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Tax Takeaways

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- This year, Yokota Air Base volunteer tax preparers filed over 600 federal and state returns and saved service members, family members and retirees nearly $87,000 in preparation fees. In preparation for the surge of returns this season, 24 volunteers attended the Internal Revenue Service Volunteer Income Tax Assistance training in January. The VITA program is designed for volunteers to assist Airmen with filing returns as needed and answer any basic tax questions they may have.

Below are some lessons learned during 2013 Tax Season:

IRS Taxpayer Identification Number: Before you can file your taxes you must have an IRS Taxpayer Identification Number. A valid IRS ID number can be a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. This is required to file taxes to be claimed as a dependent or to be claimed for exemption purposes. Those who had children this year should apply for your child's SSN or ITIN now.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN): Non-resident aliens who do not have and cannot obtain a SSN must apply for an ITIN using IRS Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. In past years, non-resident aliens were not required to have an ITIN to file taxes or to be claimed as a dependent, now it is mandatory. Complete Form W-7 at least 3-5 months before you need an ITIN. Form W-7 can be found on the IRS website.

Charitable Contributions Overseas: One of the primary issues tax planners must address regarding charitable contributions is deductibility. Not all charitable contributions are tax deductible. In fact, most contributions to foreign charitable organizations are not. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Publication 78, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) states that charitable donations are deductible if they are made to qualified organizations. Qualified organizations are essentially charities, non-profit organizations and religious organizations that are "organized or created in the United States or its possessions, or under the laws of the United States, any State, the District of Columbia or any possession of the United States, and organized and operated exclusively for charitable, religious, educational, scientific, or literary purposes, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals." The IRS also provides a searchable online list of qualified charitable organizations at http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Organizations-Eligible-to-Receive-Tax-Deductible-Charitable-Contributions.

Filing Deadlines: While military members receive an automatic filing extension for residing overseas, there is no waiver for late penalties. If you think you owe money, you MUST file by April 15. Do not wait till the last day to file since a glitch in the e-filing system can delay your tax filing and you may incur penalties. In other words, people who file after April 15 and owe money to the IRS will face a penalty fee determined according to interest accumulated on the amount owed.

While volunteers are encouraged to provide as much assistance as possible, there are limitations on the services they may provide. Returns for individuals who have private businesses, rental properties and excessive capital gains and or losses will likely be beyond the expertise of the VITA volunteer. These individuals may need to consider hiring a tax professional.

For the more do-it-yourself minded Airman, Military One Source once again offers free online preparation options. Members may log onto www.militaryonesource.com and get information on how to file their taxes for free. The tax program is user friendly and allows Airmen to file their state taxes as well. Yokota Tax Center volunteers will also review returns completed by individuals.

Lastly, it is the taxpayers' responsibility to ensure that the information provided on the tax return is accurate and to call and confirm that the return was filed and accepted by the IRS in a timely manner.

For more information, please call the legal office at 225-8069.