Area residents looking for help with filing their taxes ahead of the April 18 deadline can find some free assistance at the local library.
As part of the AARP Free Tax-Aide program, volunteers have convened since Feb. 1 at the Williamsburg Regional Library and James City County Library to help people file their taxes.
The national program, meant to help low-income people and the elderly, has more than 35,000 volunteers across the country and in Washington D.C.
Sixty volunteers in the Williamsburg area go through five days of training and are certified by the Internal Revenue Service before they start. They use TaxSlayer, a commercially available computer program volunteers use to file federal and state taxes for free.
Those who'd like to volunteer don't need prior experience, since AARP provides training and the IRS certification. Returns done by the volunteers are 99 percent accurate.
People have the option to walk in and get help, or they can make an appointment at either library.
"We know many people go to a place like H&R Block and get help, and they might pay three or four hundred dollars," said Terry Lowe, a retired Air Force veteran in his seventh year volunteering. "That's coming right out of your refund, when you can come here and have it done for no money at all."
Many of the people who find help with their taxes at the library are in dire straits, said volunteer Diane Lederer.
"These taxpayers really need help," said Lederer, who has worked with the program for almost 20 years. "Some of them have no idea how to do their tax returns, or they don't know what they are eligible for. We deal with a lot of low-income people, so many are eligible for an income credit, and they really need that to live on."
Some residents waiting in line said they appreciated how quickly the volunteers worked. Others said they're grateful to the volunteers for giving their time to help strangers.
Lederer says the main problem everyone has is tracking down the necessary paperwork.
"Sometimes people will forget their social security number," she said. "Sometimes they'll forget a W-2 or won't know their amount of property taxes. James City County will give you that number over the phone. We found out quickly that York County does not."
Steve McGinnis is familiar with taxes and financial issues; he's a certified public accountant, and he holds the equivalent distinction, called a chartered accountant, in his native Canada.
After retiring 11 years ago, he found volunteering his services during tax season was a way for him to pass the hours. McGinnis spent more than four decades in the accounting field and still enjoys helping where he can.
"I actually started out in engineering," McGinnis said. "One of the things I liked about (accounting) is that there is a right and a wrong to it. If you have an analytical mind, it's a great profession to be in."
Five students from the College of William and Mary are volunteering with the program this year. Lederer said the last batch of students, which came a handful of years ago, came from the law school.
Heaven Blevins is no lawyer, but she has been poring over paperwork just the same. Such chances to volunteer, the 20-year-old said, are not that common.
"You would be surprised — many of the students at the college have never had jobs before," she said. "I figured volunteering here would be a good way for me to get some experience in the field."
Blevins, a business major, appreciates the structure of accounting. Knowing that there are clear methods and results gives her structure that she likes, she said.
"Once you know the rules, it's pretty straightforward from there," she said.
Any student interested in accounting could benefit from volunteering to help people file during tax season, McGinnis said. Anyone, whether they are a student or not, can call AARP and inquire about volunteering.
"This is a good way for people, like Heaven, to get experience working with the public in a setting like this," he said. "There are several boxes when you start applying for jobs, and opportunities like this one help you check some of those. You can say, 'I've worked before' and that you have some experience."
"We really do need the help," Lowe said. Accounting professor Margot Howard allowed Lowe to speak in her class, which led students to reach out about volunteering. "A business school graduate from William and Mary is pretty highly sought after, maybe down the line they come back and volunteer again."
Lederer said what keeps her coming back to the program is the service she and others help provide to those who sorely need it.
"The poor and the elderly — especially the elderly — need the help that services like this provide. People like that we can help them and send them on their way. We take the burden off of them, so to speak."
Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.
Need help tax help?
When: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through April 18
Where: Williamsburg Regional Library, 515 Scotland Street
James City County
When: Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: James City County Library, 7770 Croaker Road
Make an appointment at either library by calling 757-259-4072.