By Carmen L. GleasonMarch 7, 2007
WASHINGTON (Arm News Service, March 7, 2007) - With income tax deadlines quickly approaching, the Internal Revenue Service is reminding troops and their families that free assistance is available to them at military tax centers worldwide.
The IRS has provided the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program to servicemembers from more than 25 years.
Bill Cressman, an IRS spokesman, said the revenue service wants to help lift the burden of tax filing from members of the military who often run into complicated tax exemptions.
"The IRS offers volunteer income tax assistance to both military servicemembers and civilians," Cressman said. "We want to make tax compliance easier."
Commanders throughout the services have supported the program by providing personnel, space and equipment for tax centers. The IRS provides tax software and training.
The program, overseen by the Armed Forces Tax Council, works to train military volunteers on installations through a series of intensive training sessions so they can understand current laws and offer tax advice, preparation, return filing and other tax assistance, Cressman said.
IRS tax laws provide special benefits to active-duty servicemembers, particularly those in combat zones. For federal tax purposes, "armed forces" includes officers and enlisted members in regular and reserve units controlled by the secretaries of Defense, Army, Navy and Air Force, in addition to the Coast Guard.
According to the IRS Web site, three combat zones have been designated by executive order from the president in areas where armed forces are or have engaged in combat, this includes the air space above those areas. These are the Arabian Peninsula, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
The Defense Department also has certified locations for combat-zone tax benefits due to the direct support of military operations during operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. A listing of these locations can be found at www.irs.gov/newsroom by clicking on the "Armed Forces" tab.
Those who qualify for combat zone provisions can apply for military pay exclusions, deadline extensions and miscellaneous provisions by writing "combat zone" and their deployment date in red ink on the top of tax returns.
Qualifying taxpayers may directly notify the IRS of their exclusion status by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Servicemembers should provide name, stateside address, date of birth, and date of deployment to the combat zone. They should not include Social Security numbers in an e-mail. This notification may be made by the taxpayer, spouse, or authorized agent or representative.
Enlisted members and warrant officers serving in a combat zone for any part of a month qualify to have all military pay for that month excluded from gross income tax. Officers' monthly exclusions are capped at the highest enlisted pay rate, plus hostile fire or imminent danger pay received.
Deadline extensions are not confined to those serving in combat zones. They also apply to civilian personnel acting under direction of the armed forces and spouses who are stateside.
Telephone calls originating in combat zones by members of the armed forces are also exempt from federal excise tax and must be certified for exemption by the telephone company. If servicemembers already have filed, they can still apply for a refund.
Recent law changes also have allowed military members to count tax-free combat pay when determining contributions to Roth and traditional individual retirement accounts. This also can apply to taxes filed since 2004. Troops are allowed to go back and make contributions for those years.
(Carmen L. Gleason writes for the American Forces Press Service.)