FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- For some, a new year brings about one of the most dreaded times of the year -- tax season. But the Fort Rucker Tax Center will do its part to take away that dread to make it easy for Soldiers and families to get their taxes out of the way.

The tax center, located in Bldg. 5700, Rm. 371F, will hold a grand opening ceremony Feb. 2, but will officially open its doors for business Feb. 5. The center began accepting appointments today -- offering its free help with returns and electronic filing for authorized patrons Mondays-Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through April 17, said Tod Clayton, volunteer income tax assistant coordinator at the tax center.

The center, which offers its free services to military, family members and retirees, is designed to make people's lives a little easier by saving them money, he said. People must have a valid military ID and be sure to bring in last 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," said Clayton. "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, and these days, everybody needs help saving a little money."

Last year, thousands of returns were filed through the tax center, and both federal and state returns can be handled at the tax center at no charge, added the tax coordinator.

Clayton said that people should use a professional when filing taxes because they may miss some credits or deductions that they might be entitled to, adding that those at the tax center are all specially trained to deal with military personnel.

The tax center also offers their 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.

"Some people have gambling winnings or unemployment that they've received throughout the year, and those are things that need to be filed and sometimes people don't realize that," said the tax coordinator. "If they're in doubt about something, just bring it to us and ask questions."

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, which 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.

"Every tax situation is different and we look at each individual tax situation separately," he said. "If people feel they can do it themselves, that's fine, but there is no harm in coming by and having us take a look, especially since it's free."

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