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updated: 2/8/2011 9:31 AM

AARP gives Dundee seniors help with taxes

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Dundee Township's seniors-helping-seniors income tax program is under way.

It got a late start this year because of the Feb. 1 blizzard, but the snow is cleared, pencils are sharpened and computers are warmed up.

From now until April 15, a stream of senior citizens will walk into the township library with receipts and income statements on Thursdays and receive help -- free help -- filing their state and federal income tax returns.

The seven volunteers from the AARP will sort out the box full of papers tseniors are carrying and type in the numbers for the electronic filings.

Be calm, it's all legal, more accurate than pen and paper and faster than the conventional mail system, said Merv Hagen, site coordinator.

"We get some nervous people," said Hagen, one of the volunteers. "E-filing used to have a stigma. People were worried the IRS wouldn't get their paperwork or something would happen to the computers, but it's all safe. And that's the only way we file here."

Before volunteers start, they are trained on changes to the income tax code. That could entail as many as 25 hours, he said. And mostly all of them are proficient with computers.

Dundee Township resident Ray Sussmann, who's been volunteering for the program for 25 years, doesn't work the computers. He greets the seniors and helps organize their paperwork.

"Some of them get itchy. We can complete a return in about an hour. But if it takes longer, some will start getting impatient," he said. "My job is to keep them calm."

In the three hours each week the volunteers work, they can complete about 20 returns, Hagen said. They work from 9 a.m. until noon.

"We don't do anything complicated. We do simple returns," he said. "We don't handle anything involving a trust. We don't do anything that involves the military. We don't do anything that involves a complicated business."

Anyone with returns that fall into those categories is sent to an accountant or a paid tax service.

Also, if any of the clients from the seniors program is called into an Internal Revenue Service audit, the client is sent to an accountant or lawyer.

"We make very few mistakes, but you never know," Sussmann said. "We're human like everyone else."

Many of the clients the AARP volunteers help have been widowed in the previous year and know little about previous returns. Sussmann will calm them down and make sure they have everything they need. Besides income statements, the most important things seniors need when they come in for their meetings are the previous year's income tax returns.

They also need to have an appointment before receiving help. One can be made by calling the Dundee Township Library at (847) 428-3661.

The program is sponsored by AARP and the library.

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