My Life as a Volunteer Tax Preparer – Ch. 2.8
This week, some random thoughts and commentary about my experiences as a volunteer in the AARP VITA/Tax Aide Office.
1. Almost no one is reporting capital gain income on investments in their retirement funds. A few have dividends to report. On the other hand, many retirees have obviously moved most or all of their money into savings accounts and CDs. This was done out of fear but it sure won’t help with inflation down the road.
2. My first taxpayers were a married couple with a decent retirement income from a combination of government pensions, Social Security and bank/CD interest. Surprisingly, this couple had also spent an amount equal to their yearly income on a brand new Mercedes. The husband gave me the impression that this was a last spending “fling” , meaning that he didn’t expect to be around much longer. He referred to the likelihood that his heirs would enjoy the new car for longer than he would. Weird way to go out, if you ask me. But he was smiling and jovial so if he paid cash and it made him happy, who am I to criticize?
3. A young couple came in, both unemployed. Both had good jobs in 2009 but had lost them. I give them credit for fighting the good fight because each had multiple W2′s from short term or part-time jobs they took on to make ends meet. No unemployment benefits for them. They were so excited when I told them they would be receiving a four-figure refund.
4. An eighty-year old woman asked me for advice about her plans for her refund. She was worried about the cost of air conditioning her old house this summer. She wanted energy upgrades, e.g., new insulation. I referred her to some resources for advice in that area but I sure wished she had family around to advise her. I was concerned that some fly-by-night contractor might take advantage of her pleasant, trusting nature. I also like the fact that this nice woman (like most that I meet in the volunteer office) get dressed up, hair done, make-up on, the works, when they get their taxes done. For the older generations, attending to important tasks and events still means looking the part.
5. Another elderly woman surprised me at how much of her meager income she was giving to her church. I understand the 10% tithe principle for some people but for a retiree on a fixed income, barely above poverty level? I think church leaders need to intervene and adjust giving expectations in those situations.
6. Another frail, elderly woman came in with her daughter. This woman was so relieved and proud that her daughter was available and willing to her help her. Family support can be so much more valuable and effective compared to government support. I hope my kids can still tolerate me at that age!
7. All of my five taxpayers this week (except the unemployed couple) owned their homes, mortgage-free. I wonder if this will be the case for similarly aged retirees 10-20 years from now?
8. I observed another volunteer in the office spending an excessive amount of time working with stock buy/sell transactions with one of his taxpayers. We don’t see much of that with taxpayers who use free tax services. I asked my colleague about that taxpayer’s return. He said it was clear that her broker/”financial advisor” was churning her account. Some of the transactions were as small as $175. Not surprisingly, all of that broker activity had resulted in zero income for the year. He encouraged her to find another place for her money. Many times that advice doesn’t work for the elderly unless a family member intervenes. They are frozen by fear and ignorance.
There are weeks where my four hours as a tax volunteer seem to overshadow my forty-hours as a paid professional. By “overshadow,” I mean the sense that I have done something more positive for me and for others in those four hours than in the other forty combined. Do you ever have that feeling? Am I becoming Mr. Not-So-ToughMoneyLove?
I’ll say this: It gives me hope and ideas for enriching my future retirement years.