By DoD News
There are more than 100 Navy Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Centers around the world now open for business, ready to assist Sailors and their family members with their taxes.
The VITA program provides Sailors, retirees and their dependent family members, as well as Reservists in limited cases and DoD civilians overseas or deployed with the U.S. Armed Forces, the ability to get help with their taxes, and to have their returns prepared for free by IRS-trained volunteers.
This year, there are seven new VITA tax assistance centers: USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), USS Enterprise (CVN 65), USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), USS Stout (DDG 55), Navy Riverine Squadron 3, Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal Expeditionary Support Unit 2 and Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 106.
Lt. Janelle Kuroda, Navy VITA/Electronic Filing (ELF) program manager, said the program helps Sailors and is an integral part of their legal readiness and quality of life.
“The purpose of this program is to help out Sailors primarily junior enlisted Sailors and their dependents by providing a means for them to get their taxes done without having to pay for services at commercial tax preparation companies,” Kuroda. “These companies charge more than $170 for the average electronically-filed return. Many companies will also try to talk Sailors into getting a short-term, high-interest loan that they don’t need. Sailors should also be aware that some companies this tax season, are offering ‘free’ walk-in tax preparation that really ends up being a sales pitch for their other paid services.
“Navy VITA centers are a terrific resource for Sailors to get free assistance with their taxes almost anywhere around the globe and afloat. Sailors who electronically file their taxes at our VITA centers can expect to receive their refund within 8-15 days,” said Kuroda.
Kuroda recently assisted the crew of the USS Higgin (DDG 76), currently on a six- month deployment in the Western Pacific, by contacting the VITA center in Guam.
“Lt. Craig Thedwall, Officer-in-Charge of the tax assistance center at Naval Legal Service Office Pacific: Detachment Guam, is a perfect example of the outstanding service our VITA sites offer to deploying assets.” Kuroda continued, “He went above and beyond the traditional assistance normally provided by the tax centers and coordinated free shuttle service from the Higgins to the center and back, in order to make the most of the ship’s limited time in port.”
During the 2010 income tax season, Navy volunteers with the VITA/ELF program filed more than 61,000 federal and state tax returns, saving service members and their family members more than $7 million in commercial tax preparation fees. These filings resulted in more than $81 million in federal income tax refunds.
Individuals who would like to have their taxes prepared at a VITA office are asked to bring valid photo identification; W-2 forms for all jobs held by family members; correct social security numbers and dates of birth for all family members; employer ID numbers for child care providers; bank and routing numbers; child care and education expense statements; any other tax forms received; and a copy of last year’s return.
Kuroda said customers filing joint tax returns will need both signatures to submit the forms to the IRS.
“If your filing status is ‘married filing jointly’ and you wish you file your tax return electronically, both you and your spouse should be present to sign the required forms,” Kuroda said. “If your spouse cannot be present, you will need a valid power of attorney for tax preparation.”
Kuroda said the exception to this rule is for spouses in combat zones. In those cases, the filing spouse may electronically file a joint return with only a written statement setting forth that the other spouse is in a combat zone and is unable to sign.
This year, there are significant tax law changes that will affect many individuals, Kuroda said.
“Recent tax law changes enacted by Congress mean that the IRS needs time to update forms and tax software,” said Kuroda. “This delay impacts taxpayers who itemize their deductions on ‘Schedule A,’ including mortgage interest, charitable deductions, medical and dental expenses, as well as state and local taxes,” said Kuroda. “This also affects taxpayers who claim the Higher Education Tuition and Fees Deduction, a deduction for parents and students that covers up to $4,000 of tuition and fees to a post-secondary institution. However, the delay does not impact taxpayers who claim other education credits such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit.
“The final group of taxpayers that must wait to file are those who claim the Educator Expense Deduction, for kindergarten through grade 12 educators with out-of-pocket classroom expenses of up to $250.” said Kuroda.
She said VITA sites are aware of these delays. The IRS plans on processing these returns on Feb. 14. Taxpayers may also visit IRS Web site for the latest information.
Alternatively, individuals may also file their taxes for free online, through Military One Source.