A recent article about the decreasing features in the popular TurboTax tax preparation software reminded me to make sure you all know about the free options for military families to file their income tax returns.
While military families with complex tax returns will always benefit from professional advice from a tax accountant, most military families can do their taxes themselves, obtain telephone tax counseling via MilitaryOneSource, use the free access to tax software, or check with your installation’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Do It Yourself
If you have just regular employment income reported on forms W-2, you should be able to do your own taxes. It is not complicated, the directions provided by the IRS are good, and there are tons of resources available online. However, if you get started and feel confused or stuck, move on to get some help.
Military One Source Tax Counseling
Military One Source offers limited counseling regarding tax situations to:
- All active-duty service members of the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, United States Navy and United States Air Force,
- Members of the National Guard and of the reserve (regardless of activation status), including members of the Coast Guard Reserve activated as part of the Department of the Navy under Title 10 authority,
- Service members who retired (includes medically retired individuals) and discharged honorably (includes general under honorable conditions) are eligible until 180 days past their retirement date, end of tour of service or discharge date,
- Spouses and dependent children of the eligible service members and those who are authorized in Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System,
- A family member who is taking care of the affairs of an eligible service member 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,
- Eligible survivors of active duty, Guard and reserve deceased service members regardless of conflict or activation status, and
- Members of the Department of Defense civilian expeditionary workforce when deployed (as defined by Department of Defense Directive 1404.10) during the 90 days prior to deployment and 180 days post deployment.
Military One Source tax counselors will not directly assist customers in preparing their returns, or tell them what they should or should not do in a particular situation. Honestly, after reading through the list of stuff they can not do, including “Provide advice, directives or declarative statements, such as, ‘You should do this’, ” I’m not really sure that they CAN do. However, I’d give them a call before moving on to the next step.
Actual Tax Preparation and Filing Via One Source
In addition to counseling, Military One Source can link you to their free, outside tax preparation and filing provider. You’ll have to have a Military One Source account. In my experience today, they have changed or upgraded or cleared out or something, because I was unable to log-in, they did not recognize my email for a password change, and I could not create a new account. Hopefully, you will have better luck and I will get a quick answer to my support request.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
Most installations offer tax preparation assistance through the VITA program. Somewhat organized by the legal office, VITA brings IRS representatives to train community volunteers. This training specifically highlights tax situations common to military families. VITA assistance varies in quality and availability. It is only as good as the volunteers that man it, and hours are usually based around volunteer availability. Check with your legal office to find out how to find more information for your location.
If you decide that your situation requires outside tax assistance, please choose carefully. Tax preparation companies may or may not understand the nuances of your situation. My husband and I tried to use a tax preparation company one time, and it was apparent that I knew the law better than the “professional” did. However, we are juggling rental properties and business expenses and children with educational expenses and all sorts of other fun stuff.
After years of struggling through our increasingly complicated personal tax return, we hired an accountant who is a military spouse and understands all the stuff we are managing. It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. I now feel confident that our taxes are done correctly and it isn’t taking two weeks of my time to reach that point.
The preparation of income tax returns can vary from quick and easy to downright impossible. Use the resources available to find the right help at the right price for your personal situation.