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Center offers free tax help

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Just like birthdays, tax season comes around every year. Filing may not be as exciting as a party, but the Maxwell-Gunter Tax Center is here to ensure taxpayers get the refund they deserve.

The office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but closed for lunch from noon to 1 p.m., in building 804 at Maxwell. This free service is available by appointment only by calling 953-4486.

Taxpayers have until April 18 this year to file, thanks to Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington, D.C., falling on April 15. The Maxwell Tax Center will be open this day.

Services are offered to all who are eligible for legal assistance: active-duty service members, retirees, dependents and Guard and Reserve members on orders, said Capt. Clayton Fuller, the officer in charge of the tax center and chief of civil law for the 42nd Air Base Wing.

Clients must bring all needed documents, including Social Security cards and birth dates for all dependents, W-2 forms, child care receipts, bank interest income forms and other 1099s.

"A copy of last year's return is also helpful," Fuller said.

Volunteers and staff are trained to prepare basic returns, but some can complete complicated forms as well.

Captain Fuller encourages clients to call ahead to ensure the tax center is qualified to prepare the return.

Lifestyle changes, such as a marriage, divorce or birth of a child, can impact the process. Calling the tax center in advance can make the process smoother.

For example, what should parents do if their newborn doesn't have a Social Security number yet?

"They can either wait and file when they receive it, or if the April 18 deadline is approaching, they can file without the child and then file an amendment once they receive the Social Security card," he said.

In 2010, the tax center prepared more than 2,000 returns, saving clients about $276,000 in fees.

The IRS website offers the following advice to service members:

Moving expenses -- Members of the Armed Forces on active duty who move because of a permanent change of station can deduct the reasonable unreimbursed expenses of moving the household.

Combat pay -- Those who serve in a combat zone as an enlisted person or as a warrant officer for any part of a month receive all military pay tax free that month. For officers, the monthly exclusion is capped at the highest enlisted pay, plus any hostile fire or imminent danger pay received.

Extension of deadlines -- The time for taking care of certain tax matters can be postponed. The deadline for filing tax returns, paying taxes, filing claims for refund and taking other actions with the IRS is automatically extended for some military members.

Uniform cost and upkeep -- If military regulations prohibit you from wearing certain uniforms when off duty, you can deduct the cost and upkeep of those uniforms, but you must reduce your expenses by any allowance or reimbursement you receive.

Joint returns -- Generally, both spouses must sign joint returns. However, when one spouse may not be available due to military duty, a power of attorney may be used to file a joint return.

Travel to Reserve duty -- Members of the Reserves can deduct unreimbursed travel expenses for traveling more than 100 miles from home to perform Reserve duties.

Reserve Officer Training Corps students -- Subsistence allowances paid to ROTC students participating in advanced training are not taxable. However, active-duty pay - such as pay received during summer advanced camp - is taxable.

Transitioning back to civilian life - Some costs incurred while looking for a new job may be deductable, including travel, resume preparation fees and outplacement agency fees. Moving expenses may be deductible.

Tax Information IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces' Tax Guide, summarizes many important military-related tax topics. Publication 3 can be downloaded from www.irs.gov or may be ordered by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).