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A firefighter chief and safety officer stand in front of a residential structure fire - Public Safety Officers

Public Safety Officers: Tax Relief for America’s Heroes

Public safety officers – police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and other first responders – are the backbone of our communities. They face danger head-on, keeping us safe and responding to emergencies. Recognizing these risks and the sacrifices they make, the U.S. tax code offers several benefits to ease their financial burdens. This guide explores these tax advantages, helping public safety officers maximize their benefits and minimize their tax liabilities.

Who Qualifies as a Public Safety Officer for Tax Purposes?

The IRS defines a “qualified public safety employee” as anyone working for a state or local government who provides:

  • Police protection
  • Firefighting services
  • Emergency medical services

This extends to specific federal roles like:

  • Law enforcement officers
  • Customs and Border Protection agents
  • Federal firefighters
  • Air traffic controllers
  • Nuclear materials couriers
  • U.S. Capitol Police
  • Supreme Court Police
  • Diplomatic security special agents

Tax Benefits for Public Safety Officers:

1. Medical Insurance Pension Distribution Exclusion

Retired public safety officers can exclude a portion of their pension distributions used to pay health or long-term care insurance premiums for themselves, their spouse, or dependents. This benefit applies annually, reducing taxable income.

Pre-2023 vs. Post-2023: Before 2023, the pension plan directly paid premiums to qualify. Thanks to the SECURE 2.0 Act, officers can now self-attest on their tax return, as long as the distribution doesn’t exceed paid premiums.

Key Points:
  • Maximum exclusion: $3,000 per year
  • Eligibility: Retired public safety officers (e.g., police, firefighters) who separated due to disability or reached normal retirement age
  • Excluded amount cannot be used as a medical expense deduction or health insurance for the self-employed health insurance deduction (prevents double-counting)

2. Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Program

This Department of Justice program offers death and education benefits to survivors of officers who die in the line of duty. The death benefit is not taxable, providing crucial financial assistance during a difficult time.

3. Tax-Free Health and Disability Benefits

Public safety officers often receive health and disability benefits through their employment. In many cases, these benefits are not considered taxable income. This includes:

  • Compensation for personal injuries or sickness, including line-of-duty injuries
  • Disability pensions received before minimum retirement age (if caused by a line-of-duty injury)

4. Deductible Retirement Plan Contributions

Public safety officers can participate in retirement plans like 457(b) with tax advantages. Contributions are made pre-tax, lowering taxable income. Additionally, some might qualify for the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit) that incentivizes saving for retirement.

5. Special Tax Treatment for Early Retirement Distributions

Under certain conditions, public safety officers can access retirement funds before age 59½ without the 10% early withdrawal penalty. This applies if they separate from service in or after the year they turn 50. This recognizes their often-earlier retirement age and provides flexibility in managing retirement savings.

6. Tax Treatment of Job-Related Expenses (Pre-TCJA vs. Post-TCJA)

The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2018 impacted deductions for employee business expenses. Previously, officers could deduct out-of-pocket costs for uniforms, equipment, and job-related education (tuition, books, travel).

Current Situation (through 2025): Employee business expenses are generally not deductible. This includes uniforms, equipment, and some education expenses. However, some states (like California) haven’t conformed to TCJA and may still allow these deductions for state taxes.

Future Outlook (Beyond 2025): TCJA expires at the end of 2025. Unless Congress acts, these deductions might become federally deductible again.

Home Office Deduction: Public safety officers who work from home (exclusively and regularly) might be eligible for a home office deduction (a portion of mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, and repairs). This can be calculated using a simplified or regular method. However, similar to other job-related expenses, this deduction is not available to employees through 2025.


Public safety officers are heroes who deserve our gratitude. Tax benefits are a way to show appreciation for their dedication and sacrifice. By understanding these benefits, public safety officers can reduce their tax burden and build a brighter financial future for themselves and their families.

If you have any questions regarding these tax benefits or need assistance navigating your tax obligations, please don’t hesitate to contact our office. We are committed to supporting the brave men and women who keep our communities safe.

JS Morlu LLC is a top-tier accounting firm based in Woodbridge, Virginia, with a team of highly experienced and qualified CPAs and business advisors. We are dedicated to providing comprehensive accounting, tax, and business advisory services to clients throughout the Washington, D.C. Metro Area and the surrounding regions. With over a decade of experience, we have cultivated a deep understanding of our clients’ needs and aspirations. We recognize that our clients seek more than just value-added accounting services; they seek a trusted partner who can guide them towards achieving their business goals and personal financial well-being.
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