As tax season rolls around, many families start to feel the stress that comes with filing taxes. While tax preparation can be complicated and costly for the average American, military tax returns can be even more difficult as service families move often and encounter unique tax issues– like tax benefits for serving in a combat zone. Fortunately, the military community can take advantage of free or discounted tax services and support to help file their returns.
Read on to learn about the various options that can offer financial and emotional relief to military members this tax season.
Where to get free help with a military tax return
Military families face challenges that most people will never understand, all while juggling finances and adapting to each new environment. However, the following programs can help you save on your tax filing fees and file the best tax return for military circumstances.
IRS VITA program
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program provides free tax counseling, preparation, and filing services to the military community. To be eligible, you must be active duty, retired, recently separated, or an eligible dependent.
VITA sites are run by volunteers trained by the IRS and supported by the military legal assistance office. This coordinated effort connects back to the Armed Forces Tax Council, which is in charge of military tax programs worldwide. To locate a VITA site near you, visit the IRS website, or call 1-800-906-9887.
On-base legal assistance or tax centers
Most major military bases, both stateside and overseas, have VITA programs on-site to offer free tax filing assistance. Use a base guide to locate tax centers and procedures for your specific military installation.
IRS free file software
If you make less than $69,000, you can use the tools available through the IRS Free File program to prepare and file your federal tax return. However, if your income is above that limit, you are still eligible to use free fillable forms, which are available using the same IRS Free File link above.
TurboTax offers free federal and state tax filing services for enlisted active duty personnel and reservists. However, this offer isn’t valid for officers, veterans, or retirees.
TaxSlayer provides free federal e-filing services to active-duty servicemembers. State returns may be an additional cost.
Military OneSource Miltax
Military OneSource Miltax provides free preparation and e-filing software January 22 through mid-October, along with free access to tax consultants. It was explicitly designed to address the tax scenarios that military personnel face.
MyFreeTaxes.com allows families that made less than $66,000 to file their federal and state returns for free. This financial product is made available by United Way and is completely free– regardless of whether you file multiple state returns or have a secondary income.
While it’s not a free service, H&R Block offers discounted rates for military members. Whether you file in an office or choose to do it on your own online, you can save 20% off the tax preparation fee.
Frequently asked questions about how to file a military tax return
Where to file your tax return
If you’re active duty overseas, you’ll still be considered living in the U.S. for tax purposes. However, if you’re stationed stateside, things can become tricky quick when deciding whether to file where you’re living versus your state of legal residency. Filing your state return can become even more complicated if you’ve earned non-military income. Because of this, we recommend choosing to file with an entity mentioned above that can ensure you meet all federal and state filing requirements.
When to file your military tax return
Taxes should be submitted by April 15 each year, but you may qualify for an extension depending on your military situation. For example, you get an automatic extension if you’re stationed abroad. However, anyone can request an extension by submitting Form 4868 before the April 15 tax deadline.
What you need to bring
You can speed up the tax preparation process by collecting all of your tax documents ahead of time. You’ll need to bring:
- Valid photo identification (ex: driver’s license or military ID)
- Social security numbers and birth dates for each family member
- W-2, W-2G, 1099-R, and other wage and earning forms
- Interest and dividend statements
- Your previous year’s tax returns
- Relevant documentation and receipts for any other income and expenses
How do military joint returns work?
If you are married, filing a joint return, and wish to file electronically, both you and your spouse should be present to sign the required forms. If both cannot be present, you usually must bring a valid power of attorney form along with you. You may use IRS Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative for this purpose.
There is a special exception to this rule if your spouse is in a combat zone. The exception allows a spouse to prepare and e-file a joint return with a written statement stating the other spouse is in a combat zone and unable to sign.
What is the Armed Forces Tax Council?
The Armed Forces Tax Council oversees the military tax programs offered worldwide. AFTC partners with the IRS to conduct outreach to military personnel and their families. This includes the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Save on your military tax return
Military members and their families have many options to make filing taxes more manageable and less expensive. Whether you file your taxes yourself or seek professional tax help, you should take advantage of these resources and receive the savings you and your family deserve for your service and sacrifice.
Additionally, IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, has more helpful information for members of the military. You can download free publications from the IRS.gov website or order them by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
Additional IRS Resources:
- Tax Information for Members of the Military
- Special EITC Rules for the Military
- Combat Zone Service Q&As
- Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative
- Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide
Jessica Walrack is a personal finance writer at SuperMoney, The Simple Dollar, Interest.com, Commonbond, Bankrate, NextAdvisor, Guardian, Personalloans.org and many others. She specializes in taking personal finance topics like loans, credit cards, and budgeting, and making them accessible and fun.