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March 24, 2014

Easing the tax burden: AARP helps elderly, low income file taxes for free

Services have been ongoing for 25 years

SELLERSBURG — When Shirley J. Bedan went to a tax preparation company for help filing her taxes, she was dismayed to find out she would leave with only $9 worth of refunds in her pocket after paying for the company’s services.

“I thought, ‘They’re really keeping my refund, aren’t they?’” she said.

That’s why Bedan, a New Albany retiree, instead went to AARP’s Tax-Aide service at the American Legion Post 204 in Sellersburg.

“Right now, it’s pretty hard on everybody, with the economy,” she said. “I needed it.”

Ed Scharf, volunteer for AARP, said the free service helps the elderly, low income and disabled with this headache-inducing and often expensive task.

“Everybody hates it. And nobody wants to know about it. They don’t want to learn it,” Scharf said. “And I understand that.”

The services have been ongoing for more than 25 years, beginning Feb.1 and ending April 15 each year. The locations are open for tax help Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Sellersburg for the 10-week period. AARP is also helping with taxes at the American Legion Post 28 in New Albany.

Scharf said that other than AARP’s services, the only real options for those filing taxes are paying a company to do it or to learn to do it themselves.

Companies such as H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt can cost as much as $300, and learning how to file taxes can be quite the undertaking.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be very intimidating to start with,” Scharf said. “They’re complex.”

A lot of AARP’s taxpayers are elderly, who don’t have the means to teach themselves or pay an outside party.

“A lot of our elderly people are not going to use a computer to start with,” he said “Their income’s not that high that they can afford to be spending that much on income tax preparation.”

All of the volunteers undergo training and certification through the Internal Revenue Service. Taxpayers must bring a photo ID, Social Security ID and a copy of last year’s return from the IRS and the Indiana Department of Revenue to protect against identity theft.

“We try to make sure of who we’re talking to,” Scharf said.

Some of their taxpaying clients are the mentally or physically disabled, many of whom come in a group with their mentors.

“Without [us], they would just have to give their refund up because you couldn’t afford to pay someone to do it and they can’t do it, so we do it and do it happily,” he said.

The only time AARP turns someone away is when they don’t have the proper identification requirements or if their taxes take more than a couple of hours to file so that volunteers have enough time to help everyone.

This year was Bedan’s first year using AARP’s tax-aide services.

“I felt like I was in the hands of family,” she said. “ ... I like the fact that there’s people here close to my age and they know what they’re doing.”

Bedan used to work for Jackson Hewitt, one of the tax preparation companies, but doesn’t have the means to pay fees or the ability to file them without help.

“I’m getting older and I’m forgetful, and I can’t do it anymore,” she said.

Carla Brison, from Marysville, said she has been coming for over a decade to help her elderly parents, Eugene and Janey, file their taxes.

“It’s really helpful,” Brison said, who goes for the affordability, convenience and safety that is ensured. “ ... I feel secure of the fact that it’s done in a correct fashion. They always make you feel comfortable.”

Scharf said the taxpayers he helps are what make his 12-year volunteer tenure worthwhile.

“It sort of gets in your blood to help people,” he said. “ ... There’s a good feeling that you get when you help other persons. The more the need, the better you feel.”

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