It’s five days before April 15th, or what’s known in my world as “time-to-hurriedly-fix-all-the-mistakes-I-made-on-my-taxes-because-I’ve-already-spent-my-expected-refund.” It’s a very magical five days. It’s filled with laughter (the maniacal, sleep-deprived kind); it’s filled with childhood nostalgia (the kind in which I pop Xanax pills into a Pez dispenser and eat them like chalk-flavored candy); and, above all, it’s filled with bright, shining, glorious hindsight.
I can’t remember a year when filing my taxes was simple. Even before I was worried about filing taxes as a military spouse, I made it a habit to not live in the same place for more than nine months at a time, and to change jobs about as frequently. When I married into the military, the situation complicated itself to a new level. Deployments. Nonresident statuses. Part-year resident statuses. Married filing jointly. Married filing separately. Multiple incomes. Multiple state residences.
If you’re a CPA, you probably just got all tingly with excitement. But I’m not a CPA. I’m the opposite of a CPA. (Meaning I’m a person who cannot even subtract two-digit numbers without a calculator). The number of times the Virginia Department of Taxation has responded with “I don’t know” to my questions in the last few days is staggering. And if I got paid a minimum hourly wage for the amount of time I’ve spent on the phone with TurboTax, I wouldn’t even need the refund anymore.
Jonathan and I are still very new at filing our taxes together; last year (when we were technically married), Jonathan was deployed. Which means he had little (re: no) say in how I went about our April 15 business. So I dumped all our paperwork into an accountant friend’s lap. I then proceeded to plug my fingers tightly into my ears and sing loudly to avoid learning anything useful about the process that may have helped me in the future.
This year, we made the decision to use TurboTax. By which I mean Jonathan made the decision, because he didn’t want to take time off from his classes at DLI to go to an accountant, and he figured we’d be fine on our own. Which we were.
Until we weren’t. Which is usually how it goes with my taxes.
TurboTax does have a military option that, in the software’s defense, tries to make it easier for people in our unique-ish situations. And the process was very simple, right through the point when we clicked “e-file” and decided to spend our refund on new bikes. Then I got an error letter from Virginia’s Department of Taxation. Like I did last year. And the year before. Because apparently Virginia thinks I should get the fuck out already, which I have, Virginia, so calm down.
Over the next few days, between my phone calls with Virginia’s Department of Taxation and TurboTax support, and between Jonathan and my personal research, I learned more about taxes than I have in the last 26 years combined. And I learned a lot of important things about filing taxes as a military spouse that will make my life easier during these magical five days in April next year. And, eventually, perhaps these five days will just be normal five days when I can ride my bike and watch Sister Wives reruns. Here’s to hoping.
In case there are others out there on the interweb who are also new to filing taxes in the military world, I’ve collected some of our hindsight moments into a quick list of advice. Which is also kind of for me, because I’m 99% sure I will have forcibly extinguished these past few painful days from my memory by the time it’s tax season next year.
Lessons Learned: Filing Taxes as a Working Military Spouse
and TurboTax Tips
- If you are married and are a resident of a different state than your spouse, it is okay to file your federal taxes jointly to receive the related federal benefits. However, if you must file your state taxes separately (more information below), make sure you can and know how to do so before purchasing any tax software (like TurboTax–it is possible to do this using their downloaded software, but not using their online software).
- For state taxes, active-duty military members can claim a state of residency; this means that, no matter where they are stationed or to where they PCS, they can always file their taxes as a nonresident of their claimed state.
- For state taxes as of 2009, a nonmilitary spouse of a service member can claim a state of residency as well; in order to do so, however, the spouse must qualify for the Military Spouse Residents Relief Act (MSRRA) under certain conditions, such as having lived in the state and being able to prove so with voter registration. The qualifications vary by state.
- If you are a nonmilitary spouse of a service member but you do not qualify for (or did not apply for) MSRRA, for tax purposes you are considered a resident of whichever state or states you lived in during the year.
- For some states, if you and your spouse are residents of different states, when completing your state taxes, you need to do so as married filing separately, even if you are filing your federal taxes jointly. Virginia is one of those states; if you try to file jointly but your spouse has never lived or worked in Virginia, the Commonwealth of Virginia will get very pissy with you.
- You can read about the military and military spouse filing rules for your specific state(s) in this TurboTax article.
- If you have moved around a lot in any given tax year and have not claimed a state of residency, TurboTax charges you additionally for each state in which you must file.
- You cannot amend your filing status for your state taxes only using the online version of TurboTax. If you must make any comprehensive amendments after filing with TurboTax, it is generally easier to do so with the downloaded software; if you purchased the online software and are unable to make necessary amendments, contact TurboTax support and they will set you up with the downloaded version for free. However, in my personal situation this year, they were unable to successfully set me up with software for my Mac; I ended up using my husband’s PC.
- TurboTax does have very helpful customer service who, if they do not know answers to your complicated questions, will find someone who does.
- TurboTax does have representatives who specialize in military taxes.
- TurboTax does have “tax specialists” available by phone, but you will only be able to speak to them when your situation is complicated and you have gone through all other levels of customer service.
Do you have any advice (or horror stories) about filing taxes as a military spouse or service member? Please share your own lessons learned in the comments below! Also, if you happen to be a CPA and see errors in anything I’ve written, please for the love of all that is state and federal, correct me.