By MC1 Michael Wiss
Navy Support Element East Det. Southeast

April 15 or D-Day is just around the corner.  This is the final day that many people find themselves in a stressful situation of making sure their taxes are filed, sometimes paying civilian tax agencies $175 and up to do it for them.  For Sailors at Naval Station Mayport there is a service that files your taxes and best of all, it's easy and free.

The military-based Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) provides free tax advice and preparation, return filing, and other tax assistance to military members and their families.  Beginning as a small program in 1995, tax year 2012 saw Navy VITA volunteers save service members and their dependents more than $1.4 million in fees and provided almost $16 million in expedited tax refunds. According to Mayport VITA Coordinator Legalman 2nd Class Teresa Richardson, the VITA program is a valuable resource that many service members don't know about.

"The vast majority of enlisted Sailors that we help are entitled to an income tax refund, and we want to make sure they are getting every penny that they deserve," she said. "We like helping people. Sometimes tax law can be a little vague or confusing, and the volunteers want to make sure that Sailors have all the information they need for their situation."

One of the major changes in the VITA program this year is filing returns for same-sex partners.  The elimination of the "Don't ask, Don't Tell" law the Navy recognizes gays and lesbians as equal members of the fighting force.  The U.S. Department of Treasury has announced that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdiction that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes.  The means legally-married same-sex couples must file their federal income tax return using either "married filing jointly" or "married filing separately" filing status.  According to Richardson, this is a big breakthrough for the program.

"We want to make sure to help all Sailors filing their tax returns, regardless of their marriage partner,"   she said.  "We will provide assistance as long as it is within the tax laws put forth by the Internal Revenue Service."

Those eligible for the free tax preparation include:

*All active duty service members and their dependents

*All retirees and their dependents

*Reservists on active duty for more than 30 days

*Reservists within 30 days of demobilization

*Reservists involved in pre-mobilization

Before making an appointment, customers should have:

*All 2013 W-2's and 1099's

*Copies of social security cards for taxpayers and dependents

*Taxpayer(s) military ID cards

*Bank account numbers and routing numbers

*Any other tax records including copies of 2012 tax returns if available

Service members must provide either a copy of a Social Security card or a previous year's tax return, along with the same documentation for all dependents.  Couples wishing to file joint returns should come to the tax center together. If a spouse is unavailable, the spouse preparing the return will need to bring a power of attorney that specifically covers tax filing purposes or an IRS Power of Attorney Form 2848.

The Mayport VITA Center is located at 707A Everglade Ct. (adjacent to the Thrift Store) and will be open beginning February 3.  Hours of operation will be Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m. until Noon.  There are no appointments; all those wishing to use VITA are on a walk in basis.  For more information or to volunteer contact the Mayport VITA center at 904-270-5150.