I suspect that this is a popular weekend for tax preparation. The last of the wage W-2s will be out this week, with all W-2s issued by 31 January 2013. Thankfully, most military folks don’t need to pay for tax preparation because there are so many free tax prep programs available. They are more than adequate for the average taxpaying family. If you have a more complex situation, then consider hiring a tax professional. My accountant is invaluable to me, because we’ve got complicated stuff: foreign earned income exclusion, self-employment, two rentals, etc.
H&R Block at Home through Military OneSource
The big daddy of all free tax programs for military comes via Military OneSource. They’ve teamed up with H&R Block to provide free access to the H&R Block at Home tax filing service. You do have to register with Military OneSource, or reset your credentials if you are like me and you’ve forgotten your user name and password. If you don’t go through Military OneSource, every time you log in, you may be charged for the service.
Using the Military OneSource H&R Block at Home program, you can file your federal tax return and up to three state returns. That is great for families who have moved, or who have different states of residence. Military OneSource also offers online or telephone consultations for tax questions.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
Most military installations of a decent size have a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The VITA program is supported by the IRS and the IRS provides the training for the VITA volunteers. Military VITA volunteers are specially trained in issues that are specific to military families. Please, however, keep in mind that these are volunteers and their quality may vary. They are more than capable of handling simple returns, but please be careful if you have more complicated issues. I had a problem with my tax return in 2010 (pre-accountant) and the VITA volunteers were unable to give me accurate answers.
Most military VITA programs are coordinated through your installations Legal Services offices. If you haven’t heard about a VITA program on your base, check with Legal and see if they have the contact information.
Free Versions of Pay Programs
Some tax companies offer free versions of their pay tax programs. Some offer their programs free to all servicemembers, and some use an income-based eligibility system. Companies offering such a promotion include:
TurboTax Military Edition: Free for E-1 through E-5
TaxSlayer Military: Free for all military
IRS Free File Companies: IRS Free File is a program designed to provide free online tax preparation for taxpayers whose Adjusted Gross Income is $57,000 or less. Numerous companies participate, and you can choose the company that you would like to use. This offer is not just for military, so be sure to share it with your friends and family.
In addition to the national programs I’ve listed, many communities offer free tax filing assistance. If none of these will work, check your community newspapers for a local service.
If your return is not too complex, there is no need to pay. Don’t forget, e-filing begins on 30 January 2013.