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Taxes: No Laughing Matter



Article  
Taxes: No Laughing Matter
[10/22/2004]

Source: By Carole W. Butler for LIFELines

Art Buchwald once said, "Tax reform is taking the taxes off things that have been taxed in the past and putting taxes on things that haven't been taxed before."

Ever since the Boston Tea Party, taxes have been a never-ending resource for humorists, since everyone understands the joke. Complicated tax forms, W-2s, 1099s, tax brackets, deductions, standard or itemized; all are designed to separate you from your money each year on April 15. Fortunately, Armed Forces personnel, retirees, and their families have ready access to free tax assistance.
Active duty personnel can find answers to relevant tax questions online in IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces' Taxes Guide, or they can request a hard copy of the publication.

This guide explains military tax issues, such as filing tax extensions when stationed outside the United States and Puerto Rico, deductible expenses for a permanent change of station, and income that is tax-free (such as Basic Allowance for Housing and combat-zone exclusion). Imminent danger/hostile fire pay, a reenlistment bonus, and other income are tax free for combat-zone service. Even if personnel serve in a combat zone for only one day of the month, pay for that entire month is tax free.

When it comes to filing taxes, some people want to fill out their own, so the IRS web site has all the forms and instructions needed. "You can download and print off copies of tax forms and instructions if you want to do your taxes by hand — the old stubby-pencil method," says LCDR Keith Brau, Office of the Judge Advocate General, Washington Navy Yard, D.C.

The site also has free software and free e-filing at IRS Free File. "It's becoming very popular, and the IRS is actively promoting it as the way to go now and for the future," says Brau.

Other free services at the IRS include TeleTax, TaxFax, and talking to real people over the phone or at an IRS office.
For those who dread filling out tax forms, whether digitally or with a stubby pencil, the IRS trains volunteers to prepare taxes for active duty personnel, retirees, and their dependents, free of charge. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) representatives are collateral duty personnel on ships, especially aircraft carriers, and on Navy and Marine Corps bases.
Trained volunteers at our military tax sites will prepare the tax returns; federal and state; for free and electronically file them for free," says Brau. "In a few cases, we are not able to send returns electronically, so paper returns must be used."
To have taxes prepared by a VITA rep, bring complete tax records, such as dependents' Social Security cards, W-2 and 1099 forms from employers and banks, and paperwork for any special circumstances, such as selling a home. "For complex returns, bring a copy of the prior year's tax return," says Brau.

A thorn in the side of American taxpayers since the tea-tossing incident, the idea of paying taxes has been fair game for American humorists, who have added some levity to our annual tax rite. But as Benjamin Franklin observed, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes."

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