One solution to Alaska's fiscal challenges: Volunteer for free tax preparation

The future of Alaska's economy is a hot news topic each week with ongoing updates about the fiscal challenges our state faces. Want the good news? Each one of us can have an impact on Alaska's future, in our communities and in the lives of fellow Alaskans.

For the last two years, I have volunteered as a coach and helped people prepare their income taxes for free, all part of a collaborative effort between AARP Foundation Tax-Aide and United Way of Anchorage's Earn It. Keep It. Save It. financial stability initiative. Last year alone, more than 5,100 Alaskans had their federal tax returns prepared by well-trained, volunteer tax preparers. This saved residents an estimated $1 million in tax prep fees and delivered $7.5 million in refunds back to Anchorage households and our local economy.

We are gearing up for the coming tax season, and the need for volunteers is greater than ever. To become a volunteer tax preparer, an email address and some general computer knowledge are required, but no prior tax experience is necessary. Volunteer preparers complete about 40 hours of combined classroom and online training, then take a certification test. Free training classes will begin in November, and the schedule is flexible with weekday, weekend and self-study course options. If you're not interested in preparing taxes but would still like to help, coaches and greeters are also needed.

Volunteering has provided amazing opportunities to connect with new people and learn new skills — but more importantly, I've been lucky enough to be part of someone else's happiness. Free tax preparation is an important boost for individuals and families who are working to improve their financial stability, and there's nothing like the relief on a person's face when he or she receives a tax refund or qualifies for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Filing your taxes correctly and on time means you can move on to more important things like saving money for college or a home. For some of our most vulnerable neighbors, it means not having to worry about how to pay the heating bill or next month's rent.

As we begin to face Alaska's fiscal challenges together, I hope more people will consider giving back. Free tax preparation is an important way we can help each other stay financially fit, making the strain of tight finances just a little less stressful. If you can make the time to give back, visit www.aarp.org/taxaide to sign up as a volunteer tax preparer, or email the United Way's Maureen Haggblom? at mhaggblom@ak.org for information about other volunteer roles. Visit www.FreeTaxPrepAnc.com to learn more.

Fair warning: Most volunteers become hooked and return year after year. But it's a great way to spend a cold, dark winter!

Kory Lindsey is an air traffic controller with the U.S. Air Force at JBER, and will be volunteering at the Anchorage Free Tax Prep Super Saturday events for the third time this year.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Kory Lindsey

Kory Lindsey is an Air Traffic Controller with the U.S. Air Force at JBER, and he says he'll be happily volunteering at the Anchorage Free Tax Prep Super Saturday events again this year.