12 Situations Where You Can Get Free Legal Help

Service members reviewing documents

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

As a service member or eligible family member, you have access to free legal benefits. Through your legal assistance office, you can receive free legal services such as a lease agreement review, estate planning or advice if you get sued.

Get Free Legal Help

Specific legal services may vary by installation, but your legal assistance office can generally help with the following:

  1. Powers of attorney. A power of attorney allows one person to legally act on your behalf on legal and money matters. For example, a power of attorney document can appoint someone to release your household goods shipment if you’re leaving before your furniture will ship or bank on your behalf while you are deployed.
  2. Lease and rental contract reviews. A lawyer can review your lease or rental contract before you sign it to be sure the terms are acceptable, and that the agreement includes any military rental protection clauses for your state.
  3. Living will. With a living will, you can declare what medical treatment or life-sustaining measures you want or don’t want if you become seriously ill or injured.
  4. Estate planning. This is an important part of retirement planning and can include:
    • Drafting of a will, a legally binding document describing how you want your property and belongings distributed after your death
    • Designating your beneficiaries
    • Planning ahead should you become mentally or physically disabled
  5. Family care plan. This serves as a blueprint, for military purposes, for how you want your family cared for while you’re deployed. A plan is required for single parents, dual-military couples with children, or if you care for a disabled or elderly family member. Legal assistance offices can review and advise on this matter.
  6. Notary services. Notaries can administer oaths, witness signatures, take acknowledgments, sworn statements and affidavits, and more.
  7. Consumer issues. If you’re having credit problems, believe you’re the victim of a scam or have a dispute over a consumer issue, legal assistance attorneys may help you communicate and negotiate with collection agencies, lawyers or other parties.
  8. Tax assistance. Many legal assistance offices operate tax centers or provide income tax return preparation to help with filing federal, state or local taxes.
  9. Family law. Get legal advice for a range of issues, including adoption, child support, marriage, divorce, separation, child custody, alimony, property division, name changes, paternity or legal benefits under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act.
  10. Service member rights and responsibilities. Legal assistance offices can help you understand the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which provides specific protections for service members.
  11. Civil lawsuits. In limited cases, you can get help with the preparation of legal correspondence, documents and pleadings.
  12. Immigration and naturalization. You can get support and referrals for immigration, citizenship and naturalization matters, including alien registration, reentry permits, passports, naturalization of a surviving spouse and citizenship of military children born abroad.

Pay for Legal Advice on These Matters

The legal assistance office is restricted from providing help and advice in some circumstances, including the following:

  • Providing legal advice to third parties or opposing parties on the same issue
  • Claims against the government
  • Serious criminal matters
  • Citations for driving under the influence
  • Legal matters concerning your privately owned business
  • In-court representation

While Military OneSource does not offer legal assistance, you can call or visit your legal assistance office to find out more about the services offered at your installation.

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

PCS and Taxes: Deducting Military Moving Expenses

Man moving boxes

Service members who move due to a permanent-change-of-station move may be eligible to deduct some of their unreimbursed moving expenses from their federal income tax returns. Most moving costs are covered by military allowances, so you’ll want to save your receipts and log your expenses to calculate any possible deduction at the end of the tax year.

Check out IRS Publication 521, Moving Expenses for examples and more details.

Who is eligible?

The only people who can deduct moving expenses are active-duty military members who relocated due to PCS orders or, in some cases, their unaccompanied family members. These include orders to a first duty station and orders when separating or retiring from military service.

Free MilTax Services

MilTax’s tax preparation and e-filing software is available mid-January through mid-October. And MilTax consultants are available year-round to help with tax questions.

What expenses can be deducted?

In general, you can deduct unreimbursed expenses directly related to the moving and storage of your household goods, and your travel from your old location to the new one. This includes expenses for the taxpayer and any member of their household.

Qualifying military moving expenses fall into two groups:

Moving household goods and personal effects:

  • Packing materials
  • Shipping vehicles
  • The cost of moving your household goods, whether by car, container or contracted moving
  • Transporting pets

Reasonable travel and lodging expenses:

  • The cost of one night’s lodging at your old location if your furniture has been moved
  • The cost of the first night’s lodging in your new location
  • The costs of stopping and starting essential utilities
  • The cost of moving household goods from another location, up to the cost of moving them from your old location
  • In some cases, storage fees

To be a “reasonable” expense, the route you take, for example, must be the shortest, most direct route available from your previous home to your new one.

What expenses cannot be deducted?

The following items are not deductible:

  • Meals
  • Temporary lodging after the first night that you arrive at your new location
  • Vehicle registration
  • Driver’s licenses
  • Any cost of purchasing or renting a new home
  • Other expenses for stopovers, side trips or pre-move-house hunting expenses

How to report deductible expenses

Deductible moving expenses are reported on IRS Form 3903, and any deduction on that form is reported on your regular federal income tax return.

Reimbursements

Many moving expenses are fully or partially covered by military allowances. You cannot claim any expenses paid for by the military, whether paid directly or reimbursed. For example, you cannot deduct mileage and lodging that was reimbursed under the military’s Monetary Allowance in Lieu of Transportation, typically called mileage, or the PCS Per Diem rates.

Military OneSource offers free tax assistance through the MilTax suite of services, including tax preparation and filing software and telephone consultations with a tax professional. Contact a Military OneSource MilTax consultant for free at 800-342-9647. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options. Or live chat to schedule a free consultation with a MilTax consultant or a financial counselor.

Working in the Gig Economy: Taxes on Self-Employment

Woman working on a laptop in a cafe

Many military spouses – and even some service members – have started a business or side job in today’s gig economy. Being your own employer means responsibility for additional taxes and tax reporting.

The basics: There are two regular types of taxes paid by persons with self-employment income – regular income taxes (federal, and possibly state) and self-employment tax. Read on to learn more.

Free MilTax Services

MilTax’s tax preparation and e-filing software is available mid-January through mid-October. And MilTax consultants are available year-round to help with tax questions.

Schedule C and tax filing

In most cases, self-employment income and expenses are reported on Schedule C. The net profit, after expenses, of Schedule C income is then reported on your federal tax return. It is the responsibility of the taxpayer to track all sources of income, even if the source does not report it to you or to the IRS.

Self-employment tax

In addition to regular income taxes on your profits, you’ll also be subject to the self-employment tax. The self-employment tax is the Social Security and Medicare tax paid by those who are not employed by someone else. Anyone who has total self-employment income in excess of $400 per year is required to file a Schedule SE and pay self-employment taxes.

State tax filing

Military spouses may report self-employment income just like their regular income, using the state they are permitted to claim for purposes of taxation.

Non-military income of active-duty service members is not protected under the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act, and service members with income from sources other than the military must file with the state in which the income is earned.

Self-employment can bring tax questions. Military OneSource MilTax offers 100% free online tax preparation and e-filing software, as well as telephone consultations with a tax professional that understands the unique needs of military families. With MilTax, there are no hidden surprises.

Contact a Military OneSource MilTax consultant at 800-342-9647. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options. Or live chat to schedule a consultation with a MilTax consultant or a financial counselor.

Ins and Outs of Tax Filing When You Are Deployed

Man propels on rope

Deployed service members are expected to file their taxes. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service realizes service members and their families face unique circumstances and offers tools – and some special extensions – to make tax filing easier. Military OneSource also provides a suite of free tax services for eligible service members and their families.

Getting started on free military tax filing

If you are a service member or filing taxes on behalf of a service member, keep the following in mind when getting started on your taxes:

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MilTax’s tax preparation and e-filing software is available mid-January to mid-October. Easy to use and guaranteed 100% accurate.

  • Get your statement online: You can go to myPay to get your military W-2 form. It is posted there before being mailed to you. You’ll need your Common Access Card or personal identification number to access it.
  • Gather other important information. Other documents you may need to file your taxes include 1099 forms, deduction and credit information, receipts for child-care expenses, last year’s tax return, and any documents for investments, rental properties or mortgages. You’ll also need your military ID and every family member’s Social Security number, bank account and routing numbers if you are filing electronically, and receipts for charitable donations.
  • File the return in your permanent state. If you are stationed away from your permanent home address, you will still pay taxes in your home state in most cases. Note: military spouses who work and live with their service member in a state other than their home state as a result of military orders may not have to pay income tax in the state where they work.
  • Make sure you have a power of attorney in place if someone is filing on your behalf. If your spouse or someone else is filing your tax return, make sure they have all your information and attach the power of attorney – a legal document that provides them authority to make financial decisions in your absence. The person filing your taxes on your behalf will need to attach IRS Form 2848 with the tax return.

Deadline extensions for combat zone and hazardous duty

Filing your taxes after the tax deadline is more common than you think. This is especially true for service members who are deployed. The IRS extends filing deadlines – and paying of your income taxes – for service members who are:

  • Serving in a combat zone or directly supporting those in a combat zone, serving in a contingency operation, or having a “missing” status. Your tax extension generally starts the day you begin serving in the combat zone for the period of your service plus 180 days afterward. The spouse and family members of those serving in combat zone or contingency operation sometimes also qualify. Your command will notify the Internal Revenue Service of your deployment, so you can receive an automatic federal tax return extension. You may still want to write “COMBAT ZONE” in red on top of your tax return when you do file. You can double-check they have this information by e-mailing the IRS directly at: combatzone@irs.gov with your name, stateside address, birth date, and date of deployment.
  • Hospitalized outside the United States because of injuries suffered in a combat zone or hazardous duty area. This applies for the period the service member is continuously hospitalized outside of the United States as a result of injuries sustained while serving in a combat zone, including 180 days thereafter. For hospitalization inside the United States, the extension period cannot be more than five years.

Getting help filing taxes, getting an extension

In addition to serving in a combat zone, there are other ways service members can obtain an extension on filing taxes beyond the tax deadline. To find out more about your obligation to file taxes, obtain an extension, and discover service member-specific tax benefits, call 800-342-9647 to schedule a free appointment to talk with a Military OneSource MilTax consultant.

Other tax assistance for service members and their families can be obtained through:

  • The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Offered for free by the IRS, this program is for those living on or off the installation and includes sites for military members overseas. VITA staff can help you with military tax issues.
  • Military OneSource MilTax free tax filing services. MilTax preparation and e-filing software, available mid-January through mid-October, allows you to prepare and file your federal and state taxes with ease. It’s designed to address military-specific scenarios, such as those described above. If you have questions along the way, call 24/7 to schedule an appointment with a MilTax consultant, 800-342-9647.
  • The IRS has a web page on tax information for military members who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and uniform services.

Preparing and filing taxes is a citizen and service member duty. But as a member of the military family, you can obtain 100% free access to tax consultants and financial counselors with military expertise. Contact Military OneSource anytime, 24/7 at 800-342-9647 to take advantage of this benefit.

Three Ways for Service Members to Get a Federal Tax Filing Extension

A marine talks with staff at a tax assistance center.

If you can’t file your federal tax return by this year’s deadline, then consider filing for an extension. Filing extensions are more common than you may think, and there are types of extensions that are available to service members. But there are certain things you should know when you request a penalty-free extension for your federal taxes, including what kinds of extensions require you to pay any tax you owe upfront and those that allow you to delay payment.

A benefit of military membership: more ways to get a tax filing extension

There are three types of extensions available to service members:

Free MilTax Services

MilTax’s tax preparation and e-filing software is available mid-January through mid-October. And MilTax consultants are available year-round to help with tax questions or extensions.

  • Automatic extension will be granted if you apply for an automatic extension of time to file your U.S. individual income tax return using IRS Form 4868 before the due date. Note: if you owe taxes, you will be charged interest from the date the payment was due, if you do not make a tax payment by the original tax filing deadline.
  • If your duty post is outside the United States or Puerto Rico, you qualify for an automatic two-month extension. To receive this extension, you must attach a statement to your return explaining your situation and how you qualify for an extension. If you can’t file your return within the two months, you can request up to another four-month extension. If you owe taxes, your interest will start accruing from the date the payment was originally due.
  • If you are serving in a combat zone or contingency operation, an automatic extension can be granted for filing your tax return, paying your owed tax or filing a claim for a refund. This deadline is extended for 180 days after leaving the eligible area or after that area is no longer designated a combat zone or after your operation is no longer considered a contingency operation. You can also receive an extension if you are hospitalized outside the United States because of injuries sustained in a combat zone or hazardous duty area.

Military OneSource MilTax provides trained tax consultants who have extensive knowledge of the tax benefits for military members and families. They can help you file an extension, determine what you’re eligible for and answer any tax question. Contact Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or live chat to schedule a free appointment with a MilTax consultant. OCONUS/international? Click here for calling options.

Don’t forget these factors

Other things to consider:

  • Don’t forget to address your state tax deadline too. Filing a federal tax return extension does not necessarily mean you get an extension of your state tax deadline. Speak with a MilTax consultant about your state’s requirements.
  • Make sure you give your spouse power of attorney, or you have filed IRS Form 2848 Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representation, if you want your spouse to file a joint return while you are overseas, in a combat zone or contingency operation or otherwise incapacitated. There are specific rules for spouses for joint or separate returns, so gather more information from your tax advisor or a MilTax consultant.
  • If the IRS sends you a notice of examination before learning that you’re entitled to a deadline extension, contact your legal assistance office.

Filing an extension of your federal tax return is simple if you have the right information. Speak to a MilTax consultant or another tax advisor to ensure you are selecting the proper extension before the original deadline and that you pay any taxes owed by the original deadline, if necessary. If you live in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam or Saipan, call 800-342-9647 or live chat to speak to a trained tax consultant. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

To receive tax services in Spanish, call 800-342-9647, and a third-party translator will facilitate the call. If you’re hearing impaired and require a telecommunications device, or TTY/TDD, dial 711 and give the toll-free number 800-342-9647.

College Tuition and Taxes: What You Need to Know

Graduates, graduation, tuition, tuition assistance, row of graduates

Take advantage of tax savings if you are pursuing higher education. If you are a student or parent with an eye toward maximizing your tax deductions, connect with Military OneSource MilTax free tax services to get everything you qualify for. MilTax consultants have extensive knowledge of tax benefits for military families and can help you identify tax incentives for education expenses and student loan payments.

There are three main sources of tax savings on college expenses: tax credits, tax deductions and savings plans benefits.

Tax credits

If you pay higher education expenses for yourself, your spouse or a dependent, you may qualify for an education tax credit, which can reduce the amount of federal income tax you owe. Consider these two options:

  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit allows you to claim a maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student for qualified expenses paid during the first four years of college.
  • The Lifetime Learning Credit lets you claim a credit of up to $2,000 per year for undergraduate, graduate and professional students, for an unlimited number of years.

Free MilTax Services

MilTax’s tax preparation and e-filing software is available mid-January through mid-October. And MilTax consultants are available year-round to help with tax questions or extensions.

Tax deductions

Higher education expenses can also help reduce your taxable income. Here are a few tax deductions that you may qualify for:

  • A student loan interest deduction allows you to deduct up to $2,500 of the interest you’ve paid on qualified student loans. You won’t have to itemize your tax return to receive this deduction either, and you may qualify for it if your modified adjusted gross income is less than $75,000 (or $155,000 if you file a joint return).
  • A business deduction for work-related education lets you claim a deduction for work-related education expenses if they are more than two percent of your adjusted gross income. A MilTax consultant can help you itemize your taxes and meet other requirements set by the Internal Revenue Service to qualify for this deduction.

College savings plans

If you’re using a savings plan to save for college, then your plan may offer additional tax benefits.

  • 529 plan contributions are not deductible on your federal tax return, but earnings and distributions from the money you save in a 529 plan are tax-free, so long as you use the funds for qualified higher education expenses.
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account contributions are not tax-deductible, either. But you can grow your Coverdell savings tax-free if you contribute no more than $2,000 per student each year. You can also make tax-free distributions if the amount you withdraw doesn’t exceed your qualified education expenses.

Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or live chat to schedule a free appointment with a MilTax consultant or a financial counselor. OCONUS/international? Click here for calling options. You can also visit the IRS Tax Benefits for Education Information Center, or contact a qualified tax professional.

Filing State Income Taxes in the Military

Woman working on her computer by a window

When you’re on the move, it can be hard to know where to file your state income taxes. Thankfully, active-duty service members and their spouses have certain protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, including protections about where you claim residency for purposes of taxes and voting. There are rules for military service members and slightly different rules for military spouses.

Active-duty service members and state taxes

Active-duty service members file state income taxes in their state of legal residence. Military service members are not required to change their legal residence when they move to a new state solely due to military orders; they may maintain their legal residence in a state where they have previously established it.

Free MilTax Services

MilTax’s tax preparation and e-filing software is available mid-January through mid-October. And MilTax consultants are available year-round to help with tax questions.

Your state of legal residence is the place where you claim to maintain a permanent legal residence, as demonstrated by a wide variety of factors including:

  • Maintaining voter registration and voting
  • Filing and paying state income taxes
  • Maintaining a driver’s license
  • Registering vehicles and other indicators of intent

Your legal residence as shown by those factors should be the same place as your legal residence indicated on your Leave and Earnings Statement.

SCRA rules for state income taxes apply only to the service member’s military income. Income from other sources, including second jobs or rental property, is not covered by the SCRA protections and need to be reported to the state in which it was earned.

Military spouses and state taxes

Military spouses may elect to use their active-duty service member’s state of legal residence for purposes of taxation, as long as the military spouse’s current location is due to their service member’s military orders.

Military families with non-typical situations are not always covered by these protections, and the military spouse may need to file in the state where they are physically residing.

Military children and state taxes

The provisions of SCRA do not apply to military children. If required to file state income taxes, they should file in the location where they physically reside.

Do you have questions about your federal or state income taxes? Contact a Military OneSource MilTax consultant for free at 800-342-9647. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options. Or live chat to schedule a free consultation with a MilTax consultant or a financial counselor.

The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act

Couple discuss finances at a military tax center

Moving from place to place requires a lot of effort and changes. Two laws make it easier for military spouses regarding their residency, voting and state taxes.

In 2009, the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act was amended by the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act. It allows military spouses to maintain legal residence in the state where they lived before a permanent change of station move with their active-duty service member. A second amendment to the SCRA provides additional protections and benefits to military spouses. This is called the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018.

Maintaining your legal residence under MSRRA

Every person has a state of legal residence. For most civilians, their state of legal residence is the place where they live. But service members and their families move frequently. The SCRA allows active-duty military members to maintain their legal residence in the place they consider home.

The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act allows military spouses to declare the same state of legal residency as their spouse. The Veterans Benefits and Transition Act allows that choice to be made regardless of when they were married. The following conditions must be met to qualify under the MSRRA:

  • The service member is stationed under military orders in a state that is not his/her resident state.
  • The spouse is in that state solely to live with the service member.
  • Both the service member and spouse have the same resident state.

When those conditions are met, the spouse’s income will be taxed only in the state of legal residency.

Using your spouse’s state of legal residence

Spouses may vote and pay taxes in their active-duty spouse’s state of legal residence, according to the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018.

Income covered by MSRRA

A military spouse’s income is subject to tax laws in the state of legal residence. Only an active-duty service member’s military income is covered under SCRA. Any other income is taxable by the state in which it is earned.

Military spouses and service members may be required to file and pay state income taxes on other income in the state where it is earned. This includes income from rental property.

Service members and spouses who own businesses should check with their legal and tax professionals. They can help determine if and how MSRRA and SCRA apply to their specific situations.

What MSRRA does not do

MSRRA does not permit military spouses to maintain a legal residence in a state different than their active-duty service members. State laws, however, may be more generous than the federal MSRRA.

Military spouses must fulfill their state’s residency requirements. That almost always includes having a physical presence in that state.

Sometimes a military spouse will live in a different state than the active-duty service member. In these cases, the MSRRA generally does not apply.

Access free legal assistance on your installation or call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647. You may also connect via Live Chat 24/7/365. Military OneSource can help with other questions about MSRRA, SCRA, or other residence, tax or voting issues. CONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

13 Tax Tips Made for Military Life

Service member holds up piggy bank

As a service member, the tax implications of combat pay, deployment or multiple moves can be daunting. Military OneSource MilTax services – designed specifically for the MilLife – can make tax time easier‒ and help maximize your tax refund.

With MilTax, service members have quick access to consultants who are experts in the tax code and how it applies to military life, as well as easy and secure preparation and free tax filing software. All MilTax services are 100% free with no hidden surprises, so take advantage of MilTax to save money and time this tax season.

Tax Tip 1: Gather tax documents first. add
Tax Tip 2: Contact MilTax with your tax questions. add
Tax Tip 3: Determine if taking the standard deduction is a better deal for you. add
Tax Tip 4: Get tax credits, deductions and exclusions for your classes and much more. add
Tax Tip 5: Take advantage of the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act. add
Tax Tip 6: Get automatic tax extensions when you’re deployed. add
Tax Tip 7: Exclude home sale profits from your taxes. add
Tax Tip 8: Don’t worry about the penalty for not maintaining minimum essential health coverage. add
Tax Tip 9: Report and claim casualty losses from disasters. add
Tax Tip 10: Don’t ignore a corrected W-2 form. add
Tax Tip 11: Reach out if you spot an issue. add
Tax Tip 12: Know about tax deductions for reservists. add
Tax Tip 13: Remember your retirement plan contributions. add

Taxes are complicated. Remember that our 100% free MilTax services – both our expert military tax consultants and e-filing tax preparation software – stand ready to make tax season easy for you. Call 800-342-9647 for 24/7 help. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options. Or live chat to schedule a consultation with a MilTax consultant or a financial counselor.