Financial Services and Free Tax Preparation
Active-duty military personnel and veterans face unique financial challenges. Although many of these challenges can be faced by accessing benefit programs specifically designed for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, such as the VA home loan program, life changes can lead to other situations where a veteran might need financial assistance.
Veterans and active military personnel also face complexities in preparing income tax returns. Issues surrounding deployment, retirement and VA benefits can make a service member’s filing more complex than a civilian’s. Also, lower-income veterans might find it difficult to hire an accountant or pay for other professional tax service assistance.
Many community-based organizations offer low- or no-cost financial services to veterans, reservists and active-duty service members. USA Cares assists 9/11 and OIF/OEF service members, veterans and their family members through financial crises caused by military service or circumstances beyond their control. The program provides emergency assistance with food and utilities, housing assistance to avoid foreclosure or eviction, career transitioning services and help to the combat-injured – including those suffering from unseen trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and military sexual trauma.
The American Legion began in 1919 as a patriotic organization dedicated to providing help to veterans. Applicants can access assistance like emergency funds and financial counseling. Also, the American Legion has partnered with USAA Financial Services to create a website providing free financial advice.
Disabled American Veterans is another organization dedicated to helping duty-disabled vets with its personal finance services, including helping them apply for VA disability benefits and VA mortgages.
Tax Preparation Discounts
Several tax services offer discounted tax preparation to active military personnel and veterans:
- Jackson Hewitt Tax Service offers a Veterans Advantage program that offers veterans 20 percent off tax-preparation services.
- Tax Slayer provides a Military Edition that grants active-duty service members 50 percent of the normal fees to prepare federal and state returns.
- TurboTax offers customized discounts to military members based on rank. Pay grades of E1-E5 can get the software for free. Pay grades of E6 and above pay a discounted price.
Free Tax Preparation
Through its Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communications office (SPEC), the IRS has partnered with community and government organizations to provide federal tax information and assistance to veterans. Financial education-including information about tax credits and benefits, asset-building, and free tax preparation are some of the services offered.
The IRS created the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to provide free tax assistance to taxpayers earning $54,000 or less, those who are disabled and individuals with limited English-speaking skills. Though not specifically designed for them, qualifying veterans can access the program at large military installations worldwide. The VITA program is staffed with volunteers who assist patrons with basic income tax preparation and electronic filing.
Veterans 60 years of age or older can access the IRS’s Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program. IRS-certified TCE volunteers specialize in issues unique to seniors, such as pensions and retirement plans. The majority of TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide program, and some offer “Self-Prep” options where taxpayers can prepare their own state and federal tax returns on free software under the guidance of an IRS-certified volunteer.
The IRS Free File Software program provides free e-filing and federal tax preparation for taxpayers whose Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is below $64,000. Individuals with a higher AGI can still use this system to access free fillable forms that calculate math automatically.
Furthermore, Military OneSource provides free tax filing and preparation services to those who create a free account and fall into one of the following categories:
- Active-duty servicemembers
- National Guard and Reserve members
- Retired and honorably discharged service personnel within 180 days of their discharge, retirement or end-of-service date
- Spouses of the above