Conversation comes naturally for 77-year-old Rowena Martin, and she can talk to just about anybody about anything.
Martin’s daughter, Lisa Amos, 56, is good with numbers and has done her own taxes for years.
Together, the mother-daughter duo from Seymour own a small used bookstore in Columbus.
Last year, the two became volunteers through Jackson County United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
VITA is a free tax preparation and filing service offered at the Jackson County Public Library in Seymour. It is available to local residents making less than $54,000 in annual income.
Since February, 15 local volunteers have assisted 215 clients in preparing and filing their federal and state taxes through VITA, said Bonita Dobbs, United Way program manager.
The program runs through April 12. Both state and federal taxes must be filed by April 18.
Martin serves as a greeter, making sure clients have all of the required paperwork and information they need. She answers any questions she can to help get them ready for their appointment.
She didn’t want to prepare taxes because she’s not good with computers, but she was excited about greeting for a second year, she said.
“I kind of enjoy it,” Martin said of the job. “You meet different people and just sit out there and talk after they get their papers filled out. There’s usually not much of a wait, but you can get a lot of talking in in those few minutes.”
And you don’t have the responsibility of handling someone else’s financial information, she said.
“You just have to be nice to people, and that’s not hard to do,” she said.
Amos completed the basic tax prep training course last year and is certified by the IRS to prepare individual or joint tax returns. This year, she even went through additional advanced training at the suggestion of Dobbs to be able to do more.
Joining them in their volunteer service this year is a third generation, Amos’ daughter and Martin’s granddaughter, Stacey Brummett, 33, also of Seymour.
Dobbs said it’s great to see families giving back.
“I love the fact that we have an opportunity that will allow a family to volunteer together,” Dobbs said. “I call our VITA volunteers our VITA family, and this adds a sweet element to that.”
It actually was Brummett who encouraged Amos and Martin to get involved first because she felt she was too busy to be much help last year.
“She volunteers a lot,” Amos said of Brummett. “She’s on Relay for Life, and she’s in a sorority.”
Brummett also works full time in the office at Cummins in Seymour.
One of Brummett’s Epsilon Sigma Alpha sorority sisters, Tonja Couch, is executive director of Jackson County United Way and spoke to the sorority about the program.
“She (Brummett) said, ‘Oh, they’re looking for volunteers. Mom, are you interested?’ And I said, ‘I guess,’” Amos said.
“I thought this would be a fantastic program for them to get into together,” Brummett said.
After serving one year, Amos decided it was something she wanted to do again, and this year, she even had repeat clients.
“I like the people and working with numbers,” Amos said. “I’ve always been kind of a math nerd.”
The training, which starts in the fall, isn’t difficult but requires a time commitment, Amos said.
Most of it can be completed online at home, with some training conducted at the library.
“I put in, just coming to do the videos and training, probably 12 or 15 hours,” Amos said. “And then just studying at home and doing pretests, I’ve probably put in 60 hours of training and work.”
Having advanced training allows Amos to not only complete returns but review ones prepared by other volunteers.
Amos said the county is lucky to have such a program available to keep people from having to fork out hundreds of dollars to have their taxes prepared and filed.
“It’s a good program, and it helps a lot of people, especially seniors that can’t afford it,” Amos said.
Even though she still has a busy schedule, Amos and Martin were able to talk Brummett into signing up as a volunteer tax preparer this year.
Whenever Brummett had a question about the training, she could rely on her mom for help.
“It’s really neat. I like the people,” Brummett said. “They are really appreciative, and it’s a great program, I think. People pay a lot of money to have their taxes done. This is money in their pocket that they can really use.”
Sessions usually only take about 45 minutes, and the client walks out with a sense of relief knowing their taxes are done. Some are ecstatic when they learn how much money they are getting back. Others aren’t so happy when they find out they owe taxes.
“I had a guy get mad at me, but he made twice as much money this year as he did the year before, and it put him in a higher tax bracket,” Brummett said.
Some appointments can take longer, especially if the clients have a lot of information.
A husband and wife that came in recently had 19 different W-2s between them, Amos said.
“He had 11, and she had eight, and they just had a new baby. I didn’t do them, but you have to input all that information, and that can take awhile,” she said. “You have to be careful and make sure you put in everything exactly like it says.”
That’s why the returns are reviewed by an advanced preparer and then checked again by a supervisor before they are sent to the Internal Revenue Service.
Amos said she recently had an elderly client with just Social Security income and her husband’s pension.
“She kept getting this form,” Amos said. “It had $3,400 or something like that on it, and she didn’t know what it was.”
After reviewing the form, Amos was able to determine that the money was in an IRA, and the woman was eligible to withdraw it without having to pay a penalty and wouldn’t have to pay taxes on it.
“She was so happy because it’s money she didn’t know she had, and she said she was going to pay some bills with it,” Amos said.
Most clients put their refunds to good use, Brummett said.
“They pay bills or get new tires for their car or get their car fixed,” she said.
Although it may seem like a great opportunity for the three generations to be together, they are rarely volunteering at the same time.
“We see each other in passing,” Amos said.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
For information or to schedule an appointment for Jackson County United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, call United Way 2-1-1 or 812-376-6666.
Appointments are being scheduled now through April 12.
The service is available at the Jackson County Public Library in Seymour to individuals and married couples earning $54,000 or less.
To prepare for an appointment, taxpayers must have their photo identification and Social Security card for themselves, spouses if filing jointly and dependents. They also must bring all W-2s, 1099s and other pertinent tax forms.
To self-file federal and state taxes for free, visit myfreetaxes.com.