By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON - Rather than paying a tax specialist, service members and their families can obtain free assistance to prepare and file their annual tax returns through a special military program, a Defense Department tax advisor said today.
The military's tax assistance program processes more than 200,000 returns each year, Army Maj. John Johnson, director of the Defense Department's Armed Forces Tax Council, said during an interview with Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service reporters.
"It is just one of the benefits military people have," Johnson said of the program. Participants can visit their installation tax center for free assistance in filling out tax returns, he said, or access the Military OneSource website, www.militaryonesource.com.
"You can log on there, online, and also file for free," Johnson said of the Web site. The online tax-filing system on Military OneSource is closed to military retirees, however.
Military members from all service branches sit on the Pentagon's tax council that coordinates the program, Johnson explained.
Free tax-filing assistance services are open to active-duty and reserve component service members, as well as family members and military retirees, Johnson said.
Participants should bring their military-issued identification cards, W-2 Wage and Earnings statements and any other forms or documents required for tax filing, Johnson said. People who believe they may be eligible for tax refunds also should bring their bank account numbers if they'd like the refund direct-deposited into a specific account, Johnson pointed out.
More complicated tax-preparation work involving itemizing of returns for added tax deductions also can be processed for free, although these returns normally require more documentation, he said.
Military members receive many tax benefits, Johnson pointed out. For example, all allowances, including housing, meals, family separation and others, are tax-exempt, he said, as is all military pay for enlisted military members deployed in overseas combat zones. Officers deployed in combat zones, he added, can exclude about $7,000 of their monthly pay for federal taxes.
Service members deployed to combat zones have six months to file their taxes after departing the area, Johnson noted.
Another tax-related benefit for service members deployed to overseas combat zones is the Savings Deposit Program, Johnson said. Under SDP, eligible service members can contribute up to $10,000 into their savings accounts while they're deployed and earn a government-guaranteed 10-percent return on their money, he explained.
"You're not going to beat that," Johnson said of the SDP program.
People with questions about the military's tax filing assistance program can visit the Military OneSource Web site or their installation tax center, he said.