Nobody loves tax time. Except, maybe, the small army of statewide volunteers who dedicate a few months each year to helping their fellow Mainers file their state and federal tax forms correctly.
The AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program has been providing free advice and hands-on assistance to low- and moderate-income earners for more than 45 years. The program runs from Feb. 1 through April 15.
In Maine, volunteer Joan Jagolinzer, 75, of Scarborough coordinates the program and the schedules of about 280 other volunteers at more than 70 sites across the length and breadth of the state. A 30-year veteran of the volunteer ranks, she also rolls up her sleeves and provides direct tax preparation services at six sites in the Portland area.
Retired from her career as a high-level corporate tax specialist with the Internal Revenue Service — which co-sponsors the program along with AARP and, in Maine, the nonprofit group CASH Maine — Jagolinzer said “it’s kind of a nice change of pace” to work one-on-one with individuals and couples who need a little help filing their taxes.
The majority of volunteers are retirees, she said, though the group ranges in age from people in their 20s to those in their 80s. Most come back year after year to help with the program.
“I love the volunteers I work with,” Jagolinzer said. “It’s a little like family.”
She also relishes the opportunity to interact with the diverse population of the Portland area, including clients who have been taking advantage of the program for many years.
“At least once a week someone comes in and I get to give them a big hug because I’ve been doing their taxes for 15 years,” she said.
Some volunteers have professional experience in business or finance, but many do not. The ones who actually help clients fill out and file their taxes take a 40-hour IRS-certified training each year to sharpen their skills and be sure they’re up to date on any changes in the tax code. Others greet clients and make sure they have all the documents they need when they arrive. Those documents include a Social Security card and a picture ID, health insurance information and the usual tax forms from employers, investment funds, banks and other sources.
This week at the Bangor Public Library, the tax prep program was highly visible. Two volunteers staffed the welcome table in the main lobby, three were working with clients at computers in one of the side rooms and three others, including regional coordinator Richard Jung of Ellsworth, were assisting clients upstairs in the auditorium.
Jung, 73, is a retired accountant who has volunteered with the program for 17 years. He keeps tabs on 45 volunteers at 17 sites between Milbridge and Belfast, including four sites in Bangor.
“About two-thirds of the clients we see each year are repeat customers, and that’s great because we have their tax information on file,” Jung said.
For people whose circumstances have not changed significantly, he said, the average consultation can last between 15 minutes and an hour, depending on the complexity of their finances. New clients or those who have experienced life changes such as marriage, divorce or the death of a spouse can take longer, but bringing all the necessary documents makes the time shorter.
Last year, Tax-Aide volunteers helped more than 24,000 Mainers file their tax returns. The program runs out of more than 70 sites in Maine, with at least one site in each county. Sites are located in libraries, community centers, senior centers and churches. Clients do not need to be a member of AARP or a retiree to use this service.
To find a location near you, visit aarp.org/freetaxhelp or call 888-227-7669 or 211 and ask for the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide site nearest your home.