Not so taxing

Volunteers offer free help with tax returns

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Warren Fisher, tax instructor, leads a training session for volunteer AARP tax preparers Monday at the Silver Lake Mall.

COEUR d'ALENE - A group of volunteers is setting out to once again take the sting out of tax time.

And they're having a blast while doing it.

From Feb. 1 to April 15, the AARP's Tax Aide program will offer free tax preparation to residents. For Warren Fisher, the man responsible for training the volunteer tax preparers, getting the chance to help people through what would otherwise be an annual exercise in panic has kept him volunteering since 1996.

"Doing your own tax return is never fun," Fisher said. "But if you are simply helping someone else complete their return, that helping is where the fun comes in."

In about an hour, volunteers aid residents in preparing their income tax return. Residents can also file their completed returns electronically and get help setting up direct deposits for any refunds.

"We remove the weight of the tax return from them," Fisher said. "And the best part is, it's free."

Although the association with AARP can lead many to believe the program is only for senior citizens, Fisher said that is not the case.

"We will do tax returns for everybody from the first time taxpayer, like a kid working at Silverwood, to someone who is 100 years old," Fisher said.

The complexity of the tax return itself is the only thing that would cause someone to be turned away. Fisher said certain situations, such as a small business owner with employees and depreciating equipment, fall outside the scope of the volunteers' expertise. He recommended that people in those situations use a professional tax preparer.

Two weeks prior to opening, Fisher begins training the approximately 90 new and returning volunteers.

"We start from scratch, assuming they know nothing," Fisher said of the two-week training. "By the time they are done they will have passed the IRS Certificate examination."

Shirley McFaddan, of Athol, is one of the new volunteers for this year's AARP Tax Aide. She told The Press Monday that three years ago a friend asked her if she used the free service.

"I didn't think I qualified for it, but I came in and had my taxes done," McFaddan said. "The volunteers that did my preparation were so genuinely helpful and kind. Now I'm hopefully going to be giving back what I got."

Beginning Feb. 1, walk-in tax preparation is available at the Silver Lake Mall Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the center is open until 7 p.m.

Appointments can also be scheduled at several other locations in Kootenai County. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, appointments can be scheduled at the Lake City Center by calling (208) 667-4628. The Rathdrum Senior Center will host appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they can be scheduled by calling (208) 687-2028. Monday appointments at the Athol Community Center can be scheduled by calling (208) 683-2407. The Post Falls Senior Center will host the service on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They can be scheduled by calling (208) 773-9582.

Residents who are unable to leave their homes can call (208) 667-4628 to schedule an appointment at their house.

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