5 Helpful Financial Tools for Military Members
Military members and their families experience a unique set of circumstances, including an often-limited budget, unforeseen expenses from moves, or emergencies while a member of the family is deployed. The good news is there are multiple resources to help servicemembers make the most of their current finances, avoid debt, and handle life’s unexpected challenges. Below are five great financial tools that every military member should consider.
- Supplementing Your Future Military Retirement
While you are entitled to a military retirement package, you should crunch some numbers and consider how much your lifesyle will cost you compared to the monthly stipend you’ll be receiving. The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a retirement savings and investment plan for Federal employees and members of the uniformed services, including the Ready Reserve, that allows you to build a supplemental income for after retirement. Similar to what many private corporations offer their employees under 401(k) plans, the TSP is a “defined contribution plan,” meaning that the retirement income you receive from the account depends on how much you put into it during your working years. Traditional contributions to your TSP come out of your pay before tax, and investment earnings are tax-deferred. You can calculate how much you should invest each paycheck with this ballpark estimate calculator, and then estimate how much your investment might grow over time with this investment growth calculator. The TSP website also offers a quick video aimed at military personnel that explains three ways to add $100,000 to your TSP account.
- Branch-Specific Support and Emergency Loans
It’s always best to have a savings account set aside in case of emergency, but in the event that something unforeseen occurs, military members and their families do have options. Rather than turning to private pay day loan companies that can charge extreme interest rates, military members can instead contact to these agencies created to support military families with confidential, speedy assistance. These groups offer short terms loans, disaster and emergency aid, financial counseling, and even assistance with expenses from vehicles, moving, emergency travel, or funerals. Visit the agency that supports your branch here:
- Army Emergency Relief
- Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
- Air Force Aid Society
- Coast Guard Mutual Assistance
- High-Earning Investments During Combat Deployment
If you or a loved one is preparing for deployment to a combat zone, you should definitely consider the DOD’s Savings Deposit Program (SDP). Once you’ve met eligibility requirements (must be serving in an SDP-eligible combat zone for at least 30 consecutive days or at least one day in each of three consecutive months), you can go to your military finance office in theater and set up a deposit method (you can make cash deposits or set allotments aside from each paycheck that can be modified later as needed). You can deposit up to $10,000 during each deployment and earn 10% interest annually. You cannot close your account until you have left the combat zone, although your money will continue to draw interest for 90 days once you’ve returned home or to your permanent duty station. All funds (your investment plus the interest you’ve earned) will be made available to you via direct deposit and the account closed after 120 days returning home.
- Protection Through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
The Department of Justice promotes financial security for servicemembers, recent veterans, and military family members through its Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a federal law that provides protections for military members as they enter active duty (for reservists, protections begin upon the receipt of certain military orders). The SCRA covers a wide range of topics including rental agreements, security deposits, prepaid rent, eviction, credit card interest rates, mortgage interest rates and foreclosure, automobile leases, and more. For example, the SCRA can help military members by capping interest rate at 6% on various types of loans (automobile, credit cards, and home loans) that you incurred before your military service. The act can also help protect the servicemember and family during potential foreclosures, lease terminations, or repossessions, so it’s helpful to be fully aware of what’s included in this law.
- Improving Your Money Habits Through the Military Saves Campaign
Military Saves, a component of the nonprofit America Saves, partners with the DOD to encourage military families to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. Each year, they help host a Military Saves Week on various installations, bringing together hundreds of participating financial organizations – from banks to credit unions and non-profits – to help military families learn the best strategies to build their financial security. Military members and their families can also sign up for an online Military Saves Pledge to help track and reach their financial goals. The site also offers a wide range of helpful tools, including saver newsletters, reminder texts messages, links to financial resources, free holiday budget printables, and more, along with a program aimed at helping military youth establish good money habits.
Military members have learned the value of discipline and hard work during their military training. By leveraging these same traits in budget and financial planning matters, you can ensure a comfortable future for yourself and your family, regardless of what life brings you.
Written by Megan Hammons