, Port Arthur, Texas

April 15, 2013

'Get 'em done,' tax volunteer says

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — You know what the famous adage says — “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

People everywhere are feeling the sting of this unfortunate truth — particularly those who also embrace another truism: “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” Today, April 15, is the deadline for all American citizens to file their income tax.

“You need to get ’em done,” said Jo Ann Block of Groves. “The first week and the last week is more crowded at the tax site, and you have a longer wait time.”

Block would know. She is in her second year as a volunteer tax preparer at both the VITA and AARP sites, where she eases the taxation process by helping clients fill out their income tax forms. It was Block’s previous occupations — superintendent of the Minnie Rogers Juvenile Justice Center in Beaumont, and an American Red Cross volunteer — that inspired her to become a tax preparer. She said her duties at both jobs were alleviated by the presence of volunteers.

“Once I retired, I was looking for something to fulfill my time and be able to help others,” Block said. “Being a Red Cross person, you enjoy the volunteer experience. With the probation, I had a lot of volunteers who came through and helped us. Volunteering seemed to be heightened by the two jobs.”

Block and other tax preparers are required to undergo a training class taught by the International Revenue Service (IRS) before they are authorized to fill out other people’s tax returns.

“IRS gets a bad rap, but they have been very helpful, because they do want to help the public,” said Karen Do, director of community impact at United Way of Mid and South Jefferson County.

Do said many people are initially intimidated by the prospect of doing another person’s taxes, but anyone who is computer literate or has done their own taxes before is up to the task.

“We have a very strict guideline of checks and balance,” Do said. “We have screeners who make sure that the clients are qualified and they have all their paperwork. We also have what’s called a quality review so before the return is sent off to the IRS, we have an experienced preparer review the return to make sure there’s no mistakes. We rely on three sets of eyes to go over one client’s return.”

The program is interview based and similar to Turbo Tax, Do said. Each appointment last approximately 45 minutes, and clients must present a picture ID, social security card, social security cards of any dependents, and proof of income, which includes bank statements, W-2s and any type of receipts for deductions that they are claiming.

Block said volunteering as a preparer has taught her more about her own taxes, but that the best part is learning what other people are going through and seeing what their lives are like.

“You form a camaraderie with them — they’ll come back from year to year and ask for the same tax preparer,” Block said. “I review the taxes after preparers have done taxes to make sure everything is correct after the individuals leave the site, so I have the opportunity to meet everyone. It’s a nice place for people to come and talk to others while they’re waiting for their taxes to be done, and if you don’t understand how to handle something, there’s always someone to come over and help you.”

Do also feels that tax preparation is a rewarding aspect of helping people who don’t fully understand the tax forms, or who simply can’t afford to pay someone to do it for them.

“The best part is when you finally click on the end button and tell the client this is how much they’re getting back,” she said. “The expression on their face is such a joy.

“We want to be able to save them a couple hundred dollars that could be put back in their pocket. They could use that toward food, or paying down a bill, buying some needed clothes for school. Or maybe they’re able to invest that as a first-time home buyer.”


Twitter: @ErinnPA