2015-04-02 / Front Page

AARP Offers Free Tax Assistance Through April 15

By Tom Walsh


Frances Maloney works with AARP volunteers Bob Lobecker and Claire O'Coyne (Photo by Kirby Varacalli) Frances Maloney works with AARP volunteers Bob Lobecker and Claire O'Coyne (Photo by Kirby Varacalli) Over the past five years, Bob Lobecker has seen tears of frustration but even more sighs of relief and gratitude as April 15 rolls around.

Lobecker, 73, a Newport resident, is a retired mechanical engineer who specialized in marine technology and worked at Raytheon. Today, in retirement, Lobecker is the Newport County district coordinator for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Foundation Tax Aide Program.

In that role, he and about 40 other volunteers—Lobecker and his Newport County associates are unpaid—prepare free tax returns for those with low or moderate incomes.

“Most people show us a tremendous amount of gratitude,” Lobecker said. “They’re so pleased because we’ve done an onerous task for them. Even when they owe money, we have usually reduced what they have to pay, and they are grateful.”

AARP Tax Aide volunteers are not CPAs. However, Lobecker said, they all have experience doing income tax returns and they all go through periodic training to ensure that their skills keep pace with the ever-changing Internal Revenue Code. The program also does tax returns for small businesses.

“I have a technical bent and enjoy puzzles and figuring out problems,” Lobecker said. “I always did my own taxes and kept my own books. But we know what our limits are. We advise people to seek help from a paid tax preparer if their returns are very complex.”

According to the AARP Foundation, its Tax Aide Program, begun in 1968, is the nation’s largest free tax preparation service. Those seeking the organization’s help need not be members of AARP and can be any age—although the organization’s marketing materials suggest that they target tax filers who are 60 years old or older.

“About two-thirds of our customers are seniors,” Lobecker said.

According to AARP, the Newport County program completed more than 1,800 returns for the region’s taxpayers in 2014. “I expect we’ll go over 2,000 this year,” Lobecker added.

He also estimated that AARP tax preparers will complete and file between 8,000 and 10,000 returns across the state. Since 1968, the program has helped about 50 million tax filers nationwide, according to the foundation.

Lobecker said people are drawn to the free service out of frustration. “The Tax Code is impossible to understand” for many people, he said. With that in mind, newcomers to his team must enroll in an annual nineweek, one-day-a-week training course in the fall, and all participate in refresher training each January—just before the annual tax season begins.

“Preparers are certified and there’s an IRS test they must pass,” Lobecker explained. “This is required of all AARP Tax Aide programs. It should be required for all other tax preparers. Our volunteers are well qualified.”

With this year’s state and federal tax return deadline looming, Lobecker was asked whether there were ever any humorous stories associated with the IRS and taxes.

“No, there are really no funny stories. But we do see some odd situations,” he said. In one such instance, a woman who lost her job emptied her 401(k) account all at once and it wound up costing her $4,000. Lobecker said she could have avoided much of that problem by spreading out her withdrawals. She was a victim of bad financial advice given by another company, he said.

“Every tax return has some little twist,” Lobecker said.

The following Newport County Tax Aide sites will operate through April 15.

Newport:
.Edward King House,
35 King St., Mondays 9-12.
.BankNewport, 10 Washington
Square, Wednesdays 9-12.
.Newport Public Library,
300 Spring St., Thursdays 12-6.
.Dr. Martin Luther King Community Center, 20 Dr. Marcus
Wheatland Blvd., Fridays 9-12.

.Naval Station Newport,
Command Building 690,
690 Perry St., Tuesdays 10-1
(base access required).
Middletown:
.Middletown Library, 700 West
Main Road, Mondays 12 to 3:30,
Wednesdays 4 to 7, and
Saturdays 10 to 2.
.Middletown Senior Center, 650
Green End Ave., Tuesdays 9 to12.
Jamestown:
.Jamestown Philomenian Library,
26 North Road, Mondays and
Wednesdays, 10 to 2.
Portsmouth:
.Portsmouth Senior Center, 110
Bristol Ferry Road, Thursdays
and Fridays, 10 to 1.
Tiverton:
.Tiverton Senior Center, 207 Co
nanicus Street, Wednesdays and
Fridays, 9 to 3.
Contact local sites for additional
information.

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