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Many happy returns

Volunteers take the sting out of tax time with complimentary tax preparation

Created date

April 12th, 2016
Members of the AARP Tax-Aide Program

Oak Crest residents Ann Brownson, Ed Kaczmarek, Hal Forst, and Hugh Hoffman volunteer with the AARP Tax-Aide program, which offers complimentary tax preparation for Oak Crest community members and employees.

Ahh, April! The time of year when daffodils begin to spring up, hummingbirds return, and, oh yes, tax season. 

If you’re like most Americans, preparing your taxes is right up there with having a root canal. Keeping up with the ever-changing tax codes, confusing forms, and fear of making a mistake are enough to send you into a tailspin. 

So most of us do what comes naturally: seek a professional. But how much are you willing to pay to have your taxes prepared for you?

The National Society of Accountants (NSA) conducted a survey that showed that the average cost of professional tax preparation is $261. This is the price that most tax preparers will charge for a Form 1040 with itemized deductions (Schedule A), plus a state tax return.

However, people who live at Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md., can have their taxes prepared without spending a dime thanks to volunteers trained by AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide, the nation’s largest, free, volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance service. 

“We have been offering free tax preparation here for about 15 years now,” says Ed Kaczmarek, an Oak Crest resident and AARP Tax-Aide volunteer.

Expert volunteers

Each year, volunteers are required to attend training classes and are then tested on the current tax laws. When tax time rolls around, Oak Crest volunteers set up camp on Mondays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the community’s Crestview Clubhouse conference room. 

“We use a program called TaxWise,” says Ed. “When we complete a return, it’s passed to another volunteer who double-checks it for accuracy. Then we electronically file it and provide them with a printed copy for their files. Last year, we helped over 300 people file their taxes here at Oak Crest.” 

Ed notes the complimentary services are also available to Oak Crest employees.

Oak Crest residents schedule appointments through an on-site call center staffed by resident volunteers. Ann Brownson serves as volunteer coordinator.

“The call center is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. We typically schedule four appointments for each tax preparer each Monday,” says Ann. “After we schedule their appointment, we send them a tax packet to fill out and bring with them.” 

Ann, a self-proclaimed workaholic, says she is happy to be able to help. 

“Before we moved to Oak Crest, we volunteered with Pets on Wheels, the VFW, and feeding the hungry through our church,” says Ann. “I like being busy, so this is something worthwhile that I enjoy doing.” 

As for Ed, he not only lends his expertise at Oak Crest but also volunteers preparing taxes at Victory Villa Senior Center and Essex Senior Center.

“I think it’s a great program,” says Ed. “We help all sorts of people like widows, for example, whose husbands may have handled their taxes, and now they aren’t sure what to do. They are very appreciative, and many of them return year after year to have their taxes done.”