Nora Laughlin was part of a team that would help 50 people with their tax returns in one day.
But the longtime AARP Foundation Tax-Aide preparer and recent recipient of open-heart surgery is hoping to slow down and relinquish her lead role with Juneau’s Tax-Aides.
“I just can’t lead it anymore,” Laughlin said in an interview. “I can still help out. I love it. I love helping people.”
However, she might have to continue leading the efforts this year if new tax preparers don’t step up before the impending tax season.
“We need volunteers,” Laughlin said.
The Tax-Aide program is a collaboration between the American Association of Retired Persons Foundation and the Internal Revenue Service. It offers free help filing tax returns through the use of IRS-certified volunteers. It is primarily intended to benefit low-income and elderly people.
However, Laughlin said there are no age or income limits on the program.
The Tax-Aide preparers cannot help prepare complex tax forms — people with business profits and losses, capital gains and losses or owners of rental properties are generally out. More information about what the volunteers can and can’t prepare can be found online at www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide/.
The tax preparers can also help people understand letters they have received from the IRS, Laughlin said.
Last year, from early February to mid-April Juneau Tax-Aides offered help two days per week in Nugget Mall, Laughlin said. This year, limited volunteer availability might reduce the days help is available to one day per week.
Laughlin said she is also waiting to hear whether they will again be able to use space in Nugget Mall this tax season.
“If we don’t get that, I don’t know what we’ll do,” Laughlin said.
The IRS provides the equipment the tax preparers use, and Laughlin said it tends to be heavy, so a space that can be locked overnight is necessary. Otherwise, volunteers have to move and set up the equipment at the beginning and end of the day.
That’s the reason Laughlin said the tax preparers switched years ago from being located at a library to the mall.
“We’re pretty much old people, so it really got too difficult,” Laughlin said.
Becoming a volunteer
No previous tax preparation experience is needed to volunteer.
Before Laughlin began helping others with their taxes more than a decade ago, she didn’t even file her own taxes.
“I’m proof a person can start from nothing,” Laughlin said.
She was encouraged to pursue being a volunteer tax preparer by friends when she lived in Idaho, and the retired chief landscape architect for Alaska for the USDA Forest Service continued to help folks file their taxes when she came to Juneau.
Laughlin said the training required to become certified by the IRS, as all the Tax-Aide preparers are, may take someone with no background a few weeks to complete.
Willingness to learn can go a long way, though.
Laughlin said retired financial professional would likely find it easy to quickly become certified.
Those interested in volunteering can find out more by calling 1-888-687-2277 or visiting www.aarp.org, and Laughlin can be reached by email at NoraaL48@yahoo.com.
Other local source for tax help
There aren’t a ton of other local resources for free tax help, Laughlin said.
Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority confirmed it also offers assistance with taxes this year, said Desiree Jackson, director of tribal services, but Jackson said she was unaware of another entity that would be providing similar services.
“We’re definitely still going to put it on, and we’ll actually be traveling out to some of our villages,” Jackson said. “It’s generally focused on low-income people, but we don’t close the door on anyone.”
Juneau Public Libraries will not be the site of free tax help.
The housing authority does not yet have an exact schedule but, Jackson said the service typically starts in February and runs through April. Assistance is anticipated to take place at the housing authority’s Jenkins Drive location.
Typically, Jackson said the free help is available during a weekday, and there are usually a few “super Saturdays” included, too.
Jackson said typically the service is popular.
“We’ll have a long line of people,” Jackson said. “It’s a high-demand thing for sure. It’s busy days for us for sure.”
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.