Qualified volunteers happy to help with your taxes

Tax Day comes in less that two weeks, and if you haven’t filed yet because you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed, you still have time to get some free help and support from local volunteers.

For two more weekends, Joyce Kaaland and her fellow volunteers will be at the Port Orchard Library to help people file their tax returns. Their assistance is provided through Tax-Aide, a program offered by the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) and sponsored by the IRS.

“The biggest group we see are retirees,” Kaaland said, explaining that during each four-hour Saturday stint, she never knows how many people will come in.

“Last Saturday, we only had about eight people,” she said. “But the week before, we had a line, and probably helped close to 15 or 20.”

Kaaland said the volunteers cannot file more complicated returns for people owning businesses or rentals, but she does see a steady stream of elderly folks and people with low or medium incomes who want to save time or money.

To file the returns, Kaaland said the IRS provides the volunteers with laptop computers programmed with its filing software, allowing her to e-file the returns.

She said the laptops are not only updated each year with the current tax laws, but also “scrubbed” clean of all the information plugged into them last year. And although Kaaland assures each filer of that fact — and the fact that the information she inputs is not e-mailed to the IRS but downloaded directly to its computers — she said there are still some people who want to file the old-fashioned way.

“For those, we do have one volunteer who will fill out their returns on paper,” she said.

Kaaland said this is her fifth year volunteering, while her husband, Mike, who coordinates the local program, has been volunteering for 11 years.

To stay certified, they attend a class each year at Olympic College.

Both the Kaalands are retired, and Joyce said the volunteering was a way for them to spend time together, but also to help others.

“We have the ability and the desire, and we feel it’s a necessary service,” she said, explaining that she and her husband also visit elderly shut-ins and help them file as well. “I enjoy doing it, and I have the patience to do it.”

Kaaland said she takes special care to help filers, whether by asking lots of questions they might not have thought of, or by warning them of penalties they may forget about.

“Some of them, especially the older ones, their memories might not be so sharp,” she said.

For this personal touch, Kaaland said filers often insist on paying her something, but she said she cannot accept payment of any kind, and suggests donations to charity instead.

However, she said she has been known to accept cookies or other baked goods.

“But I tell them I have to leave them on the table for everyone to enjoy,” she said.

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