When tax filing season begins, military members (and in some cases, military spouses) should know about the free and discounted options available to them. Free tax help is one of the “hidden” benefits of serving, and while tax prep and filing may seem intimidating, as long as you have the right paperwork and start early you may be surprised at how quickly you can finish the process.
Government-Sponsored Tax Assistance For Military Members And Veterans
There are many official resources for tax help including the Internal Revenue Service’s Free File software system, which allows anyone earning less than $64 thousand to fill out and submit the current year’s tax forms electronically.
The IRS VITA Program
The IRS offers help for currently-serving military members via The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program which is often made available on-base during tax season. The location, hours, and duration of this all-volunteer help program will vary depending on the military installation, but you can learn more through your base’s Family Service Center, Fleet and Family Support Program, Legal Assistance Center, or First Sergeant’s office.
MilItaryOneSource: Tax Help Funded By The Defense Department
MilitaryOneSource.mil offers a program called MilTax which includes free tax software, preparation assistance, and financial counseling to both military members and military spouses. MilitaryOneSource is funded by the DoD, offering start-to-finish tax assistance. They are also ready to help with specialized military tax questions about combat pay, deployments in a war zone that can affect how taxes are calculated, military education benefits, and how to file taxes while deployed.
This service is available for online tax filing, but there is also help available by phone at 800-342-9647 (available year-round).
Off-Base Commercial & Non-Government Tax Assistance For Military Members and Veterans
The United Way offers MyFreeTaxes, which is a free online filing service open to anyone (not just military members) who earn less than $64,000 per year. MyFreeTaxes requires you to file online, but features software-based assistance to help with deductions for students, small business owners, home owners, etc. This service is available for both state and federal taxes.
There are many options for those who want to file their taxes via commercial enterprises such as TurboTax or other non-government sponsored/non-charitable programs. The discounts, benefits, and perks of using a commercial tax preparation service will vary depending on a variety of factors.
Some companies (including TurboTax) offer free or discounted tax prep (online and in person) to those at or below a certain enlisted rank, other companies such as Liberty Tax Service offer printable discount coupons to eligible veterans which must be printed and taken to a bricks-and-mortar Liberty Tax Service location.
Compare Your Options
Some choose commercial tax prep services because they are conveniently located, others may not feel confident in the VITA all-volunteer tax help offered by the IRS or the help offered by the United Way (see above). Others simply don’t know they have other options open; if you are considering a for-pay tax prep service, compare it to the free options open to you via the IRS, MilitaryOneSource.mil, MyFreeTaxes, etc. before choosing to pay the fee.
If you choose to utilize a commercial tax preparation service, be ready to show your military ID, or provide other proof of service as required by the company. Standards and procedures may vary depending on the service provider.
Documents You Will Need To File Taxes As A Veteran Or Currently Serving Military Member
When using any tax prep software, service, or assistance, you’ll need to have some important paperwork ready. Last year’s tax returns are at the top of this list, but also a current Leave & Earnings Statement or the equivalent, your military W-2s, copies of any relevant orders including deployment/TDY/training that might be used to document any related benefits or tax breaks you have earned as a result of those orders.
You may also need to provide the following:
- Social Security Card/SSNs for all claimed on the tax return
- Documentation of any changes in marital status/dependents from last year
- Real estate tax documents including mortgage interest statements (Form 1098)
- Alimony, child support, or related payment agreements
- Investment tax form data or information that shows your taxable investment activity
- Any documented income from rental properties
- Documentation related to GI Bill benefits, earned income credit, etc.
- Military ID or state ID
- Records of moving expenses related to a new military assignment, retirement, separation, etc.
- Receipts/documentation for deductibles
State Tax Filing For Military Members And Veterans
When filing your taxes, you may or may not receive assistance for state tax preparation, too. Be sure to ask if state tax filing is supported, and what additional requirements may be needed to get your state tax breaks for military service, where applicable.
There are a few tricky state tax issues including “two-state residency”, deployment issues, and whether or not a member must file even if their income is completely exempt from state taxation. Military spouses may have complicated tax situations, especially when it comes to those who have moved to a new state to join the military member but are still considered residents of another state.
Federal law affects how these situations may be handled, be sure to ask your tax prep agent whether provisions of the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act of 2009 apply to your state tax filing.
Tax relief, exemptions, breaks, and exclusions for members of the military are not standardized from state to state. You may need to consult your state’s official site to learn what to do in order to claim exemptions or other entitlements.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News