FORT MILL — To Carole Finn and Lonnie Shrine, volunteers of the AARP tax preparation program at the Fort Mill Library, the service is a small commitment that results in big joy.
About 1,000 tax returns are filed each year free of charge from the Baxter Village location. The all-volunteer, certified staff will begin taking clients starting Feb. 4 and will continue every Tuesday and Thursday through tax season.
“I’m with people, and I enjoy it,” said Finn, 66, who will be a site facilitator for the sixth year. “It’s a little old eight weeks. It’s only a little commitment. I feel like we have helped a lot of people when we get through the season.”
The AARP service is free and isn’t restricted in age or income, though it was established to help seniors and those with low income. Preparers are trained on IRS software and changes to the tax code enacted since last year.
There’s another local service available. The United Way organizes the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program for those who qualify and make $52,000 or less. Locations include the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex in Fort Mill and the Del Webb Library in Indian Land.
The working family benefits most from VITA, said Melanie Outlaw, executive director of the United Way of Lancaster County.
“Individuals that typically fall through the cracks receive their tax preparation for free,” Outlaw said. “It’s a simple service that could save a family a couple hundred dollars. It could even be their determining factor whether they file or not, and having this program brings money back to our county residents that need it most.”
Most days at the AARP site at the Fort Mill Library are busy. When the doors are opened, there are typically people waiting to get in. Some wait a few hours before they see a tax preparer, which is always surprising to Finn and Shrine.
Finn’s husband, Pat, is a tax preparer alongside Shrine, a Fort Mill man who began volunteering 14 years ago. Both have to learn a new software program this year.
Shrine, a retired stockbroker who likes working with numbers, likes the challenge of tax preparation and the appreciative clientele he sees year after year.
While eating at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s a few years ago, he was recognized as an AARP tax preparer and treated to lunch.
“When I asked for the bill, the waitress said there was none. The couple told her, ‘Tell him we appreciate what they do for us,’” Shrine said. “They paid for my lunch. I never knew who it was. They had already gone. I still don’t know.”
“I appreciate that,” he said. “I think that speaks well for the service we provide.”
Tax preparation has been enjoyable for Shrine, though he wonders how some people live on what they make. He volunteers two days a week and feels good about saving people several hundred dollars for his work as the preparer.
“I help a lot of people who otherwise might struggle to pay for someone to do it,” he said.
The AARP program is located on the second floor of the Fort Mill Library, and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Feb. 4 through April 15. Clients are served on a first-come basis. The last clients of the day are taken at 3:30 p.m.
The VITA program is offered for those who qualify from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays in February at Leroy Springs Recreation Complex at 971 Tom Hall St. in Fort Mill. The service is also available at the Del Webb Library site in Indian Land from 1 to 5 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays. Appointments are encouraged. Stop in at either location for more details.