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Tax Aide program to start Jan. 25 in Detroit Lakes

AARP Tax Aide volunteers for 2010 include (not in order) Art Bakker, Dave Birchem, Gene Fuhs, Mary Kessler, Jim Langemo, Karen Lenius, Curt Lundeen, Don Olson, Paul Stary and James Carpenter. Not pictured: John Downs, Rose Kauffman and Jim Zelm.

Need a little help figuring out whether you need to file a 1040, a 1040A or a 1040EZ for your taxes this year? Not quite tech-savvy enough to try your hand at TurboTax or TaxACT and do it yourself?

The Mahube RSVP (Retired & Senior Volunteer Program) and AARP Tax Aide program are ready and willing to help.

Starting on Monday, Jan. 25, and continuing through April 15, a baker's dozen of RSVP volunteers from Mahube Community Council will be spending several hours a week in Becker and Mahnomen counties, helping area residents prepare their 2009 state and federal tax returns.

All the volunteers are certified through the AARP Tax Aide program, which reimburses the volunteers for their mileage and provides tax preparation materials. The program is sanctioned by both the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Minnesota Department of Revenue, said Karen Lenius, Mahube RSVP director.

To become certified, volunteers must undergo roughly 40 hours of classroom training, then pass an exam on the subject. Though not required by law, AARP does mandate that all of its Tax Aide volunteers undergo the certification process, said Paul Stary, rural Audubon, a 22-year volunteer with the program.

Tax forms are prepared by the volunteers free of charge. There is no income requirement to have your returns prepared by a Tax Aide volunteer, she added.

"The service is available to low and moderate income families, with a particular emphasis on helping seniors," she explained. "I believe 85 percent of the population in this area would fall under this guideline."

In addition to preparing federal and state income tax returns, volunteers will also assist with property tax forms, and when possible, provide follow-up assistance if a problem arises with the returns.

Though AARP does provide a maximum $250 stipend for mileage incurred by Tax Aide volunteers, they receive no compensation for their work.

Last year, Mahube Tax Aide volunteers prepared 2,192 -- including over 1,500 in Mahnomen and Becker counties alone.

"That's a lot of work -- and it's totally volunteer," Lenius said.

Not all Tax Aide volunteers have a background in finance or accounting. For instance, Stary said his background is in civil and electrical engineering.

"We're pretty well educated as a group, though not necessarily in finance," he added.

"I volunteered for this position 22 years ago because I was looking for a rich wife," Stary joked, adding that he still hasn't found one.

Retired math teacher Mary Kessler, a six-year volunteer with the program, said she enjoyed the challenges it presented.

"I enjoy helping people, too," she added.

Tax Aide volunteers will be at Mahube's Detroit Lakes offices every Monday through Thursday from 8:40 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Jan. 25 to April 15. They will also be at the library from 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, and 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Assistance is available by appointment only, however. To schedule a session, contact the Mahube office in Detroit Lakes at 847-1385 or 888-458-1385, or the Mahnomen office at 218-935-5002.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454