FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The Fort Rucker Tax Center is open for business, and a staff of fully trained preparers stands at the ready to help ease the burdens of tax season for Soldiers, families and retirees.

Located in Bldg. 5700, Rm. 371F, the center held its grand opening Jan. 27 to begin offering its free service to help alleviate stress and save people money, said Tod Clayton, volunteer income tax assistant coordinator at the tax center.

"Today is important because this is an opportunity for Fort Rucker to serve our Soldiers, our families and our retirees," said Col. Shannon T. Miller, Fort Rucker garrison commander, during the ribbon cutting ceremony. "I experienced this (service) just last year and I'd say it's phenomenal."

Miller said the tax center is unique in that it provides an opportunity to put money back into the pockets of Soldiers, families and retirees.

"Soldiers can get frustrated having to deal with having to make time for (taxes) and these folks here are worth their weight in gold because they make it easy for us -- we don't have to worry about it," said the garrison commander.

Last year, the tax center prepared and filed more than 2,400 federal and state returns, saving Soldiers, families and retirees nearly $445,000 in tax preparation fees. Additionally, the refunds people received amounted to more than $3 million, and Miller said she hopes to see the center surpass that this year.

"They've assembled a great team here that I know is going to provide that excellent service to our community -- thank you all for what you're about to do for us," she said.

The tax center is open Mondays-Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through April 15, and people should make an appointment to use the service, which also offers free electronic filing for Soldiers, family members and retirees.

People must have a valid military ID and bring in their previous year's tax returns to take advantage of the services provided at the tax center, and Soldiers on Reserve status must be on Title-10 orders and bring their call-to-active duty orders in order to use the center.

"This is a free service and people need to take advantage of it," Clayton said. "The average return typically costs between $75-150, depending on the forms that they use. It can get costly, and they don't tell you that it costs extra to do the state return. These days, everybody needs help saving a little money."

The tax center also offers a drop-off service, which allows single Soldiers to come in and drop off their income tax paperwork, and return in 48 hours to go over their complete return with a tax representative, said Clayton. Soldiers must return between the hours of 9-11 a.m., Mondays-Fridays for their returns.

"We don't need a full one-hour appointment to do most single Soldiers' tax returns, so this frees up a lot of time for us to serve as many people as we can," he said.

Single Soldiers who wish to utilize the drop-off service must have a simple return with no more than two W-2 forms. For more information on drop-off services, call 255-2937 or 255-2938.

When visiting the tax center, people should remember to bring all tax forms, including all valid military ID cards; Social Security cards; all W-2s and wage and earning statements; 1099-R for pensions and retirements; 1098 for interest statements regarding tuitions, student loans, mortgages, etc.; a copy of the previous year's return if available; power of attorney papers if available; 1099-G forms for gambling winnings, unemployment compensations, etc.; and 1099-MISC for payments received for non-employment compensation.

People should also bring their bank routing numbers, as well as their account numbers if they wish to have their returns deposited directly into their bank accounts. That information can be found on a check tied to the specific account they wish to use.

Although the tax center is an invaluable resource to people on the installation, the facility is limited in the services it can provide. The center can't provide services for businesses or for those with more than one rental property, but most simple tax returns shouldn't be a problem, said Clayton.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 255-2937 or 255-2938.