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Volunteers provide free tax return assistance

Ramesh Munjal and Pamela Holcombe stand ready to help.

By ALLEN RAU

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Tax season can often bring out a feeling of dread in folks every year.  However the AARP Foundation’s “Tax-Aide Volunteer” program may help alleviate that feeling. 

AARP volunteers are available to help prepare your tax returns every Monday and Saturday at the Jonesborough Library through April 17.

The program is free and open to all taxpayers, according to AARP Tax-Aide State Coordinator Pamela Holcombe, “We do returns for people from age 17 to 90 plus, and we have no income restrictions, either.” 

“Our clients and customers are so happy . . .  they don’t have to pay anybody to do it professionally . . .  they are just happy to see us,” Holcombe said.

AARP Tax-Aide District Six Coordinator Ramesh Munjal said that their volunteers prepared roughly 1,800 returns last year throughout the district. According to Munjal, there are six sites in the district offering the service; the Jonesborough library, Gray library, Blountville library, Johnson City senior center, Kingsport senior center and the Church Hill senior center. 

Due to the program’s popularity, Munjal recommended scheduling an appointment by calling the site.

“We try to accommodate as much as we can,” he said, “but an appointment is the best way to do it.” 

Holcombe added, “A lot of times we’ll tell people if you want to come by . . . if we can work you in we will, but we can’t make any promises.”

The IRS comes to train volunteers every October, Munjal said, to make certain they are all qualified and certified.

“You don’t have to be a tax expert because we have all the software programs that will calculate everything, but you still have to have some kind of idea when it comes to dependents, when it comes to filing status, you have to know the forms we have to plug in . . . you need to know all the regulations.”

Holcombe and Munjal both stressed the importance of bringing all the relevant paperwork and information. A checklist of all the documents needed is available on the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide website.

When all the information is gathered, Holcombe said, “we have a certified preparer . . . who puts it together and then the quality reviewer reviews the entire return to make sure no numbers were transposed, (that) no forms were missed, all the tax law was properly applied or that a credit wasn’t missed that they were entitled to … we have a 100 percent quality review process, so essentially your return is done twice.

“It doesn’t take as long as it sounds. We can do a simple return in about a half hour and that’s soup to nuts —  get the return in, get the quality review and get the taxpayer out the door.  (But) sometimes it takes longer.”

While taxpayers get their taxes done for no charge, Holcombe and Munjal said they both get a tremendous sense of satisfaction from their interactions with the clients. 

Holcombe said, “It’s the satisfaction of being able to help people.  This is a huge service to the community and the community recognizes it. 

“Most of our sites have repeat customers, people we have seen for years . . . so you get to know them personally, which is nice. But the taxpayers we deal with are very appreciative of what we do. It takes a load off their mind.”

According to Holcombe, the biggest challenge for today’s  volunteers is finding new volunteers to help with the program,

“What we find is that a lot of people are intimidated about the idea of doing other people’s taxes. People sign up early in the year and we don’t start working with them and training them until fall, so sometimes they fall out of the bucket because they lose interest. Other times people get into and decide it’s not their cup of tea.”

But for Holcombe, the payoff is well worth it. “This is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I get more pleasure and more satisfaction out of doing this than anything I’ve ever done.”

Information can be found on the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide website and appointments may be made by contacting the hosting sites.