Tax tips for military personnel

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- If you are in the U. S. Armed Forces, there are special tax breaks for you. For example, some types of pay are not taxable. Certain rules apply to deductions or credits that you may be able to claim that can lower your tax. In some cases, you may get more time to file your tax return, or even get more time to pay your income tax. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Deadline Extensions. Some members of the military, such as those who serve in a combat zone, can postpone some tax deadlines. If this applies to you, you can get automatic extensions of time to file your tax return and to pay your taxes.

Combat Pay Exclusion. If you serve in a combat zone, your combat pay is partially or fully tax-free. If you serve in support of a combat zone, you may also qualify for this exclusion.

Moving Expense Deduction. You may be able to deduct some of your unreimbursed moving costs on Form 3903. This normally applies if the move is due to a permanent change of station.

Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC. If you get nontaxable combat pay, you may choose to include it in your taxable income. Including it may boost your EITC, meaning you may owe less tax and could get a larger refund. In 2015, the maximum credit for taxpayers was $6,242. The average amount of EITC claimed was more than $2,400. Figure it both ways and choose the option that best benefits you. You may want to use tax preparation software or consult a tax professional to guide you.

Signing Joint Returns. Both spouses normally must sign a joint income tax return. If your spouse is absent due to certain military duty or conditions, you may be able to sign for your spouse. You may need a power of attorney to file a joint return. Your installation’s legal office may be able to help you.

Reservists’ Travel Deduction. Reservists whose reserve-related duties take them more than 100 miles away from home can deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses on Form 2106, even if they do not itemize their deductions.

Uniform Deduction. You can deduct the costs of certain uniforms that you can’t wear while off duty. This includes the costs of purchase and upkeep. You must reduce your deduction by any allowance you get for these costs.

ROTC Allowances. Some amounts paid to ROTC students in advanced training are not taxable. This applies to allowances for education and subsistence. Active duty ROTC pay is taxable. For instance, pay for summer advanced camp is taxable.

Civilian Life. If you leave the military and look for work, you may be able to deduct some job search expenses. You may be able to include the costs of travel, preparing a resume and job placement agency fees. Moving expenses may also qualify for a tax deduction.

IRS Tax Scams. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of reported IRS phone and email scams increased 400%. These scam artists call taxpayers threatening arrest, deportation, court action or license revocation in order to steal money and/or the personal tax information of private citizens. Individuals have also been targeted via phishing emails, text-messages and automated messages or “robo-calls”.

Be familiar with the following potential indicators of IRS tax scams:
- Demands for immediate payment and/or failure to receive initial notifications via official mail
- Demands for payment without the option to question or appeal the amount owed
- Requests for credit or debit card information over the phone
- Requests for a specific method of payment; i.e. payment via prepaid debit card
- Threats of arrest for non-payment

Protect your personal identifying information by refusing to provide any information over the phone and do not respond to emails or click on suspicious links. Report suspicious calls, emails or text messages to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) by calling 800-366-4484 or via https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml; or the Federal Trade Commission via https://www.ftc.gov.

The base legal office offers free tax preparation and filing assistance for eligible service members, dependents, and retirees. Be on the lookout for more information about this service after the new year. Another option is to do it yourself through Military OneSource, www.militaryonesource.mil. This is a cost-free electronic tax filing service available to all active duty, guard, reserve, and immediate family members.

For more information, refer to Publication 3, Armed Forces Tax Guide. It is available on the IRS.gov website. The IRS website also provides tax-tips with valuable information throughout the year to include taxpayer rights, combat zone tax provisions, moving expenses, miscellaneous deductions and consumer alerts on common tax scams.