Seniors who find IRS forms taxing can get assistance at county centers

Trained volunteers stationed at sites in program run by AARP

March 15, 2000|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As the April 15 tax filing date nears, Carroll County seniors need look only as far as their local senior centers for assistance filling out federal and state tax forms.

As part of the Internal Revenue Service's Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program, begun in 1978, nearly 20 trained volunteers are stationed at county senior centers to assist seniors. The program is administered by the American Association of Retired Persons, said Norman Rifkin, the IRS' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance-TCE coordinator for Delaware-Maryland.

The schedule for tax assistance varies at each of the county's five senior centers. The centers report brisk business.

"The biggest questions we get [from the seniors] is do they have to file and if they are going to owe money," said Keith Cox, a personal financial analyst for Primerica who coordinates the program countywide. "If they don't have the money to pay, we'll make a payment plan. But most seniors are pretty on the ball with their money.

"We ask that they bring in all of their Social Security 1099 forms, their W-2s if they work, any interest statements and last year's tax returns," he said.

"It's important that we get all the information in and that we get it in correctly."

Brenda Lerner, Taneytown Senior Activities Center manager, said this is the third year Taneytown has offered the program. Volunteers offer assistance from 9 a.m. to noon every other Friday through April 14.

"We used to refer people to the Westminster Senior Center," she said. "But Westminster can be a long ways to drive for some people."

At North Carroll Senior Center, two volunteers are available every Monday, said Renee Deiaco, center manager.

"The first three Mondays in February were full," she sad. "It's starting to thin out a bit now. We offer this every Monday through March and into April if there is a need."

Probably one of the busiest places is Westminster Senior Center, where David Braune and five others work from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays. Braune coordinates volunteers at the Westminster center and, with Cox, runs the training program volunteers must go through.

"Mondays are pretty hectic," Braune said. "We do 30 to 40 returns every Monday. Over the whole county, we'll do about 400 each year.

"We have four different rooms at the senior center for privacy purposes," he said. "If we see that the tax filing is going to be simple, we can give it to a volunteer with less experience. If they are more complicated, we give it to a more experienced person. I try to look at all of the returns at this center. It's called quality reinforcement."

Braune said about half of the filings are done electronically, which is what the IRS encourages.

He added volunteers are flexible when working with seniors.

"If they don't want us to do it they can do it themselves and just have us review it," he added. "Or, they can call if they have questions. Some people do that. This time of the year it is hard to get through that 800 number with the IRS."

Clara Hagan of Hampstead said she has taken advantage of the program for several years.

"It's very helpful," she said. "It saves a lot of time. I had mine done electronically. I had my state tax return [check] back in a week and the federal back in three weeks. I am very pleased. All seniors should have it done this way."

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