By L.A. ShivelyJanuary 22, 2010
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- The Fort Sam Houston Military Tax Assistance Center opened Jan. 19 offering Soldiers and Families help with filing income taxes.
Though tax law has become more complicated, trained volunteers will help service members reconnoiter through the forest of regulations and forms, making the process easier to understand and less stressful.
"Number one, it's free," said Brian Novak, a legal assistance attorney with the U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School and FSH Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. Novak is director emeritus for the tax center and has been involved with military tax preparation for more than four years.
Novak said the tax center will also help Soldiers receive refunds quickly - in seven to 10 days with electronic filing - and that volunteers are trained and certified to assist with military-specific returns.
"A lot of issues with the military include tax breaks for those deployed or in a combat zone that an off-post preparer might not know about," said Capt. Jody Hurst, officer in charge of the tax center.
Preparers at the tax center train and test for 10 days in order to certify under the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Only certified VITA tax-preparer volunteers may assist taxpayers prepare and e-file their taxes according to the VITA Web site.
Annual certification is required even if a volunteer is a tax professional and returns prepared by VITA volunteers are considered self-prepared by the taxpayer for Internal Revenue Service purposes.
"I loved what I did - I found my niche," said Sgt. Jennilyn Bruce, one of the 25 volunteer preparers. Bruce prepared more than 300 returns and was named Most Valuable Tax Preparer last year, so she decided to assist again this year.
She said she delights in the looks on many of her clients' faces when they discover how much they can receive in refunds. Her training helped her learn IRS Publication 17, "Your Federal Income Tax" inside and out and also helped with her personal returns.
"There's lots of stuff I didn't know I could deduct."
Last year, the tax center prepared and submitted more than 4,400 returns, saved $440,000 in fees and allowed military members to receive more than $7.5 million in refunds Novak said, adding he expects an increase in returns this year.
The tax center is also reaching out to service members not able to come to the tax center.
"We help deployed [members], have a site geared toward wounded warriors at Brooke Army Medical Center and trained a volunteer who is now deployed to Haiti," Novak said. "We've even taken information over the phone."
"This tax center helps Soldiers focus on mission and Family and not worry about getting income taxes done," said Garrison Commander Col. Mary Garr just before she cut the ribbon, opening the center for business.