Air Force offers free tax preparation, filing

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Scott Elliott
  • Air Force Print News
Filling out and filing income tax forms is an annual burden Americans must bear, but Air Force legal officials say servicemembers need not pay extra for the privilege.

According to a legal services official at the Pentagon, more and more airmen are being tempted by the promise of quick refunds to have their taxes filed by commercial agencies.

However, Air Force members can get most of those same services free of charge at their local base tax assistance offices, to include both the completion of the forms and their electronic filing, said Maj. Thomas L. Farmer, deputy chief of the Air Force's legal assistance division at the Pentagon.

"(With) a refund anticipation loan, you can get your money immediately -- or a portion of it," he said. "The problem is that comes with a cost. That cost tends to be a fee or interest.

"While I may get my refund at the time I file my return, it's not going to be the (same) refund the government would have paid me had I used the military program," he said.

Farmer said it is not out of the ordinary for people to pay $50 to $100 or more in order to get their refunds just a few days sooner.

"At the most, you'll wait two weeks to get a refund (by using the military's electronic filing process), but the average is 10 days or less," he said. "That's not an inordinate amount of time, when you consider the fact that you're saving the fee and interest."

"There's no better deal than the base tax program," he said.

One forum offering tax assistance that particularly concerns Farmer is the Internal Revenue Service's "free electronic filing site," launched Jan. 13.

According to Farmer, the IRS' site is not always free. Taxpayers using the agency's Free-File program actually file their returns using an online electronic filing program provided by one of a number of vendors, in association with the IRS. The vendors then determine if someone is eligible for free service based on adjusted gross income and, in some cases, age.

People who do not know what their adjusted gross income is before starting the process may find out late in the process that their income is deemed too high for the free service, Farmer said. If that happens, customers are informed that the vendor will still file the taxes for them -- for a fee.

"If you sit down and input all the data, go through all your documents and spend all that time (only to be) told, 'Sorry, you don't qualify for the free service,' the temptation is there to pay the $25 or $30 fee because you've already put that much work into it," Farmer said.

"Too many of our people have taken that bait," he said. "We don't want our people put in a position where they're exposed to these sort of (sales) pitches."

Because of that concern, the Air Force and the other military branches declined to participate as a proponent in the IRS' Free File unveiling ceremony.

"We have not told our base tax (program advisers) to recommend against people participating in this," Farmer said. "We're providing information so (they) can make informed decisions about whether they want to take advantage of these products or not."

Program managers who have completed either the Air Force or Army Tax Course, and volunteers who have graduated from IRS-provided classes, typically work in base tax program offices. In addition, Farmer said, many bases hire expert tax preparers to handle the more complicated cases.

"All of that is free of charge," Farmer said. "We recommend the military base tax program because there's no better option available."