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AARP could use volunteer help with tax preparation

If you like to help people and if the words “tax return” don’t send your blood pressure skyrocketing to dangerous levels, you may want to be one of those volunteers who help their neighbors do their taxes. AARP Tax-Aide is a nationwide organization, run through the AARP with support from the IRS to — as its name suggests — provide aid in doing taxes. It works through groups throughout the country, including one here in Southern Oregon. The aid is provided at a number of sites, convenient to clients, including one in Ashland, at The Grove (on East Main Street next to the police station/municipal court building).

As a volunteer, you can help people file their taxes, using computer programs designed for this purpose and provided by the IRS. "But," you may say, "I’m not an accountant or a professional tax planner! How would I know what to do?"

You don’t have to know how to prepare taxes in order to volunteer. Indeed, the woman who was the coordinator until this year told me that she had no background when she started — except the inspiration of her mother who had provided volunteer tax help when it was still done with paper and pencil! You also don’t need to be an AARP member or to be old enough to be AARP-eligible. While many of the volunteers are retired, that is more a function of the fact that both the training and the volunteering take place during weekdays.

The only skills and interests you need to get started is a reasonable degree of comfort with using the computer and an interest in helping people. You will learn everything else you need at a training session. The training runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings between Jan. 5 and Jan. 22, 2016, at Rogue Valley Manor in Medford.

In the classes you will learn what the IRS believes you need to know to be a volunteer tax preparer. The classes involve hands-on practice and students are encouraged to help each other. If you want to go over some aspect again, or if you end up missing a class, the same materials are available to study on-line through the IRS. At the end you have to pass a test. But don’t worry too much; you will have the booklet with the test questions from the start of class if not before; the test is open book (you can even consult with classmates before submitting your answer); and almost everyone who takes the class passes the test.

Both during the training and when you are working with clients, you are not alone. Other volunteers, including people who have been doing this for years, will be there and able to help. And every return is reviewed by another volunteer before it is filed so someone else will notice if you inadvertently added a couple of zeroes and indicated that Mr. X, on a $30,000 income, is asking for credit for $24,000 in charitable contributions or Ms. Y indicates that she has 30 dependent minor children.

Before the class ends you will be asked to indicate at which sites and on what days/times you will be able to volunteer. You can limit yourself to Ashland, or also volunteer at sites in Talent or Phoenix or Medford. The Ashland site will be open on Mondays and Wednesdays; other sites are open other days. You can commit to volunteering for a full day throughout the season (from Feb. 1 until April 18) or a shorter schedule. Obviously, the volunteer coordinators’ task is easier if volunteers take on a longer and more consistent commitment, but if you can only help for shorter periods there will still be people whom you can help. And, of course, the commitment is all finished just about when Ashland weather starts to turn and the call of hiking in the woods gets stronger!

If you think this is an opportunity you might be interested in, please call the Southern Oregon coordinator, David Argetsinger, at 541-776-2216.

Mary I. Coombs’ column on local nonprofit organizations appears every three weeks. Email questions and suggestions to betling@dailytidings.com.