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Free help for military tax filers: No taxable income? You can still qualify for stimulus payouts

Mar. 13, 2008 - 04:50PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 13, 2008 - 04:50PM  |  

Got questions on your taxes? Wondering if you need to file because you spent the year in a war zone and had no taxable income?

What you don't know could cost you. Get your taxes prepared for free on your military installation, by someone familiar with military tax provisions.

With economic stimulus rebates at stake, "it's more important to file, and more complicated for those who have been deployed to the combat zones," said Lt. Col. Janet Fenton, the Army's deputy chief of legal assistance for tax and estate planning. "It's more important to visit the tax center so you get the advantage of the stimulus payment."

These payments will be $600 for most single military members and $1,200 for married couples filing jointly, with an additional $300 for each minor child.

"You'll want to file this year for the stimulus payment, even if you ordinarily wouldn't file taxes because you don't have any taxable income," Fenton said.

For example, that applies to service members who served in the combat zone in 2007 and thus had all their military income exempted from taxes.

Payments will begin going out in May but will still be made to those who file later, such as troops returning from a combat zone who have a 180-day extension on their tax deadline from the time they leave the zone.

An important note: If your taxable income was zero, your tax return must be filled out on paper and mailed in, Fenton says — you cannot file a return electronically.

Across the top of the 1040A, write "Stimulus payment," to identify that the return is simply to report qualifying income in order to receive the rebate.

Service legal assistance officials have sent information to the field spelling out the requirements.

If you have already filed and didn't report any income, you should file an amended 1040X, Fenton says.

The armed forces participate in the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, in which trained tax preparers provide free tax advice, tax preparation, filing of returns — including electronic returns — and other tax assistance.

The Armed Forces Tax Council oversees the program, available to active-duty and reserve-component members, family members and military retirees. These volunteer tax preparers are trained in military-specific tax issues, such as tax-exempt military allowances and combat-zone tax benefits.

Your best bet is to visit your installation tax center as early as possible, well before the April 15 deadline.

Where do you find your tax center? Start with the nearest base legal assistance center. To find phone numbers and locations of the office nearest you, visit http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php">http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php. This handy locator has information for all service branches.

Here is a list of documents you'll need for starters:

• Your military ID card.

• Social Security numbers for all dependents.

• Birth dates for all dependents.

• Current-year tax package, if you received one from the IRS.

• Wage and earning statements — forms W-2, W-2G and 1099-R.

• Interest and dividend statements — forms 1099-INT and 1099-DIV.

• Copies of last year's federal and state returns, if available.

• Bank routing numbers and account numbers, if you want your refund deposited directly into your account.

• Total amount paid for day care, and the day care provider's identifying number.

• Other information about income and expenses that pertain to you, such as mortgage interest payments.

• A power of attorney that allows tax preparation, if you are married filing jointly and one spouse cannot be present to sign the tax return. Remember, troops deployed to combat zones have an extension of six months after they leave a zone to file their taxes.

If you're not near an installation tax center or want to do your own taxes, you can get free tax preparation software through http://www.militaryonesource.com">http://www.militaryonesource.com, a Defense Department-sponsored system of information and support for military members and their families. The user ID is "military"; the password is "onesource."

Military OneSource also offers assistance with tax questions. You can e-mail them through the Web site or call (800) 342-9647; overseas 11-digit at (800) 3429-6477; or overseas collect at (484) 530-5908. Military OneSource is not available to retirees and their families.

Remember, you won't be able to file electronically through Military OneSource if you had zero taxable income; you must mail the paper return to get the stimulus payment.

Take advantage of these free military benefits and save yourself some headaches — and some bucks.

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