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Consumer Watch: On-base and online tax prep is free

Mar. 29, 2012 - 02:21PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 29, 2012 - 02:21PM  |  
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Haven't done your taxes yet? This year's extended deadline of April 17 is fast approaching. But don't stress out — free help is available for those in the military community.

If you're inclined to use an online tax preparation service, http://www.militaryonesource.com/">click here. The Defense Department pays for H&R Block At Home, but to get the free service, you must be eligible for Military OneSource and use the link on that site.

Military OneSource also offers access to trained tax consultants seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time. Call 800-342-9647 or email taxquestions@militaryonesource.com">taxquestions@militaryonesource.com.

Tax centers on military bases can prepare your taxes free. These centers are operated in conjunction with the military legal assistance offices. The center may not be in that office, but that office can tell you where the tax center is. Anyone with a military ID card is eligible.

The Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistant Program can help you prepare returns at locations around the country. It's designed to help low- to moderate-income taxpayers. To find the nearest VITA location, http://www.irs.gov">visit the IRS' website, or call 800-906-9887 or 800-829-1040.

Save money, save the benefit

Keep an eye on the http://www.saveourbenefit.org">new Save Our Benefit website.

The site, which aims to help you save even more at your commissary and exchange, is operated by the Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits, founded recently by the American Logistics Association and the Armed Forces Marketing Council, trade groups representing companies that sell items in commissaries and exchanges.

Their member companies constantly offer promotions and sales in commissaries and exchanges, over and above the usual savings. Commissary shoppers save an average of 32 percent over what they would pay off base in a variety of stores.

The new website points you to sales, and the coalition offers some of its own promotions. Its first event was a monthlong Facebook giveaway that offered drawings for commissary and exchange gift cards totaling $6,500. The grand prize is a $650 gift card that will be given away April 9.

Part of the coalition's mission is to strengthen the commissaries and exchanges by bringing in more shoppers. It aims to do that by giving customers one place to go for links to sales and promotions, as well as by educating them about their benefits.

As more shoppers learn about the savings and head for the stores — thus increasing sales — prices will be driven down even further, and shoppers will have even more of an incentive to shop there, said Patrick Nixon, president of the coalition.

Military family advocates note that many of today's eligible shoppers haven't grown up shopping at commissaries and exchanges, so they aren't familiar with them. New recruits and new spouses are being added to the eligible shopping base every day, so there's a constant need for education.

What to wear?

The Navy Exchange is giving you a glimpse of some of the latest spring fashion trends available in its stores or online. You can find the "What's Trending Now" section on the right side of the http://www.mynavyexchange.com">Navy Exchange home page.

In May, expect to see a similar feature highlighting some emerging technologies in TV, audio, computers and video games. Any authorized customer can shop at any of the military exchanges.

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