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Tax time shouldn't be taxing for seniors

Senior volunteers help other seniors file

March 04, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Gloria Bastian prepares income taxes for Doris Hamill at the Washington County Commission on Aging. Bastian has been volunteering her services since 1993.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Right on the heels of a long, tough winter comes another taxing season.

It's time to file your income taxes.

Rounding up records and making sense of Internal Revenue Service language can make anyone's head spin.

But if you're a senior citizen, it often can be a daunting task, especially if you're on a tight budget and unable to afford professional tax preparation services.

If you have tax questions or don't have a knack for numbers, the Washington County Commission on Aging wants to help.

As it has for more than 30 years, the COA once again is offering free preparation of both state and federal income tax.

A popular service, last year nearly 650 returns were prepared, said Hannah Cramer, COA deputy director and Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) director.

Tax preparers are participants in RSVP and have successfully completed training and certification by either the IRS or by experienced counselors who have been with the program for some time, Cramer said.

"All volunteers are required to pass a very stringent test and are then IRS-certified," she added.

Because of the demand, slowdowns at COA during the tax season are rare. But those who donate their time to preparing other people's taxes don't seem to mind.

"Two volunteers are approaching their 20th anniversary with the program and the remaining have been with us from four to seven years," she said.

The service is available to clients of all ages, Cramer said, but there are guidelines.

 Eligibility for assistance is determined on a case-by-case basis and is dependent upon the counselor's training and area of expertise.

 Maximum family income must be less than $50,000.

 No returns will be prepared involving income from a business owned by the client; income from a farm; depreciation schedules for rental properties; and military income.

 Only state returns from Maryland will be prepared and all assistance is by appointment only.

As part of the income tax assistance program, Cramer said volunteers will go into the homes of individuals who are unable to travel.

Staff and counselors also are available to offer telephone assistance and year-round tax advice to both established clients and the general public.

Roberta Ross said she encouraged her parents to turn to the Commission on Aging for tax assistance several years ago and they've been coming back ever since.

"Money is tight for them," she said. "It's tight for all of us. This is the answer to a lot of people's prayers, especially those who can't afford to go to a tax company and are afraid of making mistakes on their returns."

Cramer said RSVP is an official IRS Electronic Filing Site, so all returns are filed electronically.

While there is no charge for the tax preparation service, "we gladly accept donations," she said.

The program, which Cramer estimates has been offered for about 34 years, continues to be popular with area residents.

"Clients are always extremely grateful for this money-saving service," she said.

Cramer said COA will provide service through Monday, April 18, the last day of filing.

"However, our appointment schedule is filling up very, very quickly," she noted.

For general tax assistance, more information or to schedule an appointment, call Cramer at 301-790-0275, ext. 209.

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