Tax season got you down? Let Tax-Aide help

AARP offers free tax assistance, preparation at Camas library on Wednesday, Thursday afternoons

Roger Noah, of Washougal, is one of the volunteer AARP Tax-Aide counselors that helps folks figure out the convoluted world of tax preparation -- for free -- at the Camas library during tax season.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide counselor Mike Leonardich shows one of the extremely detailed "cheat sheets" tax counselors use to help taxpayers figure out seemingly simple questions on their tax returns.

Tax-Aide volunteers Virgil Myers (left) and Vicki Smith (right) sit at the entrance of the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide site at the Camas Public Library, on Feb. 14. Myers and Smith help taxpayers navigate the free tax assistance and tax preparation service offered from noon to 4 p.m., every Wednesday and Thursday during tax season at the Camas site.

Local AARP Foundation Tax-Aide coordinator Sherry Davis (right) looks at a tax return prepared by Tax-Aide counselor Drew Snyder on Feb. 14, at the Camas Public Library. Snyder, of Washougal, has been helping taxpayers as a Tax-Aide counselor for 15 years.

If the thought of doing your taxes this year makes you feel like running in the other direction, a service offered at the Camas Public Library on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons might be able to help.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Foundation offers a free tax preparation service known as Tax-Aide at several Clark County library branches through Tax Day on April 15.

In Camas, the service is offered from noon to 4 p.m., every Wednesday and Thursday, through April 11, in Meeting Room A on the second floor of the Camas library, at 625 N.E. Fourth Ave., in downtown Camas.

Roger Noah, of Washougal, is one of the volunteer AARP Tax-Aide counselors that helps folks figure out the convoluted world of tax preparation — for free — at the Camas library.

A retired certified public accountant (CPA) with a tax background, Noah said he, like many of the Tax-Aide volunteers, wanted to find a way to stay busy and give back to his community during his retirement years. The Tax-Aide program made sense. He volunteered with the program for two years in Oregon before helping people on the north side of the Columbia River in Clark County a year ago.

For those wanting to check out the free tax service, Noah has a couple recommendations: “Don’t be nervous. Just make sure you have all of your documents,” he said. “The more you bring, the more likely we can get done with your return that day.”

Offered in conjunction with the Internal Revenue Service, the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program is the nation’s largest free tax assistance and preparation service. Since its founding in 1968, Tax-Aide has served more than 68 million taxpayers, according to the Tax-Aide website.

All Tax-Aide counselors undergo rigorous annual training and are IRS-certified.

Like Noah, many of the counselors helping people prepare and file their taxes at the Camas library site discovered the Tax-Aide program while seeking a more fulfilling retirement.

Drew Snyder, also of Washougal, has been helping taxpayers as a Tax-Aide counselor for 15 years and currently works out of the Camas Public Library site.

“I’ve always been good with numbers … and I love working with and helping people. So this was a good fit for me,” Snyder said.

For Vicki Millard, a new Tax-Aide counselor who lives in Washougal and volunteers at the Camas site as well as at the Cascade Park Community Library location in Vancouver, the program also seemed like a good fit for her retirement years.

Before working for many years as a dental hygienist, Millard had worked as a tax preparer and licensed tax consultant.

“I had a wide and varied career path,” Millard said. “But I used to do taxes … and when I saw an ad for Tax-Aide on Facebook, I thought, ‘I could do that.’

Becoming a Tax-Aide counselor is tougher than many volunteers might anticipate.

“The courses are taught in a very professional way, and they are challenging,” Millard said.

As a Tax-Aide “newbie,” Millard said she appreciates the help she receives from the veteran counselors and the local Tax-Aide coordinator, Sherry Davis.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Millard helped Nadia Samiee, of Vancouver, prepare and send her tax return.

“It’s very fast and the people here are very friendly, very helpful,” Samiee said.

For most of the Tax-Aide counselors, helping people like Samiee, an English language learner and self-described low-income worker, navigate the convoluted world of the United States tax system is a fulfilling way to spend their free time.

“I go home feeling like I’ve helped people,” Millard said. “And the thing that I like about this service is that it is very welcoming.”

Mike Leonardich, another Tax-Aide counselor working at the Camas site throughout the 2019 tax season, agreed.

“The service is aimed at older people and lower-income folks, but we see all kinds of people in here and try to help all of them,” Leonardich, of Vancouver, said. “Some of the people I see are nervous. Others are cavelier. For some, this is a social thing. They show me photos of their grandchildren.”

Although the Tax-Aide counselors are trained to handle most personal tax returns for low- to moderate-income taxpayers in Washington and Oregon, there are a few cases that will be “out of scope” or beyond their capabilities. For instance, the service cannot prepare a Schedule C (Business Profit and Loss) return or a Schedule E return that includes rental properties, royalties or trusts that involve depreciation. Taxpayers with complicated tax returns are advised to seek paid tax assistance.

A painless process

If you are one of those who get nervous about filing taxes, the Tax-Aide process is designed to be as simple and painless as possible.

Walk-ins are welcome at all of the Tax-Aide sites in Clark County, and many sites — including the Camas library — have appointments available for people who want to have a set time and date. To make an appointment, call 360-690-4496, ext. 103.

Once you’ve made an appointment, or come as a walk-in client, Tax-Aide volunteers like Virgil Myers and Vicki Smith will greet you and get you prepared to see a tax counselor.

“(Filing tax returns) can be confusing if you’re not used to it,” said Myers, a 1947 Camas High graduate who has volunteered with Tax-Aide for several years. “But we can help almost everyone. There aren’t too many things that are out of scope. And the price is right here.”

Myers and Smith both said they’ve been reading media accounts of people who aren’t getting as big of a tax refund — or even unexpectedly owing money — thanks to President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul, which passed in late 2017, went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, and was made permanent by the Republican-controlled Congress in September 2018.

“We’ve had a few people not getting the refund they expected,” Smith said, adding that many of those taxpayers likely had small increases in their weekly or bi-weekly paychecks so they received their “tax refund” in smaller doses throughout the year instead on in one lump sum during tax season.

Both Myers and Smith try to keep the crowds flowing smoothly in and out of the Camas Tax-Aide site, and said it helps when people come prepared.

AARP has a printable list of documents to bring to the tax preparation site. To find that list, visit aarp.org/money/taxes/info-01-2011/important-tax-documents.html.

Some of the most important documents include:

  • Your previous year’s tax return(s);
  • Government-issued photo identification for each taxpayer;
  • Social Security cards or other official documentation showing taxpayer identification numbers for every individual listed on the return;
  • Checking or savings account information for direct-deposit refunds;
  • Proof of income such as a W-2 from each of your employers, a 1099-G form for unemployment compensation or a SSA-1099 form showing the total Social Security benefits paid over the course of the year;
  • Records of federal, state and/or local income tax paid if not shown on income documents; and
  • Proof of health insurance.

Bringing all of the necessary documents helps the Tax-Aide counselors get taxpayers in and out of the site more efficiently.

“We tell people to bring everything they might need,” Myers said. “We’ve had people come in with grocery bags filled with paperwork, but that’s OK. If they don’t have everything they need, they might have to come back another day or at another time.”

To learn more about the Tax-Aide services available in Clark County and to see a full list of sites and each location’s available times and days, visit fvrl.org/tax-help.

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