After volunteers completed extensive training to become certified tax professionals, the Fort Hood Tax Center marked its official grand opening for the 2021 season with a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday.

“In a year where everything seemed to become one big unknown, our mission at the tax center is to make a difficult concept seem accessible,” 1st Lt. Meghan Moore, tax center officer-in-charge, said during the ceremony.

Instead of paying hundreds of dollars in tax preparation fees, volunteers at the FHTC can prepare returns for Soldiers, retirees and families free of charge.  In 2020, the FHTC prepared 2,600 federal and state returns totaling approximately $6 million and saving Fort Hood families $708,000 in tax preparation fees.

“The benefit of this is that it’s free. There are plenty of businesses out there that are happy to take Soldiers’ money,” Col. Jason Wesbrock, commander of U.S. Army Garrison – Fort Hood, said during the ceremony. “This is free because we have volunteers and dedicated Soldiers like you helping your fellow Soldiers.”

Fifteen Soldiers are preparing this year’s returns, after completing the Volunteer Training Certification. While normal tax professionals are certified in basic or advanced tax preparation, the Fort Hood tax professionals are also certified in military tax preparation. Military tax preparation has specific issues, such as non-taxable deployment pay, that requires special attention.

Moore said the training also covered what the tax laws look like after everyone was affected by a global pandemic. She said every person’s specific situation can be reflected on their 1040 tax form. The virtual training also covered how the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act affects taxes.

“In a year where everything seemed to become a big unknown, our mission at the tax center is to make a difficult concept seem accessible,” she added.

Staff Sgt. Sergio Freitas, 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cav. Division, who is one of the Soldier-volunteers for the FHTC, said he has learned more than he expected and looks forward to helping Soldiers. He also encourages Soldiers to volunteers at the FHTC in the future because it will help them in the future.

“This is a good learning experience for Soldiers, regardless of rank,” he added.

Wesbrock told the Soldiers that this experience is something they will carry with them throughout life. While they are helping Soldiers, they are also helping themselves by gaining a great understanding of tax codes.

Before concluding, Wesbrock challenged the Soldiers to improve their already low error rate of less than 3.2%, which was the Army’s lowest error rate in 2020.

To reduce the spread of the virus, appointments are encouraged. Preventive measures have been put into place to ensure the safety of the tax preparers and clients. Moore said that clients are asked to leave all their paperwork with the tax preparer, who will call them when done, so they can sign the return and receive their paperwork back. As COVID mitigations increase or decrease across the installation, there could be changes to the FHTC throughout the season.

Clients need to bring with them a copy of their military identification, driver’s license, Social Security card for every family member, all income documents, such as W2s, 1099s, interest income from banking, miscellaneous income, child care expense receipts, college 1098-Ts, rental property information, banking information for the refund to be deposited into and a copy of last year’s tax return.

If the Soldier or spouse is unavailable, a special power of attorney is required, specifying the exact purpose and tax year for the POA. A POA can be done at the Legal Assistance office, which is located in the same building, on the south side of the FHTC.

Moore said they will not prepare a return in the following circumstances: more than 10 stocks, more than three rental properties and business owners (unless they operate a child care facility on Fort Hood). They will also not prepare state returns this year.

Appointments can be made by calling 254-288-7995 or 254-287-3294. Appointments are only being made a week out. The FHTC is located in Bldg. 13, on 52nd Street (west of III Corps Headquarters). Services are available to active duty Soldiers, families, retirees and National Guardsmen under Title 10 status for 90 days.