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If you, or your spouse, are a member of the military, you may be eligible to receive free assistance with the preparation and filing of your federal tax return. The U.S. Armed Forces participate in the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. The Armed Forces Tax Council oversees the operation of the military tax programs worldwide, and serves as the main conduit for outreach by the IRS to military personnel and their families. The AFTC consists of tax program coordinators for the Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard.

Marines, airmen, soldiers, sailors, guardsmen and their families worldwide can get tax preparation help. Military-based VITA sites provide free tax advice, tax preparation, return filing and other tax assistance to military members and their families. The volunteer assistors are trained to address military-specific tax issues, such as combat zone tax benefits and the new Earned Income Tax Credit guidelines (members of the military can now choose to include nontaxable combat pay in their earned income for purposes of computing this credit).

Military commanders support the program by detailing members of the military to prepare returns and by providing space and equipment for tax centers. The IRS supports these efforts by providing tax software and training.

To receive this free assistance, you should bring the following to your military VITA site:

  • Photo identification
  • Social Security cards for you, your spouse and dependents
  • Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents
  • Current year’s tax package, if you received one
  • Wage and earning statement(s) — Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R — from all employers
  • Interest and dividend statements (Forms 1099)
  • A copy of last year’s federal and state tax returns, if available
  • Bank routing numbers and account numbers for direct deposit
  • Total amount paid for day care
  • Day care provider’s identifying number
  • Other relevant information about income and expenses
  • If your filing status is Married Filing Jointly and you wish to file your tax return electronically, both you and your spouse must be present to sign the required forms. If it is not possible for both to be present, a valid power of attorney that allows tax preparation can be used to sign and file the return.

When completing your tax return, make sure that you use the correct Social Security number (SSN) for each person listed on your return. The most accurate information is usually located on your original Social Security card.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of tax returns are delayed in processing, or credits or deductions are disallowed, because names and SSNs listed on the return do not match Social Security Administration (SSA) records. To prevent problems with the tax return, the volunteer assistors will check the accuracy of each SSN, as well as the spelling of the name associated with the number.

In some cases, names and SSNs don’t match SSA records because women who marry, adopt their husband’s surname and file tax returns jointly with their spouse forget to notify the SSA of their name change. Or, women who took their husband’s surname but later divorced and reassumed their previous surname forgot to notify the SSA of their name change.

It's easy to inform the SSA of a name change by filing Form SS-5, Social Security Number Application, at a local SSA office. It usually takes two weeks to have the change verified. The form is available on the agency's Web site, www.ssa.gov by calling toll-free 1-800-772-1213 and at local offices. The SSA Web site provides the addresses of local offices.

If you do not have a Social Security number for yourself or a dependent, you should complete Form SS-5 and file it with the SSA.

If you, or your dependent, are not eligible to get a Social Security number, you may need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

Make sure you pay all 2004 taxes owed by April 15, 2005, to avoid paying additional money in interest or penalties. If you file a paper return and owe taxes, you can send a check or money order made out to the United States Treasury with Form 1040-V, Payment Voucher, along with your tax return. If you file your tax return electronically and you owe taxes, there are several payment options you can choose from. You can authorize an electronic funds withdrawal (direct debit) from a checking or savings account, you can pay by credit card (Discover, American Express, MasterCard or VISA), or you can pay by check or money order.

Download IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide or order it by calling toll free 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

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