Just thinking about the start of tax season is enough to cause most people a major headache. Between collecting the right documents, following all the tax laws and getting everything submitted on time, tax time can be overwhelming. But with the correct preparation on your part and some help from outside resources, like your installation military Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) office and Military OneSource, you can make this tax season much less stressful for you and your family.
Preparing ahead of time
One way to make tax time easier is to start gathering all the necessary documents and information you need ahead of time. Designate a specific location (a folder, a drawer, a shoebox, etc.) where you can place all the relevant information, so that when you are ready to file, you have everything you need. Here are some of the things you should start gathering:
- Social Security number and date of birth for you, your spouse and dependents
- child care, education and adoption costs
- W-2 forms from all employers for you and your spouse
- Form 1099 for independent contractors
- investment income forms
- alimony information
- Social Security benefits
- miscellaneous income
- Form 1098-E for student loan interest
- charitable donations
- uninsured medical and dental expenses
- real estate taxes
- receipts for any deductible expenses
W-2 forms are typically available from your military Service beginning in January. You can download your military W-2 from myPay. Tax forms are available at your local post office and library. You can also download them from the IRS website.
In addition to gathering important documents, here are some other ways to get ahead of the tax time curve:
- Create a list of questions for a tax consultant. You may wonder whether or not you can write off certain expenses or whether you qualify for an extension. Write all of this down and ask a professional.
- Don't wait until the last minute to start your taxes. Just because the deadline is in April doesn't mean you have to wait until then to get started.
- Be aware of special tax benefits you may qualify for as a service member, including a filing extension. Visit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website or contact a Military OneSource tax consultant to find out more about these benefits.
- Pay attention to tax scams. Each year, the IRS informs and educates the public about the most common tax scams, which include unscrupulous tax preparers or phishing. To learn more about how to avoid these scams, visit the IRS website.
Taking advantage of Military OneSource Tax Services
Military OneSource provides free access to the H&R Block At Home® Basic online tax 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% accurate or H&R Block pays the penalties and interest. The H&R Block At Home® Basic tax filing service protects the security and confidentiality of your personal information by using industry-recognized security safeguards. You do not have to complete the return all at one time. When you begin, you create a secure user ID and password, which enables you to log on, save, close and return to the program as needed.
In addition, Military OneSource provides year round access to tax consultants who can help you and your family find answers to your tax questions and maximize your refund. Military OneSource tax consultants
- share information about the unique tax requirements and issues related to military personnel and their families
- identify applicable IRS and state tax regulations, definitions and forms
- provide electronic copies of tax forms and help you understand how to complete them
- review options for using a refund, including options for using it to pay down debt
- explain additional tax services available to the military community such as VITA clinics
To learn more about Military OneSource Tax Services, call 1-800-342-9647 or go online.
Determining your eligibility
The following individuals are eligible for the Military OneSource Tax Services:
- all active duty service members
- National Guard and members of the Reserve (regardless of activation status)
- members of the Coast Guard Reserve activated as part of the Department of the Navy under Title 10 authority
- spouses and dependent children who are authorized in DEERS
- a family member who is taking care of the affairs of an eligible service when the service member is deployed
- a severely injured service member of one of the services noted above, or a designated family member of a severely injured member who is incapable of handling his or her own affairs; medically retired individuals are eligible until 180 days past their End of Tour of Service, retirement date or discharge date
The personal financial readiness of service members and their families is a top priority of the Department of Defense (DoD). The DoD provides a wide range of tools and services to help service members and their families reduce debt, achieve savings goals and attain financial flexibility. Here are some resources designed to assist you and your family:
- The Personal Financial Management (PFM) Program. The PFM program is an installation-based program offered by each of the Services. Personal financial counselors (PFC) provide education and counseling services that address a range of financial topics, including retirement planning, banking, budgeting, record keeping and more.
- Financial counseling. Financial counseling is available through Military OneSource (in addition to the tax consultation services) and the Joint Family Support Assistance Program (JFSAP). To find a JFSAP team in your state, visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS.
- VITA Program. The VITA Program provides free tax advice and preparation, return filing and other tax assistance to military members and their families. To find a VITA site near you, use the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Legal Services Locator.
- IRS. The IRS website is full of helpful resources, forms and tips to make tax time easier for you.
Military families prosper when they can manage their finances well and save money for the future. Start this year with a stress-free tax season and get on track to financial readiness and long-term financial well-being.