AARP service provides free help for income tax filing

Volunteer program operates six days a week in Auburn
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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AARP’s free Tax-Aide service is not just for seniors. Auburn volunteer Michael Otten says he prepares tax returns for a cross-section of the community. “I’ve done them from under 10 to over 100 in terms of age,” he said Monday. Locally, the program has about 30 volunteers who work at the North Auburn Senior Center and Downtown’s Veterans Memorial Hall. Phil House is the local coordinator. Last year, the group did about 1,400 tax returns in the Auburn area and nearly 4,000 in Placer County. “We have one of the best e-file rates in the country,” Otten said. “The Senior Center does the most (Tax-Aide) returns in the region.” AARP, which runs the nationwide all-volunteer effort in partnership with the IRS, puts a lot of emphasis of training. First-time preparers attended classes in December. Returning volunteers must take a one-week course in January to bring them up-to-date on tax changes. At the end of the course, each must pass a test to receive IRS certification. In Auburn, the training is held through the Placer Adult School. “They want preparers to be well trained to minimize mistakes,” Otten said. Volunteers also take an oath and sign a pledge not to accept pay or tips, he added. This is Otten’s 12th year as a Tax-Aide preparer. “It’s kind of (continued) learning,” he said. “It keeps you on your toes. Plus it’s a rewarding experience and it is a challenging experience. Each year you see something different.” Otten prepares taxes for many of the same people year after year, as well as first-timers, who can sometimes be easy to spot. “We have people who bring in boxes or bags of receipts,” he said. “We try to educate them on what to keep and what not to keep. People have misconceptions about what you can claim (as a deduction).” The program is meant for low-to-moderate income taxpayers, but Otten said he’s done taxes for annual earnings as high as $200,000.” But it’s not for those who have complicated filings that include depreciation and rental income. In addition to filling out tax forms, volunteers also handle amended returns and will even review already-completed returns. “If they’ve done (their return) with a tax program and want to double-check it, they can bring it in,” he said. Or if they have a question, “We can usually look it up for them.” All the tax returns are reviewed by a second person. At Veterans Memorial Hall Tuesday, volunteer Lesa Rea of Auburn was preparing a return for Greenwood resident Patti Rollins. “I like (doing) taxes,” Rea said. “Everyone is interesting and everyone is really nice. We meet a lot of good people.” This is Rollins’ second year to use the service, which she found out about through a friend. “It’s great,” she said. “They’re very thorough, nice and helpful,” For those planning to use the AARP service, Otten suggests organizing paperwork in advance of the visit and bringing along a copy of last year’s return. “Each year, we hand out envelopes with an itemized list of what to bring,” he said. ------------ AARP Tax-Aide services Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the Senior Center, 11577 E Ave., DeWitt Center; and Tuesdays and Thursdays at Veterans Memorial Hall, 100 East St., Auburn. For Senior Center appointments, call (530) 823-8172. For Veterans Memorial Hall appointments, call ((530) 889-9500 ext. 215 or (800) 878-9222 ext. 215.