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Station volunteers assist Marines, families with taxes

By Sgt. M. Trent Lowry | | February 13, 2003

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The station tax center is ready to weather the storm that comes during this season   tax season  handling the income tax needs of station personnel beyond the Internal Revenue Service's April 15 deadline.

To help station Marines, sailors and family members with what can sometimes seem to be a daunting task, a cadre of volunteers are staffing the station tax center. The volunteer income tax assistance representatives elicit a great deal of personal satisfaction in knowing they are doing something to help servicemembers, and, especially now, their families, according to Lt. Col. Paul Boughman, joint law center director.

In the six weeks since the tax center first completed a customer's return Jan. 6, VITA representatives have filed more than 400 returns. That number, according to Boughman, is on a par with the number of tax return assistance station VITA reps completed in the same time frame in 2002.

"The number of people coming in that we're doing tax preparations for hasn't slowed down even with all the deployments," Boughman said. "Because of all the powers of attorney completed before Marines left, giving their spouses the responsibility of getting the families' taxes done, we're still pretty doggone busy."

Handling the tax season becomes easier when the tax center personnel are enthusiastic about the service they are providing.

"I just like helping Marines and their families and saving them money and making sure their returns are done right," said Joan-Marie Johnson, tax center director. "We're working with the wives and helping them. We're trying to teach them as much as we can about budgets and finances."

One of the smartest budget moves for Marines and their families is to use the tax center and the VITA reps, since the service is provided at no charge.

"I've been coming to the tax center as long as it's been available," said Gunnery Sgt. Anne Muldowney, a VITA rep. "It's stupid to pay someone else when the Marine Corps will do it for you for no cost."

"The bottom line is that this is a good deal all around for every Marine," Boughman said.

In fact, not only does it not cost the tax center customers to file their income tax returns, but factoring in the costs of filing different types of returns with civilian tax preparation companies, Johnson said that the tax center saves the average Marine $121.

The other benefit of utilizing the tax center's services is the accuracy of the tax preparation.

"Our preparers are as well-trained or better trained than any commercial preparer," said Maj. Charles Hale, joint law center deputy director. "Many of our VITA reps are returnees (from previous years). They enjoy doing taxes; this is one of those niches they've found that they enjoy."

"We already know the military and we already know what to look for," Johnson said. "The customer isn't giving their (financial records) to someone else, and we show them how to do it themselves," Johnson said as she sat by the side of a customer at her work station, guiding her along the process.

Though the tax center personnel can't predict how many customers they'll assist during the regular tax season, they predict that there will be something of a second "season" for tax returns, since many of the Marines who are deployed will file their returns during the 180-day window they will have upon their return from overseas.

Boughman and Hale want to give thanks to the volunteer preparers, and acknowledge that the tax center's success is dependent on a team effort that has also included the station information technology section, which has given quick, quality service in assuring the tax center continually has the computer tools to help.

Tax center personnel suggest that servicemembers, family members and retirees call ahead for an appointment, since the VITA reps may not be able to see customers on a walk-in basis, dependent on how many other customers are in need of assistance and what type of form the individual intends to file. The tax center phone number is 269-3277.

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