Free assistance with preparation of state, federal income tax returns available

March 16, 1994|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

Elderly residents who need to complete their tax forms, or have questions about whether they need to file a tax return this year, can get help through April 11 in time for the April 15 deadline.

Tax Counseling for the Elderly is available free of charge around the county at Bureau of Aging senior centers. To take advantage of this program, residents must be 60 or older and meet guidelines that define a moderate income.

The program is offered through the Carroll County Chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, which has a contract with the Internal Revenue Service, said John Graybeal, a tax counselor at the Westminster Senior Center.

Mr. Graybeal "approached us 13 years ago about setting up the program, and he initiated it," said Lynette Brewer, Community Services supervisor for the Bureau of Aging. "John has been so faithful --he's always here ready to help people."

Mr. Graybeal is one of six AARP tax counselors trained through the IRS and serving Carroll County, said Hilda Uhlig, coordinator for Carroll. Volunteers must receive training and take a test every year from the IRS to qualify as a tax counselor.

Other counselors are Virginia Wolff, Clyde Boylls, Marvin Kaberle and David Braune.

When residents bring their taxes to these AARP counselors, they can feel confident of getting their taxes done properly and getting accurate answers to their questions.

"A quality-review envelope is enclosed with the tax returns, and AARP workers have a higher percentage of accuracy than the IRS," Ms. Uhlig said.

Seniors wishing to have their taxes done by AARP counselors should bring the federal tax package they received in the mail, all W-2 forms, all interest and dividend statements, a copy of last year's tax return, Social Security numbers of any dependents, and any other relevant tax information.

"We will do their federal and state income taxes," Ms. Uhlig said. "Sometimes people just come with their shoe box and dump it, and others are highly organized and just want to make sure they've done it right."

AARP counselors also are trained to clear up misconceptions that many seniors have about tax returns, she said.

"Some seniors go to professional tax preparers and pay $35 or $50 or whatever, only to be told they owe no taxes and don't have to file a return," Mrs. Uhlig said. "We'll tell them that for free."

Another common misconception seniors have is that they have to pay taxes on their Social Security, when in reality taxes have to be paid only on certain amounts.

With the minimum income for filing increasing, even slightly, almost every year, Mr. Graybeal said the AARP counselors are seeing fewer people than they were in the past.

"The last two or three weeks has been thin," he said. "Whether people haven't got their things together because of the weather, or they don't have to file, I don't know. But I'm surprised we're so far ahead."

Residents need not be members of AARP to seek help from the program, Ms. Uhlig noted.

Appointments are required and tax counselors are available at these times and locations:

* Westminster Senior Center, Mondays from 8:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Information: 848-4049.

* New Windsor and North Carroll senior centers by appointment only. Information: 848-4049.

* South Carroll Senior Center and Eldersburg Library, alternate Wednesdays. Information: senior center, 795-6591; library, 795-3520.

The counselors also offer telephone assistance, if a person just has some questions about filing.

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