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Tax volunteers ready

The AARP volunteer tax preparers ready to help include, front from left, Debbie Carlson, Mary Kessler, Jeri Collins, Amy Dallmann, Karen Lenius; back from left, Andrea Osbourne, MN Dept. of Revenue volunteer trainer; Jim Langemo, John Downs, Jim Zelm, Gene Fuhs, Don Olson, Art Bakker, Dave Birchem and Paul Stary.

Mahube Community Council will begin taking appointments for free tax preparation sessions staring Wednesday, Jan. 19.

But those who plan to take advantage of the services can't start filing until Jan. 31 and everyone is encouraged to wait until they're ready with all of their documents and forms.

Karen Lenius, Mahube senior program director and the Tax Aide program coordinator, said 13 volunteers will be filing tax returns this year in Becker County.

The program is sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons (AARP), which first began in Becker County in the mid 1980s.

"The focus is to help low- to moderate-income taxpayers with particular attention to elder clients," Lenius said.

There are no strict income guidelines, though, so individuals and families who consider themselves low to moderate income are eligible, she said, adding that about 80 to 85 percent of the local population is qualified.

Volunteers began training last week and have put in 40 hours to become certified in basic, intermediate and advanced levels.

"These guys are very good about what they know about taxes," Lenius said of the volunteers.

The Tax Aide program is offered in Becker, Mahnomen and Hubbard counties. Last year, 2,004 returns were filed electronically with volunteers working 4,021 hours.

Volunteer John Downs, of Detroit Lakes, has been filing taxes with Tax Aide for 25 years. He said he enjoys helping the elderly and the low-income population.

"Especially when most people I work with are on Social Security and they don't have much money," he said. "When they get a little money back, they appreciate it."

Last year, Becker and Mahnomen county residents received about $1.4 million in refunds. Lenius said many of the clients may not be aware of the credits they're eligible for and end up with a surprise chunk in the end.

Volunteers will be done training this week and ready to work 60-hour weeks by the end of the month. To make an appointment with the Tax Aide program, call Mahube at 218-847-1385. Appointments last about 50 minutes.

Volunteers will be at Mahube Community Council Jan. 31 through April. 18 Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Appointments will also be taken for evening and Saturday sessions at the Detroit Lakes Library starting Feb. 1 through April 14.

Everyone is asked to bring Social Security numbers for all family members included on the tax return. If you are receiving social security benefits, you must bring the form SSA 1099 that you received this month indicating the total social security benefits for 2010.