The results of a Zogby Interactive Survey revealed a total of 56% of Americans describe the tax-filing process as stressful, with 18% of these individuals classifying tax time as “very stressful”. Because of the stress associated with filing taxes the IRS has even published “Six Tips for Reducing Tax-Time Stress” on their website. While these stress reducing techniques certainly offer relief for some, there are many individuals who find ensuring their taxes are correctly processed and submitted can be cumbersome and worrying. A large number of these individuals are of the older adult population.
Consequently, the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program was developed over 40 years ago to offer assistance with this process free of charge. In fact, an AARP membership is not even required to utilize this service. The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program offers more than 5,000 locations in communities throughout the nation and throughout the history of the program volunteers have helped nearly 50 million low to moderate income taxpayers, especially seniors, file their taxes. This makes the program the largest free volunteer-run tax assistance and preparation service.
Another free tax assistance program offered in our community is the “Income Tax Preparation Program” through the Tri-County Action Program (Tri-CAP). This program also offers free tax preparation; but does have income requirements for their program, unlike the AARP Tax-Aide Program. The program requires individual households to gross less than $30,000 per year and families to gross under $53,000 per year in order to utilize the tax assistance program. Employing these income requirements allows Tri-CAP tax clinics to help lower income individuals prepare their taxes at their walk-in sites which are staffed by certified volunteers who offer free electronic filing. The Tri-CAP tax clinics are especially targeted on helping individuals take advantage of special tax credits.
Locally, 30 volunteers from the Greater St. Cloud Area Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (Lisa J. Braun, Director) worked diligently January thru mid-April with the AARP Tax-Aide Program in St. Cloud, the AARP Tax-Aide Program in Sherburne County and the Tri-CAP tax assistance program in St. Cloud to assist and educate their peers while filing their 2015 tax forms. This year, in total, RSVP volunteers served over 4,100 households during over 3,400 hours of volunteer service through the three tax assistance programs.
The St. Cloud AARP Tax-Aide Program utilizes 22 RSVP volunteers and is hosted at the Whitney Senior Center. Of local tax forms filed through the St. Cloud AARP Tax-Aide Program this year, total local federal refunds amounted to $933,862! Volunteers are ultimately the lifeline for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program as the program relies heavily on their willingness to donate their time and talents to program. The program could not operate without volunteers such as Pat Ernst and Mary Ann Leitch. The two ladies have been serving the AARP Tax-Aid Program in St. Cloud for over 20 years and between the two of them they have contributed 8,214 hours to the program throughout the year! Pat and Mary Ann agree they enjoy working with the tax preparation program because “the clients are appreciative” stating the clients express their appreciation for their service daily. “Because we have been doing it for so long people recognize us around town. We have had people come up to us when shopping and say “You’re the tax lady. What a wonderful service. I don’t know what I would do without it.” I just feel it is something I can do to help others so I should” Ernst says.
The Greater St. Cloud Area Retired and Senior Volunteer Program is very thankful for the talented individuals who volunteer their time to the three tax assistance programs and commend their dedication to a program which is crucial for many seniors in our community.
If you are ages 55 or better and you are interested in making a difference in your community please call the RSVP office at (320)255-7295 or visit our website at www.ci.stcloud.mn.us/RSVP.