My Life as a Volunteer Tax Preparer – Tax Day Edition
Yesterday was my final 2009 appearance as an AARP Tax Aide volunteer tax preparer. I had five appointments with one no show. The no show was actually a blessing in disguise because my first appointment was delayed due to tax software issues. After I solved those problems I worked four hours straight with not even a minute break.
One appointment did not need to file a return – no taxes withheld, no refundable credits due, and not enough non-Social Security income.
My second appointment was another one of those “what are you really living on” mysteries. This was a healthy man – six years younger than me – with a total 2008 income of about $6,000. He worked as a chef and restaurant manager at two different places, one of whom had paid him partially in cash. He says that he helps his parents out a lot (which I believe) so I am speculating that he receives some indirect financial benefits from that, perhaps in cash gifts. I asked him several times if we had all of his income on the return. He always said “yes” but never answered the real question of how he survived on $6,000 per year.
I had to inform a seventy-six year old woman that she needed to write a four-figure check to the IRS. She is on Social Security and receiving a small pension but also works regularly as an on-call tour guide. Some of the tour companies that hired her in 2008 did so as an employee and withheld payroll and income taxes. Other companies treated her as an independent contractor and issued a 1099. Thus, she under-withheld and owed self-employment taxes. I explained to her that the companies that hired her as an independent contractor were not doing her any favors in the tax department.
My final appointment was with a 78 year old man who wanted me to prepare a joint return for him and his wife, who was 74. Both were on Social Security and both were working full-time. They needed the income because get this: They were still paying down a student loan they had taken out to put one of their children through college. The balance was still over $20,000 and they have been re-paying for at least six years. In my mind, that is craziness. Why are two folks in their 70′s paying a student loan for a healthy adult child? What kind of child allows that to happen?
Overall, I have enjoyed my experiences as a volunteer tax preparer, more so than I anticipated. My supervising volunteer told me that my returns had a 100% acceptance rate by the IRS except for one where the taxpayer had provided incorrect information. I’m just hoping that none of the folks I worked with paid any more taxes than legally required. That was my goal.
On the human side, the stories I heard from these mostly older Americans sharpened my focus on my own retirement planning. They helped me as much as I helped them.
A big lesson I learned was that it may be easier than you think to adapt to economic conditions that do not meet your original expectations. That is good to know based on 2008 and 2009 economic trends.
As I said goodbye to the other volunteers, one asked me if I was planning to move into practicing tax law. I assured him that I was not! But I will be back next year. With all of the changes in tax rates and tax credits, it should be interesting.
I hope you have enjoyed the stories of my little journey through the world of seniors and their money.
And now back to the hard truth ……