AARP volunteers offer free help with filing taxes

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 13, 2014 

Graduation season is winding down, and as a recent master's graduate, I'd like to share one of my best time- and money-saving secrets; I enlisted the help of the AARP tax aid volunteers to file my taxes.

While I absolutely believe in my duty as a citizen to contribute my portion, I detest the process. At least I did detest the process until I discovered this amazing public service offered by the AARP tax aid volunteers at my local library.

Back in the day, when I was single and had minimal income, doing my own taxes took one afternoon. Now, doing taxes with my husband takes multiple pre-planned work sessions and then we're not always confident that we've got it right, or worse, we disagree with each other as to how to interpret the IRS instructions; uh-oh, marital mayhem.

With AARP, I know that our taxes have been correctly completed. The volunteers are highly knowledgeable, efficient and dedicated to successfully helping you fill out and submit your taxes. They receive extensive training each season. As a result, they know about any current changes to tax laws and filing. In addition, each submission is double checked by another volunteer. This gifts me with peace of mind and precious time that I then get to spend with my family. We've used this service for the last two years, and I bless the volunteers who have made what had been an annual drudgery into a comparatively fun family event.

And did I mention that this service is absolutely free? Oh yes, you read that last line right. The AARP tax aid volunteers help you do your taxes for free. Even though my husband and I both worked while I was in school, making our monthly bills was pretty dicey. So not only did the volunteers give us the gift of time, they also alleviated the stress of figuring out how to find the money to pay someone to help us.

Taxes are filed electronically, so there's no worrying about paperwork getting lost. You receive email confirmation that your submission was received. People who are expecting a refund can receive that refund through direct deposit, a much faster process than waiting for a refund to arrive in the mail.

Just be aware that this is a very popular service, so arrive ready to wait. Many of the service points are offered in public libraries, so hey - why not borrow a favorite library read to peruse while you're in line? My young daughter and I love to read her picture books together. We treat our waiting time as a field trip, complete with snacks and water.

And my last tip - make sure you know which documents you need to bring with you. In the past, the following have been required:

- a valid picture id for all the taxpayers listed in the return,

- proof of Social Security numbers for all people listed on the return (including dependants),

- all tax documents including last year's return (if possible) and all proofs of income and expenses.

Your local library will most likely have a more complete list of what you'll need to bring with you around mid-January 2015.

Thank you to all the AARP tax aid volunteers for the tremendous public service you provide. You make tax season manageable.

Suzanne Carlson-Prandini is a librarian at the Bellingham Public Library.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

Volunteers with AARP's free tax preparation program completed more than 2,000 tax returns this year for people from a high school student who completed his first summer job to a 90-year-old widow whose eyesight no longer allows her to do her own return.

Several long-term volunteers are retiring and the program is seeking new volunteers to allow it to continue its service level.

For information about volunteering, contact District Coordinator Carlton Nathon at taxaidebellingham@gmail.com.

Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com.

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