Filing state and federal income taxes may be the last thing you want to deal with right now, especially if you or your service member is deployed. But as overwhelming as it may seem, filing your tax return should not be difficult. The Internal Revenue Service recognizes that service members and their families often face special circumstances and has taken measures to make this annual obligation easier.
If you are a service member or are filing on behalf of one, there are a few things you should know before getting started.
- File returns in your permanent home state. If you are stationed somewhere other than your permanent home address, in most cases you will still pay state taxes to your home state. For instance, if your legal state of residency is Kansas, but you are stationed in California, you will file state taxes with Kansas, if applicable. In most cases, spouses working outside their home of record will also have to file a state tax return for the state in which they are employed. However, the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act changed the rules so that military spouses do not have to pay income taxes to the current state where they are employed, if they live with their service member in that state because of military orders. Visit the IRS and Military OneSource websites for more specific information regarding the MSRRA, to see if you qualify for this relief.
- Access your tax statement online. As a member of the military services, you can view and print out your W-2 form before it is mailed to you. Go to myPay. You will need your personal identification number to access your W-2 form.
- Be sure to have power of attorney if filing for a deployed service member. Attach a copy of your power of attorney to your tax return. You may use IRS Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative.
- Find answers to your questions on the IRS website. Visit the IRS Armed Forces' Tax Guide.
Combat zone and hazardous duty deadline extensions
The IRS extends filing deadlines for members of the military services for the following reasons:
- You or your spouse are serving in a combat zone or in direct support of those in the combat zone and receive hostile fire or imminent danger pay. The deadline for filing income taxes is 180 days after your last day in the combat zone or hazardous duty area. The IRS defines specific geographic areas at Combat Zones. In addition to the 180 days, the extension includes the number of days left in the filing period when you entered the combat zone or hazardous duty area. The filing period is generally Jan. 1 through April 15 (exceptions to the April 15 deadline may be made in a given year if the 15th falls on a Saturday or Sunday). So, if you or your spouse entered the combat zone on March 31, you would add 15 days to your 180-day tax filing extension.
- You or your spouse is hospitalized outside of the United States as a result of injuries suffered in a combat zone or hazardous duty area. The deadline is 180 days after discharge from the hospital. Note that the extension does not apply to the spouse if the service member is hospitalized in the United States.
Your command will have notified the IRS of your deployment to a combat zone but you may want to notify the IRS directly through its special email address. Email the deployed member's name, stateside address, date of birth and date of deployment to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the IRS main helpline at 800-829-1040. If the IRS sends a notice regarding a collection or examination, return it to the IRS with the words "combat zone" and the deployment date in red at the top of the notice so the IRS will suspend the action. Write "combat zone" on the envelope as well.
Getting help with your taxes
Service members and their families can get help at many installations through the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program. Check with your legal assistance office to see if this service is available at your installation. Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program volunteers will help you file your taxes at no cost to you or your eligible family members. Go as early before the filing deadline as possible to avoid long waits. If you decide to see a private tax preparer, make sure he or she is familiar with the IRS Armed Forces' Tax Guide and has experience filing returns for service members and their eligible family members. When you go, bring the following with you:
- Military ID
- All W-2 and 1099 forms
- Social Security cards for all family members
- Deductions and credit information
- Bank account and routing numbers (if you choose to receive your refund by direct deposit)
- Receipts for child care expenses
- Last year's tax return, if available
- Special power of attorney authorizing you to do business on behalf of the deployed service member
- Any document you think may be necessary to file your taxes such as those involving investments, rental properties and mortgages
Before sending in your completed tax forms, double-check your figures and make sure all Social Security numbers are entered correctly. And remember, unless you qualify for an extension, the filing deadline for federal income taxes is April 15. For state income taxes, filing deadlines vary from state to state so check with the local county tax office for the filing deadline in your state.
Military OneSource provides no-cost access to tax consultants year-round, who are well-equipped to answer your tax questions. In addition to the consultants, Military OneSource offers a no-cost, online tax preparation and filing service. The service allows you to complete and electronically file your federal and up to three state tax returns or filings. Your calculations are guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate or the tax vendor pays the penalties and interest. The tax preparation and filing service protects the security and confidentiality of your personal information by using industry-recognized security safeguards. Also, you do not have to complete the return all at one time. When you begin, you create a secure user ID and password, which enable you to log on, save, close and return to the program as needed.
To learn more about Military OneSource tax services, call 800-342-9647 or go online.