The 10 Least Tax-Friendly States for Military Retirees

If you spent your career in the military, you’ve probably lived all over the U.S. and around the world. But before you put down roots in retirement, find out how much of your hard-earned pension will be taxed. You’ll pay tax to the federal government on military retirement pay that’s based on age or length of service (disability pensions might not be taxed). With state taxes, though, it isn’t always so clear.

Many states provide special tax breaks for military retirees or for retirement income in general. And, of course, some states don’t even have an income tax. But some other states aren’t so generous when it comes to helping retired veterans at tax time.

We’ve identified the 10 states (including Washington, D.C.) with the least-friendly income tax rules for military pensions. These states can tax at least part of a veteran’s pension…and some tax the entire amount. We’ve listed the least tax-friendly of these states first. Take a look.

1 of 10

1. California

photo of veteranphoto of veteran
  • Lowest tax rate: 1% (on up to $17,864 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $8,932 for single filers)
  • Highest tax rate: 13.3% (on more than $1,198,024 of taxable income for married joint filers and $1 million for single filers)

California offers retired military members no way to escape its high tax rates. The Golden State taxes 100% of a resident’s income from military pensions, along with private, local, state, and other federal pensions. This applies to all military pension income received while a retiree is a California resident, regardless of where he or she was stationed while on active duty.

For more information about California taxes on seniors, see the California State Tax Guide for Retirees.

2 of 10

2. Vermont

photo of veteranphoto of veteran
  • Lowest tax rate: 3.35% (on up to $67,450 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $40,350 for single filers)
  • Highest tax rate: 8.75% (on more than $248,350 of taxable income for married joint filers and more than $204,000 for single filers)

The Green Mountain State taxes 100% of income from military pensions, along with most other sources of retirement income. The state also has a steep top income tax rate that could nick military retirees who have other sources of income.

For more information about Vermont taxes on seniors, see the Vermont State Tax Guide for Retirees.

3 of 10

3. Washington, D.C.

photo of veteran at Vietnam Veterans Memorialphoto of veteran at Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  • Lowest tax rate: 4% (on up to $10,000 of taxable income)
  • Highest tax rate: 8.95% (on more than $1 million of taxable income)

Despite the large number of government workers who call it home, Washington, D.C., offers no tax breaks for those who decide to retire there. A $3,000 exclusion for government pensions, including military pensions, was repealed in 2015.

For more information about Washington, D.C., taxes on seniors, see the District of Columbia State Tax Guide for Retirees.

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4. Utah

photo of veteran salutingphoto of veteran saluting
  • Tax rate: Flat tax of 4.95%

For residents still working on their 2020 state income tax return, Utah doesn’t offer any special tax breaks for military retirees, and its retirement-income tax credit is limited. Residents 65 and older are eligible for a retirement-income tax credit of up to $450 per person ($900 per married couple), but the credit is phased out at 2.5 cents per dollar of modified adjusted gross income that’s more than $25,000 for singles or $32,000 for married people filing jointly.

However, beginning with the 2021 tax year, a new tax credit is available for military retirement pay. The credit is calculated by multiplying the Utah income tax rate (currently 4.95%) by the amount of military retirement pay included in federal adjusted gross income.

For more information about Utah taxes on seniors, see the Utah State Tax Guide for Retirees.

5 of 10

5. Arizona

photo of veteran and his wifephoto of veteran and his wife
  • Lowest tax rate: 2.59% (on up to $54,544 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $27,272 for single filers)
  • Highest tax rate: 4.5% (on more than $327,263 of taxable income for married joint filers and more than $163,632 for single filers)

Arizona does offer a tax exemption for military pensions — but it’s a relatively small one. The exemption is only good for up to $3,500 of military retirement income. Other states with broad-based retirement income exemptions provide a better tax break for retired veterans. Fortunately, Arizona’s income tax rates are relatively low. That’s the bright side.

For more information about Arizona taxes on seniors, see the Arizona State Tax Guide for Retirees.

6 of 10

6. Montana

photo of veteranphoto of veteran
  • Lowest tax rate: 1% (on up to $3,100 of taxable income)
  • Highest tax rate: 6.9% (on more than $18,700 of taxable income)

The state provides an inflation-adjusted exemption for pension income (including military retirement pay), but veterans with a robust military pension probably won’t qualify. For the 2020 tax year, the maximum exemption is $4,370. However, the exemption doesn’t apply for veterans with federal adjusted gross income of $38,605 or more ($40,790 or more for joint filers). If both spouses receive pension income, married couples should check to see if each spouse could exclude $4,370 if separate returns are filed.

For more information about Montana taxes on seniors, see the Montana State Tax Guide for Retirees.

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7. New Mexico

photo of veteran in front of American flagphoto of veteran in front of American flag
  • Lowest tax rate: 1.7% (on up to $8,000 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $5,500 for single filers)
  • Highest tax rate: 4.9% (on more than $24,000 of taxable income for married joint filers and more than $16,000 for single filers) [Beginning with the 2021 tax year, the top rate will be 5.9% on taxable income over $315,000 for joint filers and over $210,000 for single filers.]

The Land of Enchantment affords no special treatment for military pensions. People who are 65 or older may receive an $8,000 general income exemption, but to qualify, their adjusted gross income must be less than $28,500 for singles or $51,000 for married couples filing jointly. If you’re at least 100 years old, all your income is exempt.

For more information about New Mexico taxes on seniors, see the New Mexico State Tax Guide for Retirees.

8 of 10

8. Oklahoma

photo of veteranphoto of veteran
  • Lowest tax rate: 0.5% (on up to $2,000 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $1,000 for single filers)
  • Highest tax rate: 5% (on up to $12,200 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $7,200 for single filers)

Veterans in Oklahoma get some relief when it comes to state taxes on their pension. It just isn’t a lot. The Sooner State lets veterans exclude either $10,000 or 75% of their military retirement benefits, whichever amount is greater, from their taxable income. The exemption only applies, however, to the extent the military pension is included in the federal adjusted gross income.

For more information about Oklahoma taxes on seniors, see the Oklahoma State Tax Guide for Retirees.

9 of 10

9. Virginia

photo of retired Marine hold glass of beerphoto of retired Marine hold glass of beer
  • Lowest tax rate: 2% (on up to $3,000 of taxable income)
  • Highest tax rate: 5.75% (on more than $17,000 of taxable income)

Congressional Medal of Honor recipients don’t pay Virginia tax on income from a military retirement plan. However, other retired veterans do pay tax on their military pensions. The state does provide an age-based deduction against all income that is available to anyone who qualifies. Seniors born on or before January 1, 1939, can deduct $12,000. For those born after January 1, 1939, who are at least 65 years old, the deduction is reduced by $1 for every $1 that federal AGI exceeds $50,000 (or $75,000 for married filers).

For more information about Virginia taxes on seniors, see the Virginia State Tax Guide for Retirees.

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10. Delaware

photo of two veterans shaking hands in front of American flagphoto of two veterans shaking hands in front of American flag
  • Lowest tax rate: 2.2% (on taxable income from $2,001 to $5,000)
  • Highest tax rate: 6.6% (on more than $60,000 of taxable income)

There are no special tax breaks in Delaware for military pensions. However, state law allows a modest exemption of up to $12,500 for pension and other retirement income paid to taxpayers age 60 and older (up to $2,000 for taxpayers younger than age 60). Eligible retirement income includes dividends, capital gains, interest, net rental income from real property and qualified retirement plans (e.g., IRAs, 401(k) plans, Keogh plans, and government deferred compensation plans). The general exemption is smaller than similar exemptions available in other states that do not fully exclude military pension income.

For more information about Delaware taxes on seniors, see the Delaware State Tax Guide for Retirees.

Source: kiplinger.com