OCEAN PINES – When Donald and Wanda Olson started volunteering as tax preparers in 1993 taxes were an extraordinarily labor-intensive process. Forms were filled and added by hand and submitted by mail. The turnaround time was measured in weeks rather than days. A lot has changed about tax preparation in the intervening decades but the Olson’s presence as tax preparing volunteers for the AARP Tax-Aide program isn’t one of them.
This year they were recognized for their exceptional length of service by the AARP. Although both Wanda and Donald were honored by the award while being a little bit shy about the attention, length of service is critical to the continuation of the AARP Tax-Aide program.
“You have to have somebody to keep it going,” Wanda said.
By returning each year with a significant number of their fellow volunteers, the program remains strong and able to easily incorporate new volunteers into their ranks. After a few tax seasons of recognizing the depth of need and the importance of full participation many volunteers end up returning year after year.
Each year all over the country thousands of people volunteer to help people prepare and file their taxes at no charge. The program operates under the premise that it is better for all involved if people’s taxes are prepared accurately and in a timely manner. It helps the government in collecting and disbursing the tax money as well as going a longer way toward limiting mistakes. Tax preparers usually begin training and upgrading their skills in the fall to be ready for the tax season with the more experienced preparers standing at the ready to answer questions, should they arise.
All returns are not only filed electronically, but the IRS provided a number of the computers so the volunteers can dial directly into the IRS’ filing system. The result is that the AARP Tax Aide program participants not only benefit their local community but also save the federal government resources and by extension money by providing a free service the government would normally have to supply. It also doesn’t hurt that the returns are generally done with the kind of accuracy that makes it easy for the IRS to process.
And this year the IRS needs all the streamlining it can get. As some unlucky taxpayers discovered already this year, the IRS wasn’t prepared for the last minute- tax cut extension. The result was that the IRS won’t be able to accept some tax returns until after Feb. 14.
Although it is no longer an issue, it was something of a problem last week.
“I’ve been turning people away,” Wanda said. “It’s been kind of a hectic morning.”
Starting Monday, however, they’ll be ready for the traffic to really start flowing. The AARP Tax-Aide program does accept walk-ins at all their locations but because of the demand, it’s wisest for people to make appointments so they are not required to wait for an opening.
The AARP Tax-Aide program provides free tax return preparation for most of the common kinds of returns. They have appointments available 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays at the Ocean Pines Library; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursdays at St. Peter’s Church in Ocean City; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays at both the Community Church of Ocean Pines and the Ocean City Library. To make an appointment call 410-213-1608.