It's time for another of life's certainties: taxes.
In preparation for tax season, Fort Meade will reopen the Tax Assistance Center from Jan. 25 through April 15 to assist active-duty service members and their families, military retirees and any Reservist or National Guardsman who has spent at least 30 days on active duty prior to arriving at the center.
Trained aides can assist people in completing both federal and state personal income and business tax returns at no cost.
"For most Soldiers, it's just going to be a 1040 EZ, and can be done in a half hour to 40 minutes," said Capt. Antonio Pataca, commander of the center. "Most people will be in and out within a half hour."
Legislation from last year makes this year's tax season slightly more complicated for filers, as service members may be able to claim the first-time home buyers' tax credit or gain benefits under the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act.
"Knowing what you're eligible for is going to be a little bit more difficult this year," Pataca said. "We're a good resource for that information."
Fort Meade's Tax Assistance Center will be based in Room 140 of the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at 4217 Roberts Ave. Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas, alongside Lt. Col. Michael Black, commander of Fort Meade's JAG, and Pataca are scheduled to cut the ribbon at the opening day ceremony.
While the center is being held at the same site as in previous years, 2010 marks a new start for the center. The facility has been renovated with additional partitions between each station.
"Each office is enclosed so there is more confidentiality," Pataca said.
About 15 service members, volunteers and DoD civilians will undergo multiple exams and about six hours of training to aid filers.
Demand seems to be rising for services, with the center filing about 2,000 returns last year, up from around 1,300 in 2007. Last year, the center obtained refunds totaling around $2.2 million and saved the military community $358,000 in filing fees, Pataca said.
For active-duty service members, the center stands as a useful and free alternative to businesses that charge for processing tax returns or offer loans on expected tax refunds, Pataca said.
Service members and their family members are encouraged by the tax center to use its free resources. If they decide against using the center, they should closely examine outside tax preparation services, Pataca said.
While some states may regulate tax preparers, under existing federal law, anyone can prepare a federal tax return and charge a fee.
Some businesses advertise "fast cash" or "express refund" during tax season to lure potential customers to file taxes and get money in the form of a refund anticipation loan. The RAL is a high-interest rate, short-term loan secured by a taxpayer's expected tax refund.
The annual interest rate can range in the triple digits, according to a study by the National Consumer Law Center.
"A lot of these places charge ridiculous fees," Pataca said. "[Tax preparation pitfalls are] an issue that the JAG office has been trying to educate the public on."
The virtually unregulated market of tax return preparers led the Internal Revenue Service to announce Monday sweeping changes to its oversight of tax preparers.
The agency will require all paid tax return preparers who sign a federal tax return to register with the IRS and obtain an identification number. The IRS will also begin to hold all tax preparers to the same ethical rules it requires of attorneys and certified public accountants.
In addition, the agency will require tax preparers who are not attorneys or CPAs to pass competency tests and undergo continuing professional education.
Although most of these changes will take years to implement, the IRS has taken some actions to monitor the tax preparer market this year. The agency has sent out about 10,000 letters to preparers, reminding them of the importance of filling accurate returns, according to an IRS news release.
The Tax Assistance Center will be open Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Appointments are required and can be scheduled starting Jan. 20 by calling the center at 301-677-9762.
The Fort Meade community can visit the Web site, irs.gov, for up-to-date tax information. Service members can also get help at DoD-sponsored militaryonesource.com, which offers tax articles, and will provide free online tax filing software and tax consultation by phone starting Jan. 18.

Needed tax documents

Bring the following forms when visiting the Fort Meade Tax Assistance Center in Room 140 of the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at 4217 Roberts Ave.
* Last year's federal income tax return
* W-2 (wages and earnings statement)
* Form 1099 (interest statements)
* Social Security card for all dependents you are claiming on this year's tax return. Nonresident aliens who do not have and cannot obtain a Social Security number must apply for an individual taxpayer identification number.
* Information on child care expenses paid last year
* Information on individual retirement arrangements if you did or plan to contribute
* Mortgage interest statement
* Alimony information (copy of divorce or separation agreement)
* Original power of attorney appointing the spouse (or other family member) the authority to file in service member's absence
* A voided check with routing number for direct deposit of any return
* Any other financial information from the tax year (such as investment statements, rental reports, medical expenses, charitable contribution records)

This article is the first in a series examining tax-related issues. If you are interested in seeing an issue addressed by post tax professionals in this column, call Capt. Antonio J. Pataca, Legal Assistance attorney, at 301-677-9536 or Soundoff! at 301-677-6806.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16