring Social Security cards for all persons listed on the tax return.
Working together in a common room, the eight tax preparation volunteers offer support and answer questions that arise.
“It’s a very comfortable and friendly working area,” says Peggy Mitchell, the local coordinator for the Lebanon and Claremont Tax-Aide programs. “We have our collective eight heads plus a CPA on-hand who helps with the quality review and handles more detailed questions.”
Mitchell has been volunteering with Tax-Aide for around nine years. “I had a friend who volunteered with the program who said, ‘I could use you!’ And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Accounting experience is not necessary to become a volunteer, but being good with numbers is a big help. The backgrounds of the volunteers vary widely from business to medicine. Mitchell worked in science and business management, and Bush is a financial manager for nonprofits with an MBA. Volunteers must receive IRS certification to be eligible as a tax preparation volunteer. The Tax-Aide program provides comprehensive training every January for prospective volunteers.
The Lebanon volunteers gather together informally during the weeks before the tax season starts, working through the training materials and completing sample problems with hypothetical tax scenarios. Once they receive their IRS certification, the volunteers dive straight into work. “The first two or three times were a little nerve-wracking,” said Bush, who joined the volunteer team last year. “But there’s so much help and support from the other volunteers that you get into the swing of things pretty quickly.”
Bush learned about the volunteer opportunity through a listserv posting. He thought it sounded like an interesting challenge, so he called the Senior Center to learn more and soon got involved.
Even though working with taxes can seem intimidating, Bush and Mitchell agree that volunteering with Tax-Aide is enriching for both volunteers and taxpayers alike. “I really enjoyed the people who came in,” Bush said. “They appreciate the help, so it feels good to do it.”
Having grown up in the Upper Valley, Mitchell sees Tax-Aide as a way to contribute meaningfully to members of the community. “I see all kinds of people here that I wouldn’t see otherwise,” Mitchell said. “It’s necessary work that I can do.”
Do you have a knack with numbers and an interest in volunteering with Tax-Aide in 2018? Contact the Upper Valley Senior Center to find out more. Upper Valley Senior Center: (603) 448-4213, 10 Campbell St., Lebanon.