Which Military Benefits Are Taxable and Which Are Tax-Free?

by | Military Finance | 1 comment

Exploring the complexities of military benefits can feel overwhelming, especially when it comes to understanding which ones are taxable. As a service member, you deserve clarity on how your benefits impact your financial situation. Knowing the tax implications can help you make informed decisions and avoid unexpected surprises come tax season.

In this text, you’ll discover which military benefits are subject to taxation and which ones you can enjoy tax-free. Whether you’re currently serving or a veteran, understanding these details is crucial for effective financial planning. Let’s break down the essentials so you can focus on what truly matters—your service and your future.

Understanding Military Benefits and Taxation

Understanding the taxation of military benefits is crucial for effective financial planning. Service members must know which benefits are taxable and which are tax-free.

Types of Military Benefits

Military benefits encompass various forms of compensation, including:

  1. Basic Pay – Regular pay based on rank and time of service.
  2. Special and Incentive Pays – Additional pay for specific duties or skills, like aviation or hazardous duty pay.
  3. Allowances – Payments for living expenses, such as Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS).
  4. Tax-Free Payments – Certain types of compensation that aren’t taxed, including some combat zone pay.

General Tax Rules for Military Benefits

While many military benefits are tax-free, some are subject to taxation.

  1. Taxable Benefits:
  • Basic pay.
  • Special and incentive pays.
  • Bonuses.
  1. Non-Taxable Benefits (Exclusively):
  • BAH and BAS.
  • Certain combat zone pays.
  • Death gratuity payments.
  • Assistance programs, such as the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (FSSA).

Service members should consult the IRS Publication 3, “Armed Forces’ Tax Guide,” for specific guidance. Understanding these distinctions helps maintain financial clarity.

Taxable Military Benefits

Understanding which military benefits are taxable helps you navigate your finances more effectively. Let’s explore the specific taxable benefits.

Combat Pay and Tax Implications

Combat pay is usually tax-free if you’re serving in designated combat zones; but, some components may be taxable. For enlisted members, all combat zone pay is tax-exempt. Officers, though, have a cap on the tax-free amount. Verify specific exclusions with the IRS to avoid unexpected tax liabilities.

Bonuses and Special Pays That Are Taxable

Many bonuses and special pays are subject to taxation. For example:

  • Reenlistment Bonuses: These are taxable, and taxes are withheld at the time of payment.
  • Hazardous Duty Pay: Though you receive this for risky assignments, it’s still taxable.
  • Special Duty Pay: This includes payments for linguistic skills or special assignments.

Review each type to understand the tax implications and plan accordingly.

Allowances Subject to Tax

Certain allowances also fall under taxable income. Here’s a brief list:

  • Clothing Allowance: Provided for uniform maintenance, this is taxable.
  • Personal Money Allowance: Typically given to high-ranking officers, this allowance is subject to tax.
  • Dislocation Allowance: Offered for PCS moves, this may be partially taxable depending on circumstances.

Accurately report these allowances during tax season to stay compliant with IRS regulations.

Non-Taxable Military Benefits

Non-taxable military benefits provide significant financial advantages. Understanding which benefits fall into this category can streamline your financial planning.

Combat Zone Exemptions

Service members receiving pay while serving in combat zones enjoy certain tax exemptions. Combat pay, imminent danger pay, and hostile fire pay fall under this category. If you serve in a designated combat zone, the income earned there is non-taxable. The IRS defines these zones annually, so check the current list to verify your exemptions.

Health Care and Insurance Benefits

Military health care benefits don’t incur tax liabilities. This includes care provided by the Armed Forces, Tricare, and Veterans Affairs. Insurance benefits like Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) payouts also remain non-taxable. Use these benefits without worrying about additional tax burdens.

Education Allowances

The military offers numerous education benefits that remain non-taxable. Programs like the GI Bill and tuition assistance provide funds for education-related expenses, tax-free. These provisions help you advance your education and career without affecting your tax liability.

Planning and Reporting Taxable Military Benefits

Exploring the tax implications of military benefits requires careful planning and thorough reporting. Accurate documentation and timely filing help you stay compliant and potentially optimize your tax situation.

Keeping Records and Documentation

Maintain accurate records of all your military benefits to avoid future complications. Keep detailed documentation of your basic pay, special pays, and non-taxable allowances (e.g., combat zone pay, health care benefits). Ensure all pertinent documents, such as Leave and Earnings Statements (LES) and Form W-2, are accessible.

For instance, your LES provides a monthly breakdown of your earnings, deductions, and benefits. This information is crucial when determining your taxable income and calculating the correct tax. Also, include any pertinent deployment orders, as they help validate non-taxable combat zone pays.

Reporting Taxable Benefits on Your Tax Return

Report all taxable military benefits accurately on your tax return to ensure compliance and prevent discrepancies. Your Form W-2 summarizes your taxable income and is essential for filing.

Include taxable benefits like base pay, special and incentive pays (e.g., hardship duty pay, imminent danger pay). Report these amounts in the appropriate sections of your tax return. Tax software or a qualified tax professional can help ensure accurate reporting.

By maintaining diligent records and understanding which benefits are taxable, you simplify the tax process and optimize your financial planning.


Exploring the tax implications of military benefits can be complex but understanding which benefits are taxable and which are not is crucial for effective financial planning. Accurate record-keeping and thorough reporting ensure you maximize your benefits and avoid any tax-related issues. Use resources like Leave and Earnings Statements (LES) and Form W-2 to keep track of your taxable and non-taxable benefits. By staying informed and organized, you can simplify the tax process and make the most of your military benefits.


post page form.


Next Steps: Sync an Email Add-On

To get the most out of your form, we suggest that you sync this form with an email add-on. To learn more about your email add-on options, visit the following page (https://www.gravityforms.com/the-8-best-email-plugins-for-wordpress-in-2020/). Important: Delete this tip before you publish the form.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.