AARP Tax-Aide offers free tax help to SLO County residents

Jim Claypool and Gloria Benedict are local AARP Tax-Aide counselors.
Jim Claypool and Gloria Benedict are local AARP Tax-Aide counselors. Special to The Tribune

The AARP Tax-Aide program in San Luis Obispo County is once again providing free assistance to low- and moderate-income individuals and families in filling out income tax returns.

Last year, the Tax-Aide program helped 2,660 people and families in the county to file their state and federal tax returns. Those people received a net return of $1.5 million on their taxes.

Although AARP’s general mission focuses on people age 50 and older, the tax assistance program is for all ages. Those helped last year were 18 to 100 years old.

This year, there are nine AARP Tax-Aide sites throughout San Luis Obispo County. Gloria Benedict is the local coordinator for the Nipomo site, located at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church at 298 S. Thompson Road, a half-mile south of Tefft Street.

“They’ve been incredible,” Benedict said. The church “has been very generous in giving us space. We couldn’t do this without them.”

Before retiring to San Luis Obispo County and becoming a volunteer Tax-Aide counselor, Benedict spent 30 years in the U.S. Foreign Service in government accounting.

Having lived all over the world, her last residence was London with her husband, also in the Foreign Service. They started up the coast from San Diego and chose the Central Coast as the ideal place to retire. The Tax-Aide program “keeps my mind busy and active, is interesting” and “they are so grateful,” she said.

Jim Claypool of Arroyo Grande is the South County district coordinator. He retired from Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco, where he was CEO of a small company. His background is in engineering. He and his wife had come down to SLO County several times and really liked it.

Claypool said it was hard to adjust to interacting with fewer people after retiring. He learned about Tax-Aide counseling from a Bay Area friend and is now in his seventh year of volunteering.

“I enjoy it. It’s stimulating,” he said. “I meet a lot of people doing this. I enjoy listening to the stories, and it provides a really good service.”

An important area where they “need improvement,” Claypool said, is providing Spanish-speaking counselors. The program does have a flier in English and Spanish and one Spanish-speaking counselor. A couple of other Spanish speakers are lined up for an upcoming training.

AARP counselors can handle almost all routine tax needs although they do not do rental income, farming, large business or health savings accounts.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpolitical charity organization. Tax-Aide was launched in 1968, providing confidential, free services to people with annual incomes between $10,000 and $100,000.

Each counselor undergoes six days of intensive training the first year and five days of training the second year. More experienced counselors receive 1.5 days of training. All must pass an IRS certification test through the advanced level.

Among the counselors are lawyers, engineers, teachers, and accountants. The IRS is encouraging e-file, even for those who don’t have to file, to help prevent identity theft.

For information, visit www.ccfreetax.org.

Appointments at six locations can be made by calling 805-354-1157 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., beginning Monday. Those locations are Rabobank, 1070 Main St., Cambria; Church of Christ, 1001 Las Tunas St. at Kings Ave., Morro Bay; First Baptist Church, 2075 Johnson Ave., San Luis Obispo; Grace Bible Church, 100 Rodeo Drive at James Way, Arroyo Grande; St. Joseph’s Church, 298 S. Thompson Road, Nipomo; Rabobank, 899 Grand Ave., Grover Beach.

Three North County locations set their own appointments and phone numbers:

Atascadero Senior Center, 5905 East Mall, 466-4674; Paso Robles Veterans’ Building, 270 Scott St., 237-3880; Paso Robles Library, 1000 Spring St., 237-3870 (Saturday only).