Disclaimer: We are not tax professionals. This article is not tax advice. It’s purpose is simply to inform you about your options this tax season. In addition, we are member supported, some of the links on this page are affiliate links . When you use these links we may make money at no cost to you. Written by Dan Tapia
Tax season is upon us! The IRS started accepting returns on Feb 12th and they’re due Thursday April 15th. Let’s be real, no one really enjoys filing taxes but it is a great opportunity to get some of your money back that you paid in taxes this year. It’s easy to file on your own and get a nice chunk of change back. Here are the fastest most effective ways to file your taxes for free you you can focus on what you want to do with the refund.
The good news is that you have plenty of options to file your taxes for free while maximizing your refund and keeping you in line with tax regulations. This is incredibly important when you also have a security clearance that could be pulled because of a tax discrepancy. You don’t want to over pay in taxes or filing but you also need it to be done right. The first consideration to doing that is whether you are taking a standard or itemized deduction.
Standard Vs. Itemized Deduction
The standard deduction is offered to all taxpayers. Even if you have zero deductions you are entitled to these amounts:
- $12,400 for single filers
- $24,800 for married couples
- If you do not have tax deductions that will exceed that, take the standard deduction. This is where most people fall.
- The amount you get back depends on your income. The average last year was $2535
Itemized deductions apply for people who have tax deductions that are greater than that amount. Some common things that will get people over that limit include:
- Real Estate
- Charitable Donations
If you are curious about what some of the many deductions are, here is a law firm that breaks it down for you. They’re lawyers and we’re not so you’re better off learning it from them. If you’re taking the standard deduction then there are plenty of free options for you to file.
The Best Ways To File
If you’re filing a standard deduction all you need is your W2 and any other forms of income you may have (such as a 1099). You will also need statements from your brokerage account (Robinhood just released theirs).
It doesn’t make sense to pay someone to do a standard deduction for you. It’s quicker and cheaper to do it on your own. These software programs will walk you through your tax returns, are easy to use and will maximize your refund while keeping the IRS off your back.
- Free for all service members. Can file one federal and up to three state tax returns per one source account.
- Includes Access to Military Tax Consultants-they are trained in all matters of taxes but specifically in deployment/combat pay.
- Requires military one source account. Available to immediate family members as well.
Credit Karma Tax
- Credit Karma is completely free for everyone.
- There is no limit to your access; it is free for people itemizing or taking standard deduction.
- Includes audit defense and reimbursements up to $1000 if filed incorrectly.
- 4.8/5 (1,000,000 reviews)
H & R Block
- There is no specific discount offered to military members with H & R block for filing online but it is free for basic filings.
- 10% discount off the software if your purchase at an exchange
- Audit coverage and protection for your filing starts at $20.
- 4.4/5 (440,000 reviews)
- Free State and Federal Tax Filing For Enlisted (Not officers)
- Includes reservist
- Applies to any online products including Premier (which is for real estate) and small business
- Reimburse you for any filing discrepancies and audit protection
- 4.7/5 (95,000 reviews)
What Service Is Best For Me?
Whether you’re taking the standard deduction or doing some itemizing these services can easily handle your return. You have multiple options to file for free but here’s what we recommend for certain profiles.
Junior Officer Taking Standard Deduction
Married or unmarried doesn’t really matter here. If you’re a JO who has not deployed overseas we recommend using Credit Karma because it is completely free. It can even handle any itemized deduction or any tax credit you need. Multiple people I know have used this and have had great experiences.
Anyone Who has Deployed in the Last Year
We recommend using MilTax. You are likely receiving multiple pays and trying to understand what part of your income may or not may be taxable. This is especially prevalent if you were in a combat zone. Having the ability to speak with an expert in this area is a huge help and OneSource works hard to provide this for us.
Newly Enlisted Who Has Not Yet Deployed
You have the most options of anyone! Credit Karma and Turbo Tax are probably your best bets. Both will allow you to file for free, quickly and accommodate any unique deductions or credits you may have. You can absolutely use MilTax but it will be quicker to use the other two if you don’t have CAC access.
Military Member with Real Estate or Business Holdings
Okay, if you own one house and you live in it then any of these services will work because you are almost guaranteed to be taking the standard deduction. However, if you own multiple properties or have a small business your options are limited. Turbo Tax will work well for enlisted in this situation because you can use their more advanced software. For officers and enlisted alike, Credit Karma will still cover you for free and their software has all the abilities that the higher tier of Turbo Tax does.
If you have significant rental properties or business write-offs use an accountant. The $500 fee is worth it’s weight in gold. They’ll be able to maximize your more advanced write-offs and keep you out of trouble. There was no significant change in my investments between 2019 and 2020 but switching to an accountant increased my refund by over $4000.
If you have any additional questions on your specific situation, we’re here for you.