Local man volunteers to prepare tax returns

February 22, 2007|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note - There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Roger Collins

Age - 62.

Occupation - Co-owner of Howard's Art Supplies & Frames.

Hometown - Toulon, Ill.

Where would you see Collins? - During tax season, Collins volunteers through the Washington County Commission on Aging as a tax preparer. He has been doing this for 11 years, not long after he and his wife, Ellen, moved to Hagerstown.

This year, Collins and six other volunteers are preparing tax returns for seniors whose income is below $40,000. Seniors with an income of $16,900 generally don't have to file tax returns, he said.


This year, however, because of a telephone excise tax that was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, everyone will have to file to receive the refund, Collins said.

If the person has a telephone with long-distance service, they are eligible for a $30 tax refund (plus $10 additional for each family member with a maximum refund of $60). They need to complete a short form to receive a check for this refund.

Most of the volunteers are retired and several worked as tax preparers as a career.

Collins said he has always liked math and did his own tax returns until his wife bought a business in 1980. He didn't feel confident doing business tax returns, so he compiled all the figures and took them to a tax preparer.

As Collins watched the tax preparer complete the tax returns with the information Collins had provided, he realized he could do the business returns himself and save a lot of money. Since then, Collins said he stays up-to-date on the latest tax laws by reading journals.

The Commission on Aging tax return volunteers are also required to take an annual seminar taught by the Internal Revenue Service.

Eleven years ago, Collins said the returns were done by hand. Now everything is done on the computer, which saves time and eliminates math errors.

Every completed return is checked by a second person, before it is electronically filed. Collins said he reviews most of the returns, except the ones he has prepared, on Wednesdays, then devotes Fridays to working with senior clients.

Clients call ahead and make an appointment. An hour is set aside to prepare each return, but Collins said most returns only take him about 20 minutes.

The volunteers are paid for mileage when they prepare returns for shut-ins, either in their own homes or at nursing homes.

While most people dread the thought of doing their taxes, Collins said he actually enjoys it.

"My wife thinks I'm sick," he said with a laugh.

Not only does he do his own taxes and those through the Commission on Aging, he also does most of his family's and his employees. Last year, Collins said he did about 150 of the 500 tax returns prepared through the Commission on Aging.

Collins said he was one of 15 volunteers when he first started. As the number of volunteers has declined, the number of people needing help with their taxes has increased.

The IRS office in Hagerstown used to prepare tax returns, but because of budget cuts, have only one person in the office to do that.

Now they refer people to the Commission on Aging, who will prepare returns for individuals of any age. The returns cannot involve profit or loss from a business, income from a farm or rental property or complicated returns involving stocks or bonds.

"It's good to help people," said Collins, who added that working in the comfort of a heated office is a lot easier than the physical labor he does in the summer for REACH work camps.

Collins also volunteers for the overnight shift at the REACH cold weather shelter, and he and his wife help raise guide dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Hobbies - "This is my hobby," he said of preparing tax returns. Besides his work at Howard's and his volunteer work, Collins said he likes to play racquetball at the Hagerstown YMCA and goes backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.

What does Collins like best about Washington County? - The Collinses moved here from Springfield, Va. When they were searching for a store to purchase, so Ellen Collins could have a framing business, they looked along the Interstate 81 corridor, starting in Winchester, Va., and Martinsburg and Shepherdstown, W.Va. With no luck, they came to see the store on Dual Highway that they eventually bought.

"Hagerstown looked like the kind of town we were looking for. It has everything Washington has in miniature. It was quiet. It just looked like a neat town," Collins said.

The Collinses have two adult daughters, one who now lives in the area and the other in Purcellville, Va. They have three grandchildren and like being close to their childrens' families.

The discovery of family roots in the county has added to their connection to the area. It turns out that Isaac Shelby, who helped Jonathan Hager design Hagerstown and who helped survey the Mason-Dixon Line, is related to Ellen Collins' family.

For more information on the tax preparation program through the Commission on Aging or to schedule an appointment, call Hannah Cramer, deputy director at the Washington County Commission on Aging, at 301-790-0275, ext. 209.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or e-mail

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