SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - Junior enlisted personnel are encouraged to take advantage of a tax preparation assistance program that not only shortens the time in which they receive their refunds, but saves them from having to pay for an outside service.

The Tax Center, here, will open exclusively to Soldiers within the ranks of E-1 to E-4, Jan. 20-22, offering them free assistance in organizing and completing their 2009 income tax forms.

Filers will be able to take advantage of the service on a walk-in basis between 8 a.m.-6 p.m., each day, with up to 14 tax specialists on hand to field questions and help prepare necessary paperwork.

In catering to junior enlisted personnel through this new program, center officials hope to encourage use of the center.

"These Soldiers are the ones with the simplest returns, and it's silly for them to have to be paying for this service outside when they can get it here for free," explained Monica Ojeda, the center's officer in charge.

"Every dollar counts," she continued, "and these Soldiers, who have a lower wage, need every dollar they can get."

As an added incentive, Ojeda said that those who file their taxes through the new program will likely receive their refunds sooner. In the past, the government would usually take about six weeks' time to refund checks, but thanks to e-file and direct deposit, that time has, in many instances, been cut in, at least, half.

"The W-2 forms come out Jan. 20," Ojeda said, "so if they file with us on that day, for example, they should be able to get their money back within a week."

Those interested in using the service should come prepared and armed with necessary documents, she added. Aside from their W-2 forms, filers should also bring their military identification cards, Social Security cards for family members, last year's tax returns, and any other documentation, including receipts and canceled checks, which support an item of income or a deduction Soldiers plan on claiming on their return.

What patrons should not take to the center, however, are their children, as both the waiting period and time spent with a tax specialist could last about two hours.

"If you have little kids, this may not be the best place to bring them because they're going to be bored just waiting around," Ojeda said.

While she wouldn't predict how many Soldiers might take advantage of the new service, Ojeda revealed that she's secretly hoping for "a mad rush" over the three-day period.

"We're excited about being able to reach out to these Soldiers, specifically because they're probably the ones (who) will feel the greatest impact by saving that tax preparation fee," she said.

"And if they take advantage of this service, maybe we can keep doing this program."

The center, which provides free tax preparation services to approximately 65,000 active duty Soldiers and their family members, reservists and retirees each year, opens its doors to the general public, Jan. 25, and remains open until the end of April.

Customers will be able to take advantage of a new 1040EZ station, which Ojeda said will be reserved for those patrons filing "simple tax returns."

<b><i>Stationed in Hawaii and have a tax question' Call 808-655-1040.</i></b>

Page last updated Fri January 15th, 2010 at 18:43