For military spouses, the question, “Where are you from?” can elicit a lot of potential answers. Should I answer with where I was born? Should I mention where we’re living now? Where do I even live now – we just moved last week!
If you’re a military spouse, you probably recognize this inner monologue. And it’s understandable because military families move around A LOT.
That’s where the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act comes into play. State residency counts for a lot in terms of taxes, voting rights, and, in a general sense, endless paperwork. It can be a huge hassle for military spouses who move around with the service members they’re married to.
To shed some light on the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act, we’re going over the who, what, when, where, why, and how. That’s right – everything you need to know about this relatively recent amendment that benefits military spouses all across America.
What Is the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act?
The MSRRA was signed into law on November 11, 2009. It was an amendment to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and it allows spouses to retain their home state residency for tax, voting, and overall residency purposes.
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Originally, the SCRA allowed service members to retain residency in their home state after they were relocated in accordance with their military orders. The MSRRA simply adds that the spouse of a service member can do the same as they will be relocating as well to be with their military spouse.
Why Is the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act important?
Before the Act was brought into law, military spouses were required to declare residency in their new state while their spouses in the military were allowed to keep their home state residency.
As a married couple, it doesn’t make sense that one spouse would have residency in one place while the other has residency somewhere else. Especially because there are important financial and practical implications based on residency.
For example, some states don’t require an income tax return and others have different taxation systems for out-of-state income. Maintaining residency in your home state can, therefore, be advantageous in many cases.
It also matters when it comes to voting. The ability to maintain residency in your home state means military spouses will be able to send in an absentee ballot to vote in your local area so that when the service member becomes a veteran, you’ll have had a say in local politics if you plan to return.
If you’ve ever changed your state residency before, you’ll also know that there are fees associated with almost every bit of personal property you own. Changing the residency details for your vehicle, drivers’ license, registration, insurance – the list goes on – all come with various fees for doing so. The MSRRA helps curb some of these costs as an added benefit.
Furthermore, anyone in the military can tell you that you move around a lot and it is extremely impractical to constantly change your residency status. Nothing about being a military service member or a military spouse is permanent so it makes sense that this gives couples the option to stay residents of their home state while serving in the armed forces.
Now, military spouses have the same residency allowances that allow them to move around the country with less stress in order to support their military service members. Living such a transitory life in order to help support the country is hard enough, so the MSRRA makes things a lot easier to manage.
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Who Does the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act Benefit?
There are a few qualifications to have to meet in order to use the MSRRA which are:
- You must be legally married to a military service member.
- The service member must be in the state on official military orders.
- You must currently be residing in a state other than your home state.
- You must be residing in the state for the sole reason of living with your service member spouse.
If you meet all of these stipulations, you should be good to go. However, some states had an additional requirement that the service member and the military spouse must have the same home state in order to use the MSRRA which often made things difficult and confusing.
Though as of 2019, the law changed to allow military spouses to file taxes in their service member’s home state even if they’ve never actually lived there themselves.
Additionally, if the service member is deployed with the military which takes them to a different state or overseas, the military spouse is still able to maintain residency in their home state while living in the state in which the service member is stationed.
When Can I Use the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act?
As soon as you’re married to a military service member, you should certainly look into the MSRRA. There’s a lot to sift through when it comes to state residency, especially in terms of taxes and even employment.
One of the trickiest things in dealing with the MSRRA is when you get a new job. On most job applications, there won’t be a section separating a domicile address and a temporary residential address. Therefore, working with your HR department as soon as possible will be incredibly beneficial down the track.
Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect one to understand all the ins and outs of the MSRRA but getting help from a lawyer or talking to other military spouses who have been in a similar position can prove to be quite helpful.
Long story short, figure out as much as possible about the MSRRA as soon as possible.
How To Leverage the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act?
When looking to leverage the MSRRA, there are a few limitations to keep in mind.
Most importantly, you’re not able to pick and choose your state of domicile (or home state). So, unless you have actual connections to a certain state, you can’t arbitrarily choose a state that would benefit you, like choosing a state without income taxes, for example, if you have no residency connections there.
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For the most part, a service member’s state of domicile is the state where they held residency at the time they joined the military. Therefore, that’s usually where the home state residency will stay until the end of the service member’s time in the military.
So, is there a way to leverage the MSRRA? Sure – but not in a way that’s going to make your life tax-free. One can dream! Instead, it’s all about simplifying things and streamlining your family’s finances.
By leveraging the MSRRA, you’ll likely be paying less in tax fees, spending less time working on your taxes, and you’ll have peace of mind that you understand your home state’s residency laws versus re-learning a new state’s rules every time you move.
Where Can You Find More Information About the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act?
There are lots of blogs and resources for military spouses sprinkled throughout the internet but it’s important to do some research about tax laws in your specific state of domicile.
Also, as a military spouse, you’ll often be able to find free legal and tax assistance to help you sort through these rather confusing and often uninteresting subjects. If you live on a military base, the appropriate information probably isn’t too far away.