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Fireman Apprentice Thomas Redfearn helps Electronics Technician 2nd Class Laura Meu file her taxes at Yokosuka Naval Base Tax Canter.

Fireman Apprentice Thomas Redfearn helps Electronics Technician 2nd Class Laura Meu file her taxes at Yokosuka Naval Base Tax Canter. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — For servicemembers and civilians working overseas, the dreaded tax-filing deadline of April 15 can be nothing more than just another spring day.

At most Pacific bases the group responsible for helping make the deadline a low-stress flip-of-the-calendar is the Internal Revenue Service Volunteer Income Tax Assistance team, or VITA.

Sasebo’s Navy Legal Services Branch Office coordinates VITA — a group of IRS-trained volunteer sailors, spouses and civilians.

For those confident they do not owe income taxes, it’s a snap to get a deadline extension, and even a second, if warranted by a situation such as deployment on a ship, said Renee Kroll, a VITA volunteer for four consecutive years.

However, some broad rules apply for deadline extensions.

“If you owe taxes, you have to file and pay those taxes by April 15 — it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you are,” Kroll explained.

Based on her considerable experience, she’s observed that most people have an idea whether or not they owe taxes. “Some are borderline, but most people know,” she added.

“Active-duty military serving overseas, if they do not owe taxes, have an automatic extension until June 15. Any civilian may file the paperwork asking for an extension. And there is even another extension you can ask for beyond June 15,” Kroll said.

In addition to income tax preparation, VITA offers e-filing. With e-filing, taxpayers receive their refunds in half the time compared with the old-fashioned paper-and-snail-mail method — even faster when they take advantage of direct deposit of the refund.

Also, e-filed returns are more accurate, and e-filers receive an acknowledgment from the IRS that it has received the return. That represents great peace of mind, even to the VITA volunteers, who are preparing one return after another this time of year.

“It’s hard to compare the years, because every year is unique, but we’ve already done more than 1,300 tax returns,” Kroll said between appointments. What ships are in port or deployed determines “whether we are busiest at the beginning, the middle or at the end” of tax season, she said.

And for those who consider the April 15 filing deadline optional?

“It never fails that every year we see many individuals who haven’t filed for many years,” she said. “So, we are not only doing their current year, but prior years. Unfortunately, we had a client who hadn’t filed the taxes, and the client was due a refund. But the IRS held the refund because the client had not filed taxes since 1997.”

Not that Kroll, or her colleagues, recommend ignoring annual income tax responsibilities. Their advice is quite the opposite.

“The IRS can go back and check as far as they want. There’s no statute of limitations on this for them. So I always advise people to do their taxes, even if they are late. Don’t wait until next year. … [O]ur services are completely free,” she said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Chance Hardy stopped by the VITA office to compute and file his taxes. He said staying busy with his job in Sasebo’s Security Department, as well as a few other pursuits, generally prevented him from thinking about paying Uncle Sam until now.

And by the way, Hardy has had something else on his mind: Sunday, his wife gave birth to his second son — a future tax deduction.

“You could say I’ve been a little preoccupied,” he joked. “But I wasn’t really all that worried about it. I knew I had a deadline, so I guess as long as I got it done by the deadline, that’s all that really matters.”

A VITA volunteer in the morning and local registrar for Troy State (Ala.) University in the afternoon, Kroll said the satisfaction she receives from helping people, especially young sailors who simply don’t understand income taxes, is a primary reason she volunteers each year.

One of her VITA colleagues, Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Pacleb, echoed her sentiments about helping people. However, after losing $800 last year, he decided it was time for him to volunteer.

Along with more than a dozen others, he completed IRS training in January to become a proficient income tax preparer as part of the VITA program.

“I’ve always been very particular, and didn’t trust anyone to do mine, so I’ve always done my own taxes,” Pacleb said. “Then I made a mistake; I couldn’t believe it. They said I owed, and I had to pay $800.”

He said the tax debt eventually proved to be bogus “but I decided right then that I wanted to learn more about it. The training I got for doing this, and the experience, is something I can take with me” after separating from the Navy in the future.

“It’s a skill I can really use. Plus, yes, I do enjoy helping people,” Pacleb said Monday morning, as the waiting area began to fill with those needing his help.

Eric Baron, who’s always done his own taxes and purposefully learned more about income taxes through the years, is another volunteer who devotes his mornings to VITA. In the afternoons, he works for the Navy College Learning Center.

“My reasons for doing this are twofold, with one being somewhat mercenary. The more knowledgeable I become with the federal returns, the better for me,” he said.

“There are changes from year to year but, in our lifetimes, the tax code won’t change all that much. Even though we’d all like a kinder, gentler IRS, they have a job to do … to get more money for Congress,” he added.

“The other reason I do this? Well, I have the opportunity to provide some assistance for someone else,” Baron said. “I mean, I don’t intend to ever do this for a job. … Here, I have the luxury of having a part-time job for the first time in 28 years, and this allows me the chance to do this.

“I’m sure there are other places to volunteer, but this one for me is the better fit.”

Taxpayers in Sasebo can call 252-2117 to arrange an appointment.

Need tax help?

Taxpayers in Sasebo, and those wanting to take advantage of their nearest VITA program, should bring the following information to their appointment:

• Form W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” from each employer.• Forms 1099, for such things as interest or dividends.• A list of other income and expenses.• A copy of last year’s tax return.• DOD identification card.• All other information pertinent to this year’s tax return.

Tax centers in Japan

• Yokosuka Naval Base: In the building next to the CPO Club, across the hall from the student transportation office. Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. Call 243-6905 or 243-6465.• Yokota Air Base: In the activity room of Building 3002. By appointment. Bring all tax documents including W-2 earning statements; interest income, if applicable; and a voided check or deposit slip. If claiming dependents and/or child-care expenses, please provide Social Security numbers and, if applicable, related child-care documents for each dependent. Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Call 225-4926 or 225-4927.• Camp Zama: Contact your unit tax adviser or visit Building 101, Room CE-209.• Atsugi Naval Air Facility: In Building 75, next to the GSA Mart. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays except Wednesdays, when it will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Call 264-4745 or 264-4746.• Misawa Air Base: In Building 514, next to the Area Defense Council Office. Hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. Call 226-3948.• Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station: In Building 608, in the Law Center. Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Call 253-3540 or 253-5962.• Sasebo Naval Base: In Building PW-47, the Navy Legal Service Office building. Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays but the center plans on being open late several days a week to accommodate ships’ schedules. Call 252-2117.

Tax centers on Okinawa

• Kadena Air Base: In Building 1460, behind Eagle Hardware. Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Walk-ins welcome all day on Tuesdays and 8 a.m. to noon Fridays. Call 253-3540 or 253-5962.• Camp Foster: In Building 442, in front of the Gunner’s Gym. Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. Call 645-1586 or 645-1829 for appointments. Walk-ins also welcome.

— Compiled by Stars and Stripes

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