My Life as a Volunteer Tax Preparer – Ch. 2.5
Another week in the volunteer office, another five taxpayers helped, and once again all women. Lucky me – they were all in relatively good moods too!
All of the taxpayers I helped gave me something to remember, and each for a different reason. The first was a woman in her 70’s who had the simplest tax position you can imagine. A small Social Security retirement benefit and – end of tax story. I was so tempted to ask how she lived on such a meager income but I didn’t feel it was my business to pry. She was a also a renter. Not a word of complaint about being poor or deprived. Note to self: Don’t worry so much about money.
The second taxpayer was 89 years old and sharp as a tack. She was embarrassed that she did not have all of the information I needed immediately at hand (we found it) and vowed to do better next year. After she made a point of saying how old she was, I complimented her on how healthy and happy she looked. She responded by saying that she wasn’t 100% free of health problems but that “it doesn’t take any more energy to smile than it does to frown.” You gotta love home-spun philosophy like that. Note to self: Don’t frown so much.
The third and fourth taxpayers were sisters. One sister was mentally handicapped but was able to live alone and worked for an organization that helped people with employment challenges. The healthy sister was married but her husband was absent because he was physically disabled. She didn’t complain at all but she sure looked worn out. She had a potential tax problem. Her mother died in 2006 without a will. Three years of paperwork later, the healthy sister received five-figures worth of mutual fund shares. Unfortunately, she promptly sold them, perhaps triggering a capital gain. We have to revisit this after she gets the 2006 basis established. Note to self: Update my will and keep that long term care insurance.
My final taxpayer was also in her 80’s, living alone in a home that she had worked very hard to pay for. She told me that she was mortgage-free because she had made extra principal payments to shorten her amortization period to 19 years. There is a sad part of this story, however. I asked her if she enjoyed living in a paid-for home. She said not any more. She wanted to move into a senior-citizen high rise. Her neighborhood had deteriorated. She said her neighbors were mostly unemployed or underemployed, receiving Section 8 housing subsidies. They took no pride in where they were living. She also told me that frequently a furniture rental truck would show up at a neighbor’s house, trying to recover rented furniture that no one was paying for. The neighbors would not answer the door. My taxpayer lady was completely fed up with “these young people and drug dealers” as she called them. Despite all of this, she left smiling. Note to self: Don’t ignore a changing neighborhood .
Final note: At least once each volunteer session I am asked by a taxpayer how much they owe for our services. I’m starting to think I should pay them for teaching me so much.