Volunteer Income Tax Assistance centers in the Pacific are staffed with volunteers who have been trained by the IRS in taxs issues specific to troops and their families.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance centers in the Pacific are staffed with volunteers who have been trained by the IRS in taxs issues specific to troops and their families. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — It’s that nail-biting, pencil-chewing time again: time to square accounts with Uncle Sam for another year.

But tax season doesn’t have to be a hair-pulling chore. Military bases throughout the Pacific — Guam, Okinawa, Japan and South Korea — host tax centers meant to ease the task of filing federal taxes for servicemembers, their families, retirees and some civilian workers.

And the great thing about the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance centers is that the service is free.

In 2004, 11,000 returns were filed at the Camp Foster VITA center alone, which provided customers more than $1 million worth of services, said Marine Capt. Curtis Allen, officer in charge of the center.

“We had about 50 volunteers from the different units here go through training provided by Internal Revenue Service representatives,” Allen said recently, while preparing to open his office in the camp’s legal services building Tuesday.

The IRS trained the volunteers in all “the basics of tax laws,” he said, “including practical exercises and training on how to use the online Tax Wise forms we use filing returns electronically.”

Most military units also have someone designated to help their members file simple tax returns.

“We encourage everyone to contact the tax representatives in their units first,” Allen said. “Most of the returns are simple and can be filed at that level. If the returns are more complicated, the unit reps will recommend they come here to see us. All tax forms the unit reps fill out come here anyway, and we review them all and electronically file them.”

Allen said several issues tend to be confusing to Americans overseas.

“One of the biggest is the filing extension,” he said. Although most tax returns in the States are due April 15, “everyone overseas” — military and civilian — “has an automatic extension to June 15.”

“But that’s really only if you don’t owe the government. If you owe money, that money is due April 15 or you’ll wind up paying interest,” he said.

Combat pay and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC) can be other confusing issues, Allen said — especially figuring out which one is to your advantage to claim.

Torii Station opened its doors for taxpayers in mid-January, getting a two-week jump on most other tax offices.

“Client volume is well ahead of last year’s numbers,” said Elaine Reeves, tax coordinator for the Army’s Torii Tax Center at Torii Station.

On Camp Foster, Allen said, the biggest problem most servicemembers have is not being aware of the different tax breaks they can claim.

“There are a lot of deductions and a lot of tax credits out there,” he said.

Servicemembers also must choose which income tax forms to use, from the 1040EZ to much more complicated forms for itemized deductions.

“The good news is you don’t have to worry about that at all when you come in here,” he said. “Our online program automatically defaults to the appropriate form. … We can help sort all this out.”

Where to go

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance centers now are open on bases throughout the Pacific. Contact your unit tax adviser for more information or call the tax center closest to you. Tax centers are open in Okinawa, Japan, South Korea and Guam. You can also file your taxes free online.

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