Tax Deadline Extension for Deployed Military Members

Filing a tax extension gives you until Oct. 15, 2024 to file your tax return. It’s important to know that even if you file for a tax extension, you are still required to pay a minimum of 90% of your total tax bill by April 15, 2024 to avoid late fees or penalties. If you are expecting a refund, there are no fees or penalties for filing your return late.
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deployed military tax extensionU.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Brosam.

Is tax day coming a little quickly for you this year? If so, you can file for a free extension on your taxes. Filing an extension gives you until Oct. 15, 2024 to file your tax return. It’s important to know that even if you file for a tax extension, you are still required to pay a minimum of 90% of your total tax bill by April 15, 2024 to avoid late fees or penalties. If you are expecting a refund, there are no fees or penalties for filing your return late.

The above rules apply to almost everyone. However, some military members and civilians are eligible for tax extensions without being required to pay the minimum estimated taxes – provided they are serving overseas in direct support of a combat operation. Let’s take a look at the rules for these tax deadline extensions.

Tax Deadline Extension for Deployed Military Members

Military members who served overseas in a tax-free zone in the previous or current tax year are eligible to apply for an extension to file and pay their taxes. In many cases, they will not have to pay estimated taxes before April 15 if they will owe taxes this year. 

This year, the tax return deadline for those who file extensions is Oct. 15. However, if you deployed to a combat zone, your deadline for filing taxes will depend on when you were deployed and when you returned from your deployment.

When is your tax return due if you were deployed? If you are or were deployed, your tax return deadline is determined by taking into account the start and end dates of your deployment and doing a little simple math.

Let’s begin with your deployment start date. Count the number of days until the normal tax filing deadline (normally April 15, or the next business day if it falls on a holiday or weekend). Take this number, and add 180 days. Add this number of days to your redeployment date to find your tax return due date.

Let’s look at a simple example: Let’s say you deploy on April 1, 2024, and the 2023 tax return deadline is April 15. There are 14 days before the deadline. Add this to 180 for a total of 194 days from your redeployment date (when you return home) to file your taxes. So, if you return Oct. 1, 2024, your 2023 tax return would be due April 15, 2025 (because April 13 is a Sunday).

You will have until the new due date to file your tax return and make any payments without penalties or interest. If you are owed a refund, you may actually be entitled to an interest payment from the IRS, provided you file your tax return by your new deadline.

Tax Extensions Can Be Stacked on Top of Each Other

It is possible for these extensions to stack on top of each other. Let’s use the above example and assume you were deployed from April 1, 2024 through Oct. 1, 2024. As we mentioned, the new tax filing deadline would be April 15, 2025. 

However, if you deployed to the combat zone again before the deadline, you could extend the deadline one more time, and any time would carry over with the same formula.

Word of advice: Don’t let things go that far. I know taxes aren’t fun, but you don’t want to extend them indefinitely. It will make your bookkeeping much more difficult in the long run and increase the odds of you or the IRS making errors in your return. This could be costly in terms of dollars or time spent. My recommendation is to get your taxes done as soon as you can so you can avoid any unnecessary delays or problems.

Locations That Are Eligible for a Tax Deadline Extension

According to the IRS:

You are considered to be serving in a combat zone if you are either assigned on official temporary duty to a combat zone or you qualify for hostile fire/imminent danger pay while in a combat zone.

In addition:

Military service outside a combat zone is considered to be performed in a combat zone if:

  • The Department of Defense designates that the service is in direct support of military operations in the combat zone, and
  • The service qualifies you for special military pay for duty subject to hostile fire or imminent danger. Military pay received for this service will qualify for the combat zone exclusion if all of the requirements (other than service in a combat zone) are met and the pay is verifiable by reference to military pay records.

Source: IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces Tax Guide.

Deadline Extensions also Apply to Non-Military in Direct Support of Combat Ops

This deadline extension applies to certain civilian members who are serving in a combat zone in support of military operations. This includes career fields such as Merchant Marines, Red Cross workers, civil service members, accredited correspondents and civilian contractors. The key here is that the duties must be in direct support of military operations. Simply being a civilian in the country and working a civilian job not related to military service is not enough to qualify for the extension.

Installment Payments to IRS Can Be Deferred

If you are deployed to a combat zone while making installment payments on an IRS debt, then you can also defer your payments without penalty or interest. You can defer payments for the duration of your deployment, plus 180 days. This can give you a breather and hopefully a chance to catch up with your financial obligations. That said, you may be able to continue your payments with less financial stress due to the increased pay you will receive while deployed (tax-free, hostile fire, per diem and possibly other pay). To defer your payments, you will need to contact the IRS office you are making your payments to and work with them to set up the new plan.

If You Need More Info, See the IRS Regs or Speak with a Tax Pro

Tax returns can get more complicated if you have a family and file a joint tax return with your spouse. In most cases, your spouse will get the same extension as you do. The deadline only applies to individual taxes and income from a small business when taxed as a sole proprietor. These extensions do not apply to you if you have a business taxed as an LLC, S-Corp, corporation and some other small business entities.

Each case is unique, so use this page for general guidelines only. Always do your own research and consult with the IRS regulations (see IRS Publication 3, linked above). The IRS also has a dedicated military tax extension page on their website with FAQs. Finally, if in doubt, consult with a certified public accountant, IRS enrolled agent or other tax professional. Taxes are one area where it is worth it to pay for professional advice.

Additional Military Tax Resources

The military pay system is full of rules that are specific to military members, and many of them can affect your taxes. When in doubt, contact a tax professional for more information regarding your specific situation.

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