Military Receives Free Tax Preparation at VITA Locations
Free, in-person tax preparation services are available now for active duty members, retirees and dependents, according to Army Lt. Col. David Dulaney, the executive director of the Armed Forces Tax Council.
"It's a wonderful program, because it's us taking care of us," Dulaney said about the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, services. The Armed Forces Tax Council oversees the program.
The Defense Department and the IRS are working together and providing the VITA services at military installations throughout the United States and world, he said.
Preparers Trained for Complex Tax Situations
Taxes for military members are complicated, Dulaney pointed out, noting frequent moves and deployments and the fact that tax laws change every year.
The VITA preparers receive extensive training through the Defense Department and the IRS on the situations faced in the military community, such as combat zone tax benefits, extensions to file and pay, and special rules for the earned income tax credit, he said.
"I really encourage members to go into the VITA centers within the Department of Defense, because we understand their tax situation better than what the commercial sector would," Dulaney said.
Many of the preparers are junior uniformed personnel, he said, adding their sole focus is to help the service member.
"We want to work with taxpayers to make sure they get every deduction and every credit that they are eligible for, so we can reduce their tax liability,” he said, “because no taxpayer should have to pay more than what they owe to the government for their taxes.”
Saving Hard-Earned Money
The VITA preparers can file federal and state returns. Each return is reviewed by an expert overseer before being submitted, Dulaney explained.
Further, the preparers can review tax returns that were done elsewhere, and are able to examine returns from previous years and file amendments, he said.
Most of all, the VITA services save members, retirees and their families hard-earned money, he said. "You don't have to pay a dime to get this," he said. "You just have to bring in your tax documents and let the preparers prepare your tax return for you."
The deadline to file this year is April 17, because the traditional tax-filing deadline of April 15 falls on a Sunday and April 16 is the Emancipation Day holiday in the District of Columbia.
Military members serving outside the United States get an automatic two-month extension, giving them until June 15 to file, Dulaney explained. Taxpayers can request further extensions, up to Oct. 15, to file.
Dulaney reminds military members that those extensions pertain to filing tax paperwork, and are not extensions on paying money owed to the IRS.
Serving Those Who Serve
Active duty members are eligible for VITA, as well as retirees and their dependents and reserve component members on active duty, Dulaney said. In addition, DoD civilians overseas and some defense contractors overseas are eligible, he said.
The VITA program works closely with Military OneSource, a DoD program that provides a host of services to the military community, including free, online tax preparation software. Military OneSource lists VITA locations on its website.
The bottom line, Dulaney said, is to serve those who serve.
"If you're focused on trying to get your taxes figured out and filed, you're not focused on mission or taking care of your family," Dulaney said. "We want to take that burden from you so you can get back to the mission and get back to the time with your family."
Users can save an average of $250 in taking advantage of the VITA resources instead of paying for comparable services in the commercial market, he said.
"Everywhere I've gone, I try to spread the word that this is free," Dulaney said. "Unless we tell our young members about this free service that is available to them, they'll never know about it."
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)