I felt better watching the wonderful AARP volunteers work on my taxes, because they sounded like me.
They pondered numbers, thumbed through tax publications, looked at forms on computers and pawed through stacks of financial forms, muttering "What the heck?" and "Why do they do that?"
Or my personal favorite: "Huh?"
That was me for years.
I'd clear the kitchen table, put the dog out (screaming upsets him), spread out W2 and 1099 forms, bank statements, 1040 (federal) and TC40 (state) forms, along with instructions for them all, and go quietly nuts for eight hours.
Ever try to do a Schedule D worksheet?
Mom left me some stocks and bonds, which generate profits and losses and gains and shrinkages and God knows what else. All this has to be entered onto Schedule D, which has instructions that begin thusly:
"Lines 1 and 8: Enter all sales and exchanges of capital assets, including stocks, bonds, etc., and real estate (if not reported on Form 4684, 4797, 6252, 6781, or 8824). Include these transactions even if you did not receive a Form 1099-B or 1099-S (or substitute statement) for the transaction."
I'd wade through an entire page of that, swear, pick out random numbers, enter them somewhere, add it up, attach a check and pray.
I'm not in jail, yet. One time, the IRS even said, "You goofed!" and sent money back, but counting on the IRS for good news is like counting on the Utah Legislature for wisdom.
I gave up. Being over 50 and thrifty, I have to say the AARP people's tax program struck me as a good deal.
I am a member of AARP, and the volunteers know their stuff. Most have worked for the IRS or local tax-preparation companies, or are just computer geeks whose minds handle the myriad "if-then" choices the typical tax form throws at you.
Curt Singleton, one of those volunteers, said the IRS gives AARP the software to file returns because the IRS feels nobody should have to pay to do their taxes, which shows you how dangerously out of touch the IRS is.
I have no idea how anyone manages without help. Curt plopped IRS Publication 17, an inch-thick manual for individual returns like mine, onto the desk.
"That's just part of it," he said.
Being poor doesn't help. The hardest returns are in neighborhoods where poor people pool their lives.
They don't earn much but, for tax purposes, you have to figure out who the head of household is. When you have three sets of parents, kids everywhere and a random cousin or two on the sofa, it gets tricky.
Lord knows, the IRS tries to cover the bases. Actual hint: "A child may qualify you to file as head of household even if the child has been kidnapped," but they want proof your kid is kidnapped, so get a receipt.
I have nothing against paid preparers, but let's face it, people are poor these days.
The IRS's free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program for people earning less than $50,000 can be contacted by calling 800-906-9887. The IRS sponsors Tax Counseling for the Elderly (60 and older), which you can locate by calling 800-829-1040.
AARP aims at low- and-moderate incomes, with emphasis on seniors, but they're broad-minded. Call 888-227-7669,SFlbor check your local senior center.
Curt and a cadre of hard-working and very dedicated people work at the South Ogden Center. They're free, but it's good karma to make a donation to the center.
I did, and not just because I got a refund.
Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can call him at 801-625-4232 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at www.standard.net.