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FREE Tax Preparation - Helping Hands Nearby

By Jennifer LB Leese

Tax season is upon us once again. For many of us this is a complete nightmare--worse than holiday shopping. But it doesn't have to be that way. There are a group of helpful hands nearby that complete and file your taxes--headache free, nightmare free, and best of all...cost free.
Established in 1968, AARP Tax-Aide, the nation's largest free, volunteer-run tax counseling service provides free tax counseling and preparation services to millions of low and middle income taxpayers of any age. The program began with four volunteers, who served 100 persons that season. "In 2003, over 32,000 AARP Tax-Aide volunteers helped more than 1.88 million people file their personal income tax forms. The program is offered at approximately 8,500 sites around the country including senior centers, libraries, and other convenient locations." The program offers people help with preparing their tax returns. Volunteers, from all ages, races, ethnic groups, income levels, and educational backgrounds, are trained in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service to assist in filing basic tax forms and schedules, including the 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ. Your taxes will be prepared for submission by e-filing, the method preferred because of fewer mistakes and taster refunds.
"It's a wonderful program. We're growing by leaps and bounds, says Jackie McDonald, state coordinator for AARP Tax-Aide in West Virginia. "We're trying to get the word out about it. I think it's ridiculous that people should be expected to pay $80 to $100 to get their taxes done."
AARP Tax-Aide operates through the AARP Foundation, an affiliated charity, in cooperation with the IRS. "All volunteers have to pass an IRS test. We are certified and IRS qualified," says McDonald. Foundation programs provide security, protection and empowerment for low-income older persons in need. The Foundation's litigation staff protects the lawful rights of older Americans who are in critical health, have long-term care, consumer and employment conditions, while offering special attention to those 60 or older. Additional programs provide information, education, and services to ensure that people over 50 lead independent with honor and purpose.
AARP Tax-Aide is a significant part of AARP's dedication to community service of helping to improve communities, and offering volunteers meaningful, satisfying community service roles.
A national survey has found that approximately half of the nation's adult population lacks the basic skills needed to prepare a tax return. Tax laws can be complicated, and often persons with limited means end up using a significant portion of a refund simply to have their taxes prepared.
Additionally, AARP Tax-Aide offers free year-round tax counseling on the Internet, allowing taxpayers to interact with online counselors 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the comfort of their own home.
"There is no site of any kind within Hagerstown quite like the AARP Tax-Aide program," admitted Jackie McDonald, who manages the whole state of West Virginia. "Last year, we noticed that we had a lot of people coming from Hagerstown to the Martinsburg Library (where they held the free tax preparation services last year). [AARP Tax-Aide] knew then that the people of Hagerstown needed help."
AARP Tax-Aide works out of many local areas--churches, senior citizen centers, libraries, recreation centers, nursing homes, and hospitals, to name a few. Within our district, residents have several places they can go to such as, the Marlowe Ambulance Station 96, 8096 Williamsport Pike in Falling Waters, open on Saturdays from 10-4 beginning January 29 and lasting until April 15. The Morgan County Library in Berkeley Springs is another nearby option for taxpayers. "The tax-aide service at the library in Berkeley is by appointment only," says Violet Rice, Marlowe Station 96 AARP Tax-Aide coordinator. "The number to call to make an appointment is 304-754-6060. Ask for Molly."
When asked why she decided to become a volunteer for AARP Tax-Aide, third-year helper Violet Rice said, "I'm retired. I've always had an interest in taxes, with having to do my own throughout the years, and wanted to help other people.
"With taxes getting so difficult to prepare, I like the fact that we are all IRS certified and have received training and that we can provide a service like this so others don't have to have their taxes prepared at high costs."
"This is a tax service for all ages. There are no restrictions other than businesses (in or out of the home) unless a CEC (a schedule that is prepared for business on a smaller scale) is scheduled." McDonald says they can do such services, but they're not trained for it. AARP Tax-Aide urges taxpayers with complex tax returns to seek paid tax assistance. AARP would like to stress that they do Maryland returns and that there are no Tax-Aide sites in Washington County, and that you do not have to be a member of AARP to have your taxes done by them.
For more information or to locate an AARP Tax-Aide site in your community visit their website at or call them toll-free 1-888-AARPNOW (1-888-227-7669) from February 1 to April 15.
For more information regarding the Marlowe Station 96 Tax-Aide service, call Violet Rice at 304-274-1928.
If you're interested in becoming a volunteer as a tax counselor, local or district coordinator, partnership coordinator or technology coordinator, contact AARP-Tax-Aide today!
"Volunteering with the AARP Tax-Aide program promises to be one of the most engaging and challenging activities you will ever undertake," said Bonnie Speedy, National Director at AARP Tax-Aide. "In a recent survey, 96% of AARP Tax-Aide volunteers were satisfied with their experience. Many stay with the program year after year-many for more than 15 years."
Management positions match program delivery by volunteers at sites at the local, state or regional level or manage specific program activities such as technology, training, administration or communications. AARP encourages tax training and certification, but it is not required for many leadership positions. Volunteers receive reimbursement on a limited basis for qualified program related expenses.

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