• Tax Center personnel prep for season

  • Call 684-4986 to make an appointment.

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    In 2018, the Fort Leavenworth Tax Assistance Center helped retirees, soldiers and their dependents save more than $300,000 on commercial tax preparation fees and prepared more than 1,200 tax returns, which resulted in more than $2.2 million in refunds.
    Now with the new tax season approaching, the Tax Center’s six employees and 10 volunteers are finishing up their annual training to assist eligible active-duty soldiers, Reservists, retirees and dependents to file their 2018 state and federal income tax returns at no cost.
    With a combined experience of more than 95 years, the employees and volunteers attended the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance training course Jan. 3-9 at the Leavenworth Public Library where they learned about the VITA software, federal and state tax law updates and refreshed their skills.
    “There are new tax laws every year and you forget,” said Ladonna Brunson, 16-year Fort Leavenworth Tax Center civilian tax preparer. “It is use or lose. If you’re not doing taxes for the other eight months of the year, you’re going to forget some things.”
    Following the course, each employee and volunteer took a test for certification.
    “The level of training, this is 40 hours,” Brunson said. “I’ve done the test every year for 16 years and it still takes me about 16 hours to do the test. Then, we have additional training on the fort for specific forms and states and things like that, which is probably another 20 hours before we even open.”
    The Tax Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and 1-4 p.m. Wednesdays. The center will be closed on federal holidays and training holidays. An opening date has not been determined.
    “The IRS has not set their date and we cannot set our opening date until the IRS allows E-files,” Brunson said. “The opening date and the E-file dates are affected by the government shutdown and also the fact that they’ve completely changed everything about the tax law. It was like they threw out the old and brought in the new.”
    Brunson said the biggest changes come in the state tax laws. Currently, 43 states have personal income tax.
    “Many of the soldiers will have multiple state returns that they have to do,” Brunson said. “They have moved, the tax payer may be (a resident) in one state, the spouse may be a resident in another, and they each have income and may have moved in the middle of the year. So, it is not unusual to have four or five state returns to go with the federal, and that is unique to the military.
    “The federal is going to be the easiest because of that, but you can’t just do your federal and them come in and just have us do your state,” she said. “The federal flows down into the states. We cannot do them separately.”
    Page 2 of 3 - There are limitations to who is eligible for assistance, Brunson said. For example, to receive tax assistance at the Tax Center, active-duty soldiers can only possess one rental property and retirees cannot possess any.
    “The reason we can’t do rentals (for retirees) is it is not the Army forcing you to move with PCS orders,” Brunson said. “So, having a rental property is a personal choice.”
    Though there are limitations, the Tax Center offers several benefits, too. Soldiers E-5 and below and their families have the option to use the drop-off service instead of making an appointment. To use the drop-off service, soldiers can come in, make copies of their tax documents and drop them off. Then, the volunteers will fill out the forms and call the soldiers in to talk about it and sign the forms, Brunson said.
    “They might be on their way home from a 24-hour shift and they don’t have the rank to control their schedule,” she said. “So, they can’t always say, ‘I’m going to come to the Tax Center for an hour and a half.’ For all those reasons, we are available to them and we have extra people who can squeeze them in.”
    Getting assistance from the Tax Center also helps soldiers avoid mistakes, Brunson said.
    “When you do something once a year, it is a lot easier to make mistakes than if you’ve trained,” she said. “We’ve got all the references and resources and are able to call the IRS directly and ask them specific questions. We just have more resources at hand, all this dedicated training and those 95-plus years of experience.”
    Though this is the first year Spc. Anthony Clark, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 40th Military Police Battalion (Detention), will assist with taxes for someone other than himself, he said his previous experience of being a personal banker before he joined the Army will help him.
    “(It is about) finding what is going to benefit people the most because that is what I did to open accounts or (certificates of deposit). It was finding what was best for that person,” he said. “(The training) is way better than I was expecting. I’ve learned more than I ever even thought.”
    Noncommissioned officer-in-charge Sgt. 1st Class Ashley Beets, installation equal opportunity advisor, said she was looking forward to learning a new skill.
    “One of the things that I love most about the Army is you can go from duty station to duty station and serve 19 years and have a multitude of experiences in different jobs,” she said. “So, this is just another additional job that I’m able to do before I (retire) and I think it is an awesome learning experience for me to do new things. I’ve had the same job for 19 years, but haven’t. I’m excited to spend the next couple of months doing something new and helping out soldiers and family members in our area. It’s going to be fun.
    Page 3 of 3 - “I am (human resources) by trade,” Beets said. “So, taking care of customers and taking care of soldiers is what I do. It is what I’ve always done.”
    To make appointments, call 684-4986. Because of the extensive screening process to determine eligibility and only one person making appointments, soldiers are encouraged to stop by the Tax Center at 615 McClellan Ave. to make an appointment, get pre-screened and pick up the forms needed, Brunson said.
    “To avoid rescheduling, bring your 2017 tax packet, all required ID and all 2018 documents to your appointment,” she said.
    Soldiers can also visit the website for more information and updates on the opening date at http://usacac.army.mil/about-cac/staff/sja/taxes.
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