Volunteers keep tax assistance program humming at local libraries

Every year, for more than 50 years, dedicated volunteers have been gathering at local libraries from January-April to help Snohomish County residents file their federal income taxes.

The nationwide AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program is a collaborative effort with Sno-Isle libraries and senior centers with guidelines set by the IRS.

In Snohomish County, volunteers have been working since January at 14 locations, including the Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace libraries, said JoAnn Hartline, a Mountlake Terrace Library AARP volunteer. While the focus of the Tax-Aide program is on helping senior citizen and low-income taxpayers, the program is open to anyone.

Business was brisk at all three libraries leading up to the April 15 tax deadline, with all appointment slots full through the tax day.

“Last year our district prepared approximately 4,300 tax returns, and we are on pace to exceed that number this year,” Hartline said. “However, we could do even more if we had more volunteers.”

“Training for the program is rigorous, but you don’t have to be a financial or tax professional to do this work,” Hartline said.”Our trainers and mentors help new volunteers succeed,” she added.

Tax-Aide also has volunteer opportunities for people who don’t want to prepare taxes but want to help. For example, client facilitators greet taxpayers, check to be sure they brought all the documents they need, and answer non-tax law questions.

Volunteer Larry Rafferty said that volunteers need to be comfortable with laptop use, adding that attention to detail during data entry is important.

“We have several preparers with over 20 years of Tax-Aide volunteer experience in our district — quite amazing,” he said. “We also have many retired ‘professional’ tax preparers and retired IRS employees whose knowledge benefits our volunteer team.”

Rafferty noted that the Tax-Aide program works within a “scope” that limits the type of returns volunteers can complete. (For instance, they do not complete returns with rental property.)

“A typical preparer will get quite proficient completing returns within our scope in their first year,” he said.

“I like to tell prospective volunteers that it is too cold to garden or golf In January-April, so why not volunteer to do taxes?” Rafferty said.

There is also one other way people can help the program — by donating individual or corporate laptops in good working condition.

Rafferty, who also serves as the program’s technical coordinator for Snohomish County, said the laptops should be capable of running Windows 10 with a 10-keypad “since we deal with a lot of numbers,” Rafferty said. “We erase all information on all donated laptops for the donor.”

Those interested in volunteering for next year’s program can sign up here.

Those interested in donating laptops should email aarp.taxes@outlook.com.

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