Mathematical minds find perfect volunteer outing

AARP Tax Aides love numbers, helping people

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Jim Frahm knows what it's like to serve others with everything at stake. He's a retired pharmacist.

"Mistakes could be life-threatening," he said. "Nobody's perfect, but you needed to pay very close attention to detail."

Same goes for Frahm's current pastime: volunteering to figure out other people's taxes. Frahm is the Vancouver Community Library site supervisor for AARP Tax Aides, an all-volunteer army of beings who actually like doing taxes. (Maybe not paying them, but definitely doing them.) Yes, they do exist.

"I myself have always done my own taxes and taxes for my friends and family. I enjoy it," said volunteer and Tax Aide spokeswoman Terry Jones, a former business manager. "I enjoy the numbers side of things, and I enjoy the people side of things."

That's what Frahm said you need, in addition to a mind for math: a "good personality." That means enjoying helping people and showing patience with ethnic, economic and age diversity. Many of the people who turn up for tax help are low-income, elderly, and speak Russian or Spanish as their first language, he said.

But not everyone, Jones said. "While we like to pay special attention to people over 60, we'll serve anybody and everybody. There is no income limit or age limit," she said.

Frahm watches over the shoulders of seven other "returners," he said, as they put in four-hour shifts at the Vancouver Community Library. It usually takes about one hour to do somebody's taxes, he said.

Frahm figures about 140 tax returns get completed by his volunteers at the library location every week. When The Columbian dropped by on Wednesday afternoon, there were approximately 20 people waiting to meet with a "returner."

More locations are available. Every year, the IRS trains approximately 65 local volunteers — most but not all are retired folks, Jones said — and farms them out to six sites in Clark County. The Vancouver Community Library is definitely the biggest one, and volunteers will be staffing it on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., through the end of tax season.

Other locations are: the Three Creeks Community Library, the Cascade Park Community Library, the Battle Ground Community Library, the Marshall Community Center and the Community Housing Resource Center at 103 E. 29th Street. In addition, volunteers will be at the Stevenson Library once per week. Days and hours vary by site. Visit http://aarp-tax-aide-sw-washington.org/sites.html for specific site days and hours.

Volunteers have been trained to help with basic federal and Oregon personal income tax returns, Frahm said, and to deal with most relevant situations -- but cannot prepare Married Filing Separately (MFS), Registered Domestic Partners (RDP), Schedule C with expenses over $10,000, returns requiring Forms 2106, 3903, 8606, 8615, Health Savings Accounts (HSA) or Cancellation of Debt (COD). New this year is that volunteers can help with "Wash Sales" shown on a broker's statement.

Photo ID and acceptable proof of Social Security numbers or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) for every person on your tax return. Bring all income report forms such as W-2s, interest and dividends, miscellaneous income and all other tax-related information as well as the prior year's tax return.

For more information call 1-888-687-2277.