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Community volunteers needed to provide free tax help in Alaska

Posted: October 31, 2011 - 11:01pm
Sharon Lowe has been a IRS/AARP tax program volunteer for the last four years.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Sharon Lowe has been a IRS/AARP tax program volunteer for the last four years.

More than 200 Alaska residents gave back to their communities as volunteers who provided free tax services last year.

The free tax service is provided by the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly Programs and the Association for the Advancement of Retired Person’s Tax-Aide program.

Juneau local Sharon Lowe is a long-time volunteer and volunteer trainer for AARP’s program. In Juneau, the program attracted four volunteers who helped file more than 200 returns in 2011, Lowe said.

“Absolutely free, no charge,” she said.

The AARP has offered free tax services for 40 years.

Lowe said she is looking for Juneau volunteers. While accountants are welcome, volunteers can receive training in tax preparation if needed. Training takes place on Saturdays in January.

Volunteers will learn all of the basics needed to prepare simple income tax returns accurately for individuals. Once certified, volunteers spend as little as four hours per week volunteering between the months of February and April, according to an IRS release.

Volunteers should have solid logical thinking skills and mid-level computer skills.

“We do all of our filing electronically,” Sharon Lowe said. Lowe gets yearly training on new tax codes.

Volunteers can also sign up to be greeters. Greeters welcome people and get them started on the paperwork.

Lowe also said volunteers team up when working on tax returns. One person does the initial preparation and the second person is there for review.

“So we have two sets of eyes on each return before it is sent off to the IRS,” she said.

Lowe said she first volunteered because she had some history with tax preparation.

“I go back year after year because the people that we do it for are so appreciative,” she said. “People thank us, not through money, not through gifts. It’s just the feeling that they give to us.”

Lowe said all kinds of people show up in need of the volunteers’ help.

“Some people are scared of making a mistake,” Lowe said, “some are intimidated by IRS forms.”

For some people English is a second language and they just need a little help getting through it, she said.

Lowe said the volunteer service can keep people out of trouble with the IRS.

“We get calls that the IRS is garnishing their wages, when if they had filed their taxes they would have gotten a return,” she said.

Volunteers can work on individual income taxes and businesses with profits under $10,000 a year that can fill out a Schedule C-EZ Form.

“Baby sitters or someone who has a tutoring business. People with their first jobs or the first time filing taxes” Lowe said. Not businesses that report any depreciation, like rentals, she said.

“If you keep your records on your computer and you depreciate your computer, you are out of our bounds,” Lowe said.

However, there is no age restriction for those seeking tax help, Lowe said.

“You do not have to be AARP to get your taxes done by us and you don’t have to be old to get your taxes done by us. It is a community service that is put on by the AARP foundation (and IRS),” Lowe said.

Juneau’s volunteer tax program has a 98 percent satisfaction approval rate, Lowe said.

“Many people turn in the ratings card as a way to pay us back,” Lowe said. “If that is all they can do to show their appreciation for us, that’s how they are going to do it.

When you know that people appreciate it you are willing to do it year after year.”

Anyone can be a volunteer and bilingual volunteers are particularly needed, IRS spokesman David Tucker II said. Volunteers can help as return preparer, site coordinator, or greeter.

“Volunteers are certified to prepare simple tax returns. People of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to volunteer. There is a role for anyone who is interested and wants to help,” Tucker said.

To volunteer, send an email to taxvolunteer@irs.gov or please contact any Alaska Tax-Aide at janwatson2000@yahoo.com. Volunteers can also find more information and register at www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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