From JAG Corps Public Affairs
More than 100 Navy tax assistance centers around the world are now open for business, ready to assist Sailors and their family members with filing their taxes.
Navy tax assistance centers provide Sailors, other active duty military personnel, dependent family members of active duty personnel, retirees and their dependents with adjusted gross incomes of less than $57,000, DoD civilians working overseas or deployed with the U.S. Armed Forces, and military reservists (in limited cases) free assistance with filing their taxes with support from IRS-trained volunteers.
The primary purpose of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance/Electronic Filing (VITA/ELF) Program is to ensure Sailors and their family members receive basic Federal and state tax assistance so they can focus on mission execution. This is provided at no cost as one of the current benefits afforded to the Navy legal communities’ clients. Navy tax assistance centers are located at Region Legal Service Offices (RLSOs), select Fleet and Family Support Centers, and select Fleet units located around the globe and afloat.
Last year, Navy tax assistance centers aided in the filing of more than 37,000 federal and state tax returns; saving service members and their family members more than $2.2 million in tax preparation fees, and expediting more than $20 million in tax refunds to individual customers. More than half of the customers consisted of enlisted Sailors in the paygrades E1-E6.
Following a successful transition to “self-service” assistance at CONUS RLSO tax centers last year, Naval Legal Service Command (NLSC) will expand self-service to RLSO tax centers overseas this year. Fleet units may continue to provide full-service tax assistance at their discretion.
The NLSC self-service program promotes financial accountability and teaches Sailors how to prepare their own taxes – an important and enduring life skill. Under the self-service program, Sailors and their families file their own tax returns using free tax filing software on computers established in Navy tax centers with the assistance of IRS-trained volunteers. Taxes are submitted electronically and refunds are deposited directly into a Sailor’s bank account on an average of two weeks from the date of transmission.
Sailors using a Navy tax assistance center will save money. Commercial tax preparation companies charge, on average, more than $170 for a typical electronically-filed return. There is no charge for VITA/self-service tax preparation. Additionally, access to free and quick tax filing at Navy tax centers provides an important money-saving alternative to costly “refund anticipation loans” offered by many commercial tax-preparation companies.
Using a tax assistance center also reduces errors. Navy tax center volunteers are trained and certified by the IRS to file taxes and are knowledgeable on military-specific tax issues.
The tax filing deadline is April 15, 2013, and Navy tax assistance centers in the U.S. will be open through this date to assist customers. Sailors assigned overseas automatically receive a two-month extension to file their taxes, and overseas tax centers will remain open through that date to assist customers. Sailors deployed to a combat zone or serving as part of a contingency operation automatically receive a 180 day extension to file their taxes from the date of their return. These personnel may contact the closest RLSO for tax assistance.
Customers seeking to file returns ‘married filing jointly’ and seeking to file those returns electronically must be accompanied by their spouse to the Navy tax center. If the spouse cannot be present, the customer must provide a valid power-of-attorney from the spouse authorizing the customer to sign tax forms for the spouse. Sailors deployed to a combat zone seeking to file ‘married filing jointly’ may do so without the power-of-attorney, but a signed statement from the spouse acknowledging the combat zone status of the Sailor must be attached to the return.
Sailors and their dependents who are not assigned near a Navy tax center may access Military One Source online to utilize free tax preparation software.