Next to the other established dates in our lives—birthdays, anniversaries, etc.—is an event that can creep up on us all: the April 15th federal individual income tax filing deadline. It can be synonymous with feelings of personal anxiety, an annual burden or even anticipation for some. To proactively counter any sense of painstaking labor that may exist as April 15th approaches, here are a few considerations to reduce last minute tax-filing stress.
Get organized. As with most things, this starts with a level of personal organization by ensuring that you account for all tax-defined income, interest received, distributions, gains, etc. Rather than making hurried errors in a rush to beat the deadline, be sure to gather all of your documentation and double check the accuracy of W2s, 1099s and other tax forms. After all, this is the basis for which our tax refund or liability is computed. Other verifiable documents to support claims of donations and expenses are also important. Check out the Internal Revenue Service’s list of common filing errors before you start the process.
Determine how you’ll file your taxes. Will you use a software-based program, online service or a competent live tax professional? Whatever your method, remember that educated guessing on the part of the tax filer is not a sound approach! The unique nature of the military lifestyle gives way to special legal provisions unavailable to the civilian public. These could be matters involving taxable pay, retirement contributions, selling a home, combat zone exclusions, service member and spouse exemptions, moving expenses and many more. Such issues should be independently addressed for the best outcome (see the Armed Forces Tax Guide for tax specific details). If you choose to file electronically, you’ll have an electronic confirmation that your tax returns have been received by the IRS. Those who utilize the postal service must ensure that their mail-in returns are postmarked by April 15th. Some post offices are open for extended hours on April 15th to accommodate last minute filers.
Ask for more time before the deadline. Whatever execution process you decide on, ensure that you have enough time to get everything in order. If not, simply request and file for an extension of time to complete your tax return. Service members serving in designated combat zones have an additional 180 days after their last day in the combat zone to file. Other extensions are available to military persons stationed in non-combat zones overseas and civilians who are abroad. Remember that filing for an extension (on time) does not abdicate responsibility to pay any taxes owed on or before April 15th. To remain in the good graces of the IRS; pay what you owe and pay it on time!
Once you’re squared away and have completed this year’s filing process, take a moment to proactively prepare for next year to avoid the rush and stress. You can do this by creating folders to store receipts throughout the year, remembering to request receipts for all donations as you make them, and checking in with your tax professional to stay alert of important updates. It’s also a good idea to set up automatic retirement account contributions throughout the year to eliminate the burden of lump sum funding. If you’re receiving a tax return this year, take advantage of this opportunity by putting some (or all) of it toward savings or emergency funds, paying down debt or other financial goals.
For more information or to locate additional resources, visit your local Fleet and Family Support Center or consult with a professional at Military OneSource.
Stacy Livingstone-Hoyte, AFC®, is an experienced financial counselor who has worked extensively with U.S. Armed Forces members and families. She is a long-time volunteer blogger for Navynavstress.com and previously served at the Fleet and Family Support Center, Millington, Tenn. as a financial counselor. As a military spouse, Ms. Livingstone-Hoyte knows firsthand of the financial challenges and opportunities that face military families across the globe. To that end, she embraces a steadfast belief that financial success can be simple, just not easy.