By Sarah Pacheco, Hawaii Army Weekly, U.S. Army Garrison-HawaiiFebruary 10, 2014
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (Feb. 7, 2014) -- Benjamin Franklin once said, "The only things certain in life are death and taxes," and now that we're already a week into February, rest assured, the dreaded April 15 deadline for tax returns will be here before you know it.
To help Soldiers, retirees and spouses navigate the 2014 tax season with minimum stress, the Schofield Barracks Tax Center officially opened for business, Jan. 31, at its new location on Grimes Street, across from the Soldier Support Center and Hamilton Field, here.
Currently, the center is available only to single E1-E4 Soldiers on a walk-in basis, through Feb. 14. As of Feb. 17, the center will be open, by appointment only, to all active duty service members, retirees and their dependents.
"The tax center is open to everyone who qualifies for Army legal assistance," said Capt. Anthony Contrada, attorney, Legal Assistance Office, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, 25th Infantry Division, who also is officer in charge of the tax center.
"If someone's not sure if they qualify, they can call us, or they can go online to www.garrison.hawaii.army.mil/legal," Contrada added.
Volunteer Soldiers from units throughout U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii make up the tax center staff and are on hand to assist clients with filing current-year tax returns, amendments and e-filing. These Soldiers underwent more than three weeks of training with materials provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) leading up to the center?'s opening.
"Our Soldiers come from units all over the island, and every Soldier who does tax returns here has been certified on various levels of IRS tax preparation within the IRS learning program," Contrada said.
"We have everyone from infantry guys, to mechanics, to MEDCOM people, all walks of life," added Gisella Parent, a civilian attorney with the Legal Assistance Office.
"You never know what the makeup of the group is going to be like when they're coming from all different units and from all different areas of expertise, but we've been so impressed with the level of focus and the hard work they've put in," Parent said. "They all were certified so much faster than we anticipated, and as a group, we're really confident that they're going to provide an exceptional level of service throughout the tax season."
"I?'m ready to get started and put this to use," said Spc. Trevor Miller, a truck driver with 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Avn. Brigade, 25th ID. "I'm actually getting out of the Army soon, so this broadens my horizons, as far as non-military training."
"I definitely feel like the training is useful for now and for later," agreed Spc. Joseph Quemado, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the 706th EOD Company, 303rd EOD Bn., 45th Sustainment Brigade, 8th Theater Sust. Command. "At first, this was more of a 'volun-told' experience, but as it went on and we learned more and more things, I realized this is going to be a life skill, so it's one of those things that you're glad someone 'volun-told' you for.
"I'm going to volunteer next year just to recap on the learning and let it sink in," Quemado added.
While the tax center is run by the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps, with help by USAG-HI, Contrada stresses that Soldiers are the ones responsible for preparing the tax returns, which offers its own set of pros and cons.
"Because everyone who works here is a Soldier, we understand specific needs that military families might have, and we do extra specific training on military members' and families' tax preparation, because there are some specific areas of the tax code that only apply to military people," said Contrada.
"However, we are limited in that we cannot help people handle disputes that they might have with the IRS, and this year we are not equipped to do previous-year returns," he added. "They're not attorneys, but they're trained to do tax preparation by the Army and by the IRS. They are providing a tax service and not a legal service."
"This isn?'t a place to come for legal advice on taxes; it's really for filing," Parent stated."It's really not that much different than an H&R Block, except that it's free of charge."
The IRS began accepting filings Jan. 31 and tax center phone lines are open for appointments.
"We anticipate appointments are going to fill up quickly," Parent said.
Contrada advised those using this free service to be prepared by having the following on hand:
•Social Security Card, or proof of identification from the Social Security Administration;
•Statements with any type of income earned during 2013; and
•Previous-year tax returns, if possible.
"Keep all the forms that are sent to you, and if you own your own business and have a bunch of expenses, you need to record it," Quemado said. "Keep accurate logs throughout the year, because if you don't have the information to give to us, we can't file everything properly, and it's not going to be correct with the IRS."
"And do a little self-research," Miller added. "Everyone's situation is different, and you could know something better about yourself than we would. Plus, it also prepares yourself better for the next time you do your taxes."