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Remembering veterans' contributions and offering tax help for still-serving military men and women

We call it Veterans Day here in the United States.

A veteran's salute_Veterans Day parade Pittsburgh PA 11112011_US Army photo
An Army veteran salutes the colors being carried in the Veterans Day parade in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 11, 2011. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army via Flickr)

That Nov. 11 is such an important date is evidenced by the fact that federal holiday has escaped conversion into a Monday that wraps up a long weekend that's usually more focused on consumer spending than actual commemoration.

End of the Great War: Each November we mark what originally was the official, formal end of World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

The day, which is celebrated as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day in other countries that recognize the anniversary, has evolved into a day that honors military veterans.

My dad and other relatives served in the U.S. armed forces over the years. I am thankful that my father's active duty in the Navy did not coincide with any wars or other military entanglements, although much to my mother's dismay he was in the Naval Reserves during Korea and she lived in constant worry, so I am told, that he would be called up. He wasn't.

Still, I think of my father and other family members who served on this day. And I think of those families whose loved ones did not fare as well as mine.

Gratitude and peace be with you and all military service personnel, still serving or retired, and their families today.

Tax tips for the military: While there is much debate, political and otherwise, about how to better serve the needs and interests of our service men and women, the Internal Revenue Code does at least contain some tax help.

Here are some tax breaks, representing this week's Weekly Tax Tip, that members of the military and their families should look into at filing time to ensure that they get every available tax benefit.

  • Combat pay is partially or fully tax-free. Service members serving in support of a combat zone may also qualify for this exclusion.
  • Reservists whose reserve-related duties take them more than 100 miles from home can deduct their unreimbursed travel expenses, even if they don’t itemize their deductions. This so-called above-the-line deduction is found only on the long Form 1040, so if you usually file a 1040A but can claim this, change forms.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, may be worth up to $6,269 on 2016 taxes for low-and moderate-income service members. Inflation adjustments bump the 2017 EITC max up to $6,318. Military personnel also are allowed to include technically nontaxable combat pay in their taxable income if it will boost their EITC benefit.
  • An IRA or 401(k)-type plan might mean saving for retirement and cutting taxes, too. Service members who contribute to these accounts, such as the Thrift Savings Plan, also may be able to claim the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, which can be worth as much as $1,000 directly against any tax you owe.
  • U.S. service members stationed abroad get an automatic extension until June 15 to file a federal income tax return. Also, those serving in a combat zone typically have until 180 days after they leave the combat zone to file and to pay any tax due.
  • Most military bases offer free tax preparation and filing assistance during the tax filing season. Some also offer free tax help after the April deadline. Service members who prepare their own return qualify to e-file their federal return for free using Internal Revenue Service's Free File online option.
  • Both spouses normally must sign a joint income tax return, but if one spouse is absent due to certain military duty or conditions, the other spouse may be able to sign for him or her. A power of attorney is required in other instances. A military installation’s legal office may be able to help.
  • Those leaving the military and looking for work may be able to deduct some job search expenses, such as the costs of travel, preparing a resume and job placement agency fees. Moving expenses (another above-the-line deduction) also may qualify for a tax deduction.
  • Be sure to let your new employer know of your military service. In addition to being a resume selling point, it also could provide your new boss a tax break via the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

You can find more about military tax matters in IRS Publication IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces Tax Guide, as well as at the IRS' special Tax Information for Members of the U.S. Armed Forces web page.

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