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Article Published June 26, 2019
Deb DeFelice: By the Numbers
Nathan Hughart

Deb DeFelice didn’t have much accounting experience when she agreed to give free tax help at the Hagaman Memorial Library.

In fact, many of those who volunteer with the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program aren’t tax professionals. They came simply because they wanted a way to help out.

“You come in with all your tax documents and we’ll do everything we can to get you the best value,” she says.

“One of my first volunteers, she had just lost her husband,” Deb says. “Her family was so proud of her.”

Deb joined the program after she had retired from Southern New England Telephone (SNET). A North Branford resident, Deb started doing some part time paraprofessional work at the local middle school following her retirement.

She did have a two-year accounting degree, so when her husband Mark, a certified professional accountant (CPA), needed help one tax season, Deb helped out, giving her the confidence she needed to step into a vacated role with the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program.

“Two days a week I’m in charge [of the AARP program] and in the other days of the week I’m in the back room with your envelope…doing your taxes,” she says. “Everyone just thinks their CPA is really doing their taxes, but there’s always someone in the back.”

The combination of retirement and confidence encouraged her to help others.

“I realized that I could offer something because these people needed a service and now I had this new skill. I had all this time on my hands,” Deb says. “It would be a great way for me to give something back.”

Volunteers do get a month of training with the program that they use to file tax returns.

“Anybody could do taxes with our training,” she says. “What I would say is you can’t do it if you’re not comfortable with computers.”

Still, Deb realized she wanted to go back to school, so she started taking every accounting class she could find online at Southern Connecticut State University, even those that wouldn’t count toward her degree. She has since moved her focus to general studies, taking classes of interest to her, but the degree is still important.

“I’m working on my hundred-year degree,” Deb says. “Before I die, I want that degree.”

When considering retirement options in the future, Deb says it’s important to her to find a place where she can continue to help with the Tax-Aide program as it is available nationwide.

“I don’t plan to give that up,” she says. “It can be done everywhere.”

Though it is an AARP program, Deb says it’s not restricted to seniors.

“We don’t restrict that so we do get some single parents and some young couples that have a couple kids,” Deb says. “It’s basically for anybody that really can’t afford to pay for their taxes to be done.”

The group helps people who have trouble putting together their own tax returns for any reason.

“People come in with macular degeneration or they can’t write well and we help them with that,” she says.

In general, Deb says, they won’t turn anyone away, though they’re not capable of handling some tax situations like complicated business tax returns, rental properties, and stock trading.

As the local coordinator for the program at Hagaman Memorial Library, Deb is responsible for managing a group of other counselors who go over people’s taxes.

“What I try to tell everybody is we’re a team,” she says. “We’re not in a competition, trying to see how many…returns people can do in-house.”

This past tax season, Deb had seven counselors taking appointments from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was her 12th year as the local coordinator.

They’ve had to deal with all kinds of tax situations from the deaths of spouses to questions of identity from the IRS. They’ve also had some people come in who hadn’t filed their returns in several years. Still, they were able to get them caught up.

“We’ll stick with you and always try to work out the problems,” Deb says.

For the 2018 tax season, Deb and her counselors helped 399 people file their tax returns.

Even after tax season, Deb keeps a laptop and a printer from the program so that she can help people who have worked with the program and may be having more trouble with the IRS.

“I’ve even helped, on the IRS side, people who got a letter and hadn’t gotten their taxes done with me,” she says. “We really try to cover all the bases with people.”

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