IRS to Troops: Take Another 180 on That 1040

U.S. troops dodging bullets in Iraq don't also have to worry about dodging the Internal Revenue Service.

Tax-filing obligations for military personnel are put on hold while they are deployed in areas like the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. After their last day in the combat zone, soldiers and sailors have another 180 days to file.

That should come as a relief to the 250,000 soldiers and sailors who have been deployed to the Persian Gulf. If they are like most taxpayers, one in five has waited until the week before April 15 to file a tax return.

"I don't think any of them should be worried about taxes right now," said Corinne Bradac, an accountant whose son, Brian, and a nephew were deployed to the Persian Gulf in February. "They should just try to get home safe."

Bradac filed Brian's tax returns in February, just before the Alabama National Guard pulled him out of college and sent him to the war. She said filing his return was not too hard.

"He doesn't have any interesting items, except for a life insurance policy," she said of her son, who now ferries missiles from a bomb dump in the desert to fighter airplanes.

"We think he's in Jordan, but, you know they can't really tell you," she said.

But Brian Bradac may be the exception. Many in the military were deployed before they could file, said IRS spokesman Anthony Burke. He suggested that the families of military personnel e-mail or call the IRS with the soldier's or sailor's name, address, date of birth and date of deployment.

"Because of the rapid deployment, we have no way of knowing they're there," he said.

The extension also applies to civilian workers in combat zones, including Red Cross medics and accredited correspondents. Those who qualify should write "Combat Zone" at the top of any forms they do file.

This is not the first time the IRS has granted military extensions. Congress approved a similar rule for troops during the first Persian Gulf War, and troops fighting in Afghanistan were able to claim extensions by marking their tax forms "Enduring Freedom."

But not everyone will want to take the extensions, said Barbara Pietrowski, another accountant whose son is fighting in Iraq.

"If you want to get a refund soon, have people file your taxes now," Pietrowski said. "But if you don't have a refund coming and you owe a lot, then you might as well put off paying it."

Pietrowski filed her son's tax returns in February. Her son, a second lieutenant in the Army's 101st Airborne Division, has called her twice in the last month — once to tell her he had just seen his refund in his online bank account.

She advised others in the military to set up online banking so they could pay bills and check their accounts when they have access to computers.

"They should take care of all those things before they leave: Fill out power of attorney forms, draw up a will, set up automatic payments to their credit cards," Pietrowski said. "But I imagine where he is now, he can't use his card much."

The IRS last week created a new section on its Web site to explain tax benefits to members of the Armed Forces.

And there may be more financial benefits on the way. The House approved a bill Tuesday to defer student loans for active-duty troops, while asking colleges to give tuition refunds and help readmit students who were pulled out of school to serve in the military. The Senate has yet to consider the bill.

Meanwhile, Pietrowski and Bradac are splitting their attention between the craziness in the Persian Gulf and the craziness in their offices: Since tax season began in earnest last month, Pietrowski has worked 12 to 15 hours every day.

"I haven't watched that much TV," she said. "I saw what happened this [Wednesday] morning to the 101st and that was scary enough."

In Frederick, Bradac said her tax-season workload is not really so bad, compared to what her son is facing.

"Taxes really shouldn't be on their minds," she said. They can just file for an extension or do it when they come back and hopefully they'll come home and do it themselves."