It is time to file 2020 taxes, and service members and military families are fortunate to have access to many tax filing resources to help with the process. But before you begin, here are a few helpful things to know, including what documents are required, employee and independent contractor rights, and of course, where can you file (for free in some cases).
Keep in mind the IRS announced ot will not start accepting and processing 2020 tax year returns until Feb. 12. You can start working on your return now, though, to ensure you don’t miss the deadline.
Steps for military families to complete their 2020 taxes
Step one: The W-2s
If you work for the Department of Defense as a uniformed service member or civilian, or if you are now a retiree or annuitant, DFAS (Defense Finance and Accounting System) is responsible for providing your 2020 tax statements. Below is the list of when the electronic statements are released by branch.
- Retiree 1099-R – available now
- Reserve Component Air Force, Army, Navy W-2 – available now
- Marine Corps Active & Reserve W-2 – available now
- Army Non-Appropriated Fund (NAF) Civilian W-2 – available now
- Active Duty Army, Air Force, Navy W-2 – available now
- Military/Military Retiree IRS Form 1095 – available Jan. 31
- Civilian IRS Form 1095 – available now
The full list can be found on the DFAS 2020 Tax Statement Schedule.
Don’t forget to retrieve your special W-2s if you did a Personally Procured Move (Travel/Miscellaneous W-2) or had money in the Savings Deposit Program (1099 INT).
If you don’t have a myPay account to retrieve your tax statements electronically, they will be sent through the U.S. Postal Service and mailed no later than Jan. 31.
If you are not able to retrieve your documents online and you don’t receive your documents by mail for any reason, you can request they be reissued starting Feb. 10.
Step two: Civilian tax documents
If you have other sources of taxable income, employers have until Jan. 31 to send out W-2s and other tax documents. Examples of other items you may need to file are college tuition statements, bank statements, receipts, and mortgage interest statements.
If you are an independent contractor, your pay is reported on a 1099 form. You will want to gather the documents to support your business expenses before starting the tax filing process.
When in doubt, ask the professionals at Military OneSource (for free). Contact them at 1-800-342-9647. You can also use the live chat option available in the upper right-hand corner of their website.
Step three: Where can you file as a military member and military family (hopefully for free).
After you have gathered all of your tax documents, it is time to decide if you are going to file for yourself or use an external agency. Military ID cardholders have a few options for free or discounted filing:
- Installation tax centers: Look up your installation’s information by clicking here. In most cases, you have the option to set an appointment or walk-in.
- Military OneSource offers free tax filing support through its MilTax program. In addition to the e-filing software, MOS also provides consultants who can assist you. Click here to learn more: MilTax.
Note: In order to use this service, you must establish a free account with Military OneSource. Click here to get started.
- IRS Free File – for any taxpayer with an income less than $72,000, there is free federal filing on an IRS partner site. For income above $72,000, access free fillable forms after Feb. 12.
- TurboTax – offers free federal and state tax filing for all enlisted personnel.
- TaxSlayer – free federal filing for all active duty military.
The regular due date to file your federal income tax return is Apr. 15.
Step four: When will you get your refund?
This is really the most important question, isn’t it? As usual, the IRS expects simple returns that are filed electronically to have any refund paid within 2–3 weeks. But don’t forget that clock doesn’t start until the IRS starts processing returns in February.
Also, put some thought into what you plan to do with your return. Installations around the U.S. have personal finance counselors, and Military OneSource has representatives who you can speak with over the phone.
Tax extensions for military service members and their families
Any U.S. citizen, including service members, can apply for an extension on their tax return by filling out IRS Form 4868. However, you will be required to pay interest on your owed taxes (if applicable) from the date of the original deadline of April 15 until your extension deadline. In some cases, penalties may also apply.
There are a variety of ways military service members can get an extension. Folks who are stationed overseas receive an automatic two-month extension (stipulations apply. Check here for more). In the case of a deployed service member, they will get 180 days since their last day in the combat zone plus any days they were located in the combat zone before the filing date. In other words, if a service member was in a combat zone starting Nov. 1 they would receive an extension of 165 days plus an additional 180 days.
For both those who are stationed overseas and those who are deployed in a combat zone, simply attach a statement of qualification to your return by the extension deadline.
*PLEASE NOTE: If you are stationed overseas and you owe taxes, you will have to pay interest on the amount owed even if you qualify for an extension. In other words, if you wait to file your taxes with the two-month automatic extension (which puts a due date of June 15), you will owe applicable interest on any amount owed from April 15 to June 15. The interest does not apply to those who are deployed to a combat zone.
For more information on extension provisions for service members, check out these frequently asked questions.