VITA ensures seniors a less taxing experience IRS-sponsored service offers free help

February 17, 1993|By Amy P. Ingram | Amy P. Ingram,Contributing Writer

Herman Gelman, 69, loves to do taxes -- his taxes and everybody else's, too.

He made a living for 40 years filling out the forms. So it might seem unusual that less than a year after he put away the tax code books and calculator, he's back doing tax returns for free at the O'Malley Senior Center in Odenton.

"Taxes are my business," said Mr. Gelman, a certified public accountant. "I wanted to continue doing them. Since I was retired, I could do a service to the community by helping seniors do their taxes."

Mr. Gelman is a volunteer for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), an Internal Revenue Service-sponsored service.

After a one-week training course, he was certified to handle the returns.

He said that most of his clients are widowed women who have never done taxes in their life. Women like Ann Conrad, 65, who visited Mr. Gelman yesterday.

"I've always had other people doing my taxes," the Crofton resident said. "It's just not my cup of tea. I'm a tax-paying citizen, but I don't want to deal with the paperwork."

Mrs. Conrad, who has received assistance from VITA since the program began in 1988, has seen a different volunteer each year.

She says they're just as professional as the accountants who charge for the service.

"He [Mr. Gelman] was very thorough and had it all done in one hour," she said. "These people understand seniors. They understand that we're vulnerable to making mistakes."

And that's the very reason Art Burton, another VITA volunteer, wants easier tax forms.

"It seems the more they simplify the forms, the more difficult they get," said the 66-year-old Odenton resident. "They should just take a certain percentage out of each dollar earned and that's it."

Mr. Burton, retired from General Motors, said he decided to do RTC taxes for others as his donation to the community.

He has been with VITA since the beginning and continues to take refresher courses each year.

"I've never had trouble doing my taxes. I found myself doing other people's taxes," he said. "I just love helping people and this is how I can do it."

Mr. Burton, who has seen hundreds of people, including a retired judge from Odenton, noticed a common fear in seniors -- the fear of the IRS; the fear that if they make a mistake they'll "go to jail or something."

He hopes his fellow seniors learn that taxes are a lot less complicated than they think they are.

"They haven't changed much in 50 years, and I hate to see them pay for such an easy task," he said.

He and Mr. Gelman encourage seniors to take advantage of VITA. Going elsewhere could cost a senior up to $100 an hour, Mr. Gelman said.

Mrs. Conrad said she was glad her tax-paying duty was finally complete, thanks to Mr. Gelman.

"They're part of our government function," she said. "Whether we like 'em or don't like 'em, they're here to stay."

The VITA service is offered at all senior centers in the county. Contact the local center for more information.

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