Legal Expert Offers Tax Time Solutions for Maximum Benefits

By: Amaani Lyle, DoD News, Defense Media Activity
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WASHINGTON, January 27, 2015 - Winter brings not only cold weather, but for some, the dreaded confusion of tax season.

However, service members, retirees and family members can get fast, free, professional help in filing their tax returns between now and June 2015, a Pentagon official said.

Army Lt. Col. Samuel W. Kan, an attorney and Certified Financial Planner®, said the Defense Department's volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) program has partnered with Military OneSource to offer tax preparation services from trained preparers with access to attorneys, accountants, and certified financial planners.

"We have IRS officials who travel around the world to train our preparers, who get the most up-to-date information ensuring clients get all the benefits to which they're entitled," Kan said. "Preparers can either answer the questions themselves or reach experts to get the necessary information to assist the client.

"Many people prepare their taxes on their own, and in essence they may leave a lot of money on the table," Kan continued. "It's important to identify all the money to which they're entitled -- that way they can either pay their bills or they can plan for their financial future."

Hazards of Filing Without Help

Taxpayers, Kan explained, often overlook the myriad in-person appointment, online, and walk-in resources available across the services. They also tend to omit important tax documents they receive throughout the year. Forgetting to report income may result in penalties and interest, he added.

"Put aside a folder and whenever a tax document arrives, such as your W-2, put it in the folder. Once you're ready you can bring it to the tax preparer," Kan said. "Along with those documents you should bring in your last year's tax return for comparison purposes to ensure you did not forget documents such as a 1099 from a specific bank."

Filing as early as possible, gathering all tax documents and having an expert check for accuracy, he said, can help untangle this year's and even previous years' filings should the taxpayer need amendments.

Customized Sessions, Premium Service

Clients who prefer premium tax preparation services can customize their session to ensure they get the maximum benefits allowed, Kan said.

"Not only will the tax professional sit down with the client, but another tax professional will come in to quality review the tax return to ensure they're getting all the benefits to which they're entitled," he explained.

For example, he said, a qualified taxpayer with three qualifying children may get more than $6,000 from the Earned Income Tax Credit with the help of a tax preparation specialist.

Those more familiar with the tax code and its changes may opt instead to prepare their taxes independently, which is where the tax kiosks come in handy, Kan said.

"Service members can come down and prepare the tax return themselves and if they have any questions, they can ask roving tax preparation specialists who will help clients."

One question taxpayers may ask this year is what impact the Affordable Care Act will have on them. For most service members, it will likely have little impact on them according to Kan, because "TRICARE is considered minimum-essential coverage."

"We encourage service members and their family members to visit one of our free tax centers this season," Kan said. "They have served their nation, and we want to make sure that we serve them."