With the new year comes a new tax season and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance/Electronic Filing (VITA/ELF) program is in place to ensure that service members and their dependents get the support they need to file correctly and on time.
“The primary purpose of the Navy VITA/ELF program is to ensure that Sailors and their dependents receive basic Federal and state tax assistance at no cost, so they can focus on mission execution and spare themselves the cost of expensive commercial tax-filing services,” said Lt. Audrey Koecher, Navy VITA/ELF Program Manager at Naval Support Activity Washington. “Navy tax assistance centers are located at Region Legal Service Offices, select Fleet and Family Support Centers, and select Fleet units located around the globe and afloat.”
Koecher explained that the VITA/ELF program provides free tax-filing assistance to active duty service members and their dependents, retirees and their dependents with adjusted gross incomes of less than $57,000, DoD civilians overseas or deployed with the U.S. Armed Forces, and - in limited cases -military reservists.
Navy tax assistance centers aided in the filing of over 37,000 federal and state tax returns in 2012, saving service members and their dependents more than $2.2 million in commercial tax preparation fees, and expediting over $20 million in tax refunds to individual customers. More than half of the customers consisted of enlisted Sailors in the pay grades E1-E6. Koecher said that following the successful stateside transition to self-service assistance at region legal service offices tax centers last year, Naval Legal Service Command (NLSC) will expand self-service assistance to E-7 and above customers at RLSO tax centers overseas this year.
According to Koecher, the NLSC self-service program promotes financial accountability and teaches Sailors how to prepare their own taxes, a skill they can use throughout their careers.
“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,” Said Koecher. “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.”
Koecher said that in addition to learning how to file their own taxes, personnel who use the VITA/ELF program will usually end up saving money by filing themselves instead of going to a tax preparation company.
“Commercial tax preparation companies charge, on average, more than $170 for a typical electronically-filed return,” said Koecher. “There is no charge for VITA/self-service tax preparation. Additionally, access to free and quick tax filing at Navy tax centers should reduce the attractiveness of costly ‘refund anticipation loans’ offered by many commercial tax-preparation companies. Using a Navy tax assistance center will also reduce errors. Navy tax assistance center volunteers are trained and certified by the IRS to file taxes and are knowledgeable on military-specific tax issues.”
Before going to a command’s VITA/ELF office, Koecher advised personnel to bring the following items to ensure proper and thorough tax filing:
- Social Security Cards for all family members and spouses
- W-2s, 1099s, 1098s, and other tax forms
- Bank account/routing information for direct deposit of refunds
- Applicable receipts for Schedule A and adjustment items
- If filing in the status of “Married Filing Jointly,” both taxpayers must be present to sign the return or present a signed power of attorney for taxes.
Koecher said that bringing records of the previous year’s taxes are not required, but are usually helpful in filing.