Because service members and their families make great sacrifices to serve their country, Uncle Sam rewards them with some tax benefits to reduce their financial burden.
But those tax breaks don’t do much good if they aren’t taken. Here are 6 of some of the commonly missed tax benefits:
1. Travel expense for reservists. If you are in the National Guard or military reserve, you may be able to deduct your travel expenses. If you travel more than 100 miles from home and are away overnight, you can deduct your lodging, half of the cost of meals, plus 55.5 cents per mile (56.5 cents per mile in 2013), plus toll fees and parking.
2. ROTC payments. If you are a student in the ROTC, you don’t have to pay tax on the allowance that you receive for your participation in advanced training. This rule doesn’t apply to any active duty pay that you receive.
3. Combat pay. The pay you receive for any month that you serve in a combat zone is not taxable to you. If you a military officer your tax-free pay may be subject to a cap. But even though your combat pay isn’t taxable, don’t overlook it. You can take that pay into account to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
4. Military uniforms. The cost of military uniforms, including their cleaning and upkeep, are deductible. They must be uniforms that you are prohibited from wearing when off duty, and your deduction is reduced by any uniform allowance that you receive.
5. Moving expenses. If you are on active duty and have moving expenses in connection with a permanent change of station, those moving expenses are deductible, if they are not reimbursed to you. You may also qualify for a moving expense deduction once you are out of the military, if your move is related to the start of a new job in a new location. The requirements are confusing, but TurboTax Military Edition will walk you through the process to determine if you qualify. If you have additional questions, you can ask TurboTax tax experts who are CPAs, IRS Enrolled Agents, and tax attorneys.
6. Filing your tax return. If you are serving in a combat zone during tax filing season, you have at least 180 days beyond the traditional April 15 deadline to file your tax return. If you are hospitalized because of injuries you sustained in a combat zone, similar extensions of time to file apply.
If you are serving overseas in a non-combat zone, the April 15 deadline is automatically extended to June 15 (June 17 for this filing year, since June 15 falls on a Saturday). If you are a civilian serving in a combat zone, the same rules apply, but you need to write the words “Combat Zone” and your deployment date in red across the top of your tax return. Military members do not have to make this notation on their tax return. And if you are serving in the military and so are not available to sign a joint return, your spouse can sign it under a power of attorney.