In the interest of helping people file their taxes, Gerald Scharrenberger pretended to be a 49-year-old divorced mother of two on Tuesday morning at Silver Lake Mall.
Sitting across from Lois Grutta in a vacant storefront, the two AARP Tax-Aide volunteers practiced role-playing to prepare for Monday morning, when the mall site and several others throughout the region will open for business.
“The IRS tells us we are to do everything we can to get the greatest refund or to pay the lowest taxes,” said Scharrenberger, who will devote seven hours a day to helping prepare people’s tax returns. “They say they want their fair share but no more.”
Dozens of sites in Eastern Washington and North Idaho are among hundreds nationwide where trained volunteers will assist people with free tax preparation. Tax-Aide is the nation’s largest free, volunteer-run tax assistance and preparation service available to low- to moderate-income taxpayers.
Mike Wood, a community education specialist with Coeur d’Alene’s Community Action Partnership, said many younger people don’t realize they are eligible to use Tax-Aide because it’s an AARP program, an organization often associated with older people.
“I try to get that out there that this is not (only) for seniors,” Wood said. “They specialize in services for folks 60 and over, but it’s available to anybody with low to moderate income.”
Silver Lake Mall’s site will be open 50 hours a week from Monday until the tax filing deadline on April 15.
The North Idaho volunteers spent weeks training for every possible scenario. They learned about the expansion of the earned income tax credit to include three children instead of two. They know about credits available for people with children in day care and about the additional credits for people who bought new cars or purchased homes for the first time.
Every year, a core group of volunteers from North Idaho meet with IRS officials in Boise for certification, then come back to train others. All the volunteers must pass a test and be certified, said Terry Grutta, a volunteer who manages the electronic filing of tax forms from the mall site.
Last year, the Kootenai County Tax-Aide district filed 3,500 tax forms electronically with the state and federal governments. Several hundred more were filed in hard copy, said Duane Brown, coordinator of the district.