Volunteers provide common "cents" during tax season

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
As April 15 fast approaches, many people rediscover why they view filing their taxes with a sense of dread.

Whether they're unfamiliar with the multitude of forms and publications or wonder why they're asked what is their non-farm income, tax season can be a time marked by confusion and anxiety.

But when people face economic uncertainty and unfamiliarity with evolving regulations and deductions like Form 1118, Schedule J: Adjustments to Separate Limitation Income (Loss) Categories for Determining Numerators of Limitation Fractions, Year-End Recharacterization Balances, and Overall Foreign Loss Account Balances, there is a place they can turn to put their reservations at ease.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program at the Hurlburt Field Tax Office has been helping Airmen, retirees, civilians and their families get through the complexities of the filing process at no cost.

Nearly 2,000 people have used VITA since the office opened mid-January, including Col. Greg Lengyel, 1st Special Operations Wing commander.

"This is my second year of having my taxes done here," Colonel Lengyel said. "The volunteers do such a great job, and I really appreciate the excellent service they provide to the base."

According to the IRS Web site, VITA provides free tax advice, tax preparation, return filing and other assistance to military members and their families, both stateside and deployed.

"We do our best to provide quality service to the customers who come here," said Wayne Smith, tax adviser and VITA site coordinator. "This a military benefit, and the money you would spend in fees somewhere else can instead be used for your family."

Mr. Smith has worked with VITA since 1998. While the deductions and tax rates can fluctuate each year, Mr. Smith said the flow of people to his office is more or less the same.

"You've got the first rush of people who try to get their taxes done and get their money back," Mr. Smith said. "Then you have the middle group who thinks, 'I'll get it done in time.' Finally, you have those who come in the last two weeks because they think they may end up owing money."

Mr. Smith not only sets appointments and processes packets, he ensures the more than 30 volunteers undergo training set by the Internal Revenue Service, whether they're brand new or returnees who have done it for many years.

"I've got a group of experienced people who know what to do, and it helps out a lot," Mr. Smith said. "If one person needs help on something, someone else steps up. We all learn from and rely on each other."

Tech Sgt. Mindy Marshall, 1st Special Operations Communications Squadron, began volunteering with VITA when she was an Airman.

"I got the chance to meet a lot of people and learn different things about why everyone was complaining about taxes," Sergeant Marshall said. "Then it became about helping people and being able to explain their taxes to them in an easy way. It's a nice thing to do."

So far, she's helped more than 70 people with their taxes this year. Although the April 15 deadline will bring this season to a close, Sergeant Marshall said she will volunteer again for her 10th tax year.

"It's big savings for the military community and a really good service," she said. "I've enjoyed it a lot and Mr. Smith does an awesome job running the office."

And with less than four weeks until Tax Day, the VITA office will continue to help people file their taxes on time.

"I like helping people," Mr. Smith said. "By helping them out with their taxes and maybe getting them a refund back, it's something I can do to help them be financially better."