CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait -- Navigating tax season, and finances in general, can be confusing to the untrained. That's why 29th Infantry Division Soldiers are helping their brothers-and-sisters-in-arms to focus on their mission here by providing free tax preparation services. The Camp Arifjan tax center offers free tax preparation services to all eligible service members, retirees, Department of Defense civilians, and family members from February through May 2017.
Some of the tax preparation Soldiers are financial management specialists, but many are specially trained volunteers from other career fields ranging from computer science to combat arms. Specialist Renee Mowry, a wireless internet network technology specialist with the Virginia Army National Guard 29th Infantry Division, provides free tax preparation and filing assistance.
"I help about eight customers per day, but that's starting to increase. I gather all their documents into an intake packet and review it before preparing and filing for free instead of having to go somewhere and pay for them. Two additional people review the return before it's submitted," said Mowry.
Tax preparers go through two weeks of training covering tax credits, health care coverage, forms and filing, and military specific issues before taking a volunteer tax preparer certification test. The Soldiers need to be able to prepare a sample tax return for each client before they even begin entering data electronically. All paperwork is gathered into an intake packet that accompanies the return through every stage of the process. A senior non-commissioned officer and a certified public accountant review all returns before they are filed.
While taxes are important, the financial specialists also use the time with their new clients to highlight the financial benefits of deployed life. Specifically, these are the Thrift Savings Plan, the Savings Deposit Program, the tax-free income generated from deployment life, and basic frugality.
According to Mowry, most Soldiers who receive a tax refund use it to pay off credit card bills and debt payments, part of a financial strategy called "the debt snowball," but some Soldiers just can't resist the lure of a new car back home. Education about available investment options goes a long way to long-term financial security.
"Not a lot of people know about the SDP," said Pvt. 1st Class Eden Weisz, a financial management specialist with the North Carolina Army National Guard 130th Financial Management Services Unit, "It's amazing." The SDP is a temporary benefit for Soldiers to save while they're overseas. It starts after 30 consecutive days in country. If they'll save $10,000 can get $1,000 back in interest. Interest accrues on a quarterly basis at a rate of 10 percent. There's 90 days of additional growth after you return, so you're still accruing interest while you're home…and the money goes right back into your bank account before the 120 day mark after coming back."
That education pays off in the long run.
"A brand new E-3 started saving when he joined Basic Combat Training and kept saving 30-40% of every check which is very good. He came in here with $15-16,000 in the Thrift Savings Plan" said Weisz.