Knowing all the ins and outs of today's complex financial environment is no easy task. For service members, military life can make that job even tougher. Service members and their families may be at higher risk for potential financial crises, credit issues or the pitfalls of predatory lenders. What's more, financial readiness can directly affect mission readiness, as service members with financial problems may not be able to concentrate on the mission at hand. To help service members and their families to plan and control their financial future, the Department of Defense provides financial information, training and counseling through the Personal Financial Management program and other programs and services.
Financial Readiness Campaign
Service members and their families prosper when they can manage their own finances and save money for the future. Working with partners throughout the government and private sector, the DoD's Financial Readiness Campaign is designed to improve personal readiness by reducing stress related to financial problems. The program promotes awareness of personal finances, helps service members and their families increase their savings and reduce debt, and educates them about predatory lending practices. Financial readiness also allows service members and their families to:
- Build a good credit history for financial flexibility
- Avoid the personal and professional stressors of poor money management
- Have emergency savings for unforeseen contingencies
- Establish a path to a secure retirement
- Protect themselves against predatory and unscrupulous lenders
A major part of the Financial Readiness Campaign is Military Saves. A network of federal agencies and nonprofit organizations encourages service members and their families to build savings and provide for their financial needs. This free program can:
- Help service members reach their financial goals. By writing out goals and sharing them with others, you are more likely to achieve them.
- Help service members get out of debt faster or save more money. People with written plans save twice as much money as people who don't have written plans.
- Help service members to be informed. MilitarySaves benefits include a free quarterly electronic newsletter, access to other wealth-building information, and savings and debt reduction tips.
- Help service members make a difference. Building personal wealth through saving helps to establish a financially fit fighting force.
- Teach youth and teens how to save. Military Youth Saves is a social marketing program designed to encourage kids and teens to develop good savings habits at a young age.
Other resources to support financial readiness
Service members and their families can find trained financial counselors as part of the Military and Family Life Counselor program. Check with your installation's Family Support Center or, if you don't live near installation services, check with your state's National Guard or Reserve center or the National Guard Bureau's Joint Support Services website.
Trained financial counselors through Military OneSource can help service members and their families by telephone, online or email. Counselors can provide information and assistance on financial benefits for military members, planning and managing a budget, planning for major purchases such as a car or home, consumer issues, credit and collections, and saving and investing.
Each branch of Service has an associated private, nonprofit organization that assists service members and their families in need. These relief societies can help with things like emergency transportation, funeral expenses, medical bills, food, rent, utilities, disaster relief, child care expenses, vehicle repair,or other unforeseen family emergencies. For more information, please contact Army Emergency Relief, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, or the Air Force Aid Society.
Personal Financial Management programs
Each service has a Personal Financial Management program to help service members with financial issues by providing classes and seminars, one-on-one counseling and information about such issues such as consumer rights, credit and savings. To find a PFM counselor on your installation, visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS. Counselors can help with:
- Personal finance basics. Counselors can suggest ways to pay down debt and teach you about savings programs, investments and making a family spending plan. To learn more about controlling your spending, check out the podcast Taking Control of Your Cash.
- Credit issues. Service members are expected to meet their financial obligations as agreed and on time; failure to do so may result in disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. PFM counselors can help you write letters and contact creditors to help repair your credit and clean up your credit report. For an informative info graphic about credit cards, visit Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Know Before You Owe: Credit Cards.
- Military savings programs. PFM counselors can give you information about the Savings Deposit Program for eligible deployed personnel and investment programs like the Thrift Savings Plan.
- Understanding consumer protection laws. Counselors can help you understand consumer rights and how to get the best interest rates on loans (although they can't offer legal advice). To learn how to avoid falling victim to high interest loans, check out the podcast Avoiding Payday Loans.
The DoD Savings Deposit Program gives service members serving in designated combat zones an excellent way to grow their savings at the very high rate of 10 percent interest. The program is only available during deployment.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides financial and legal protections to service members, including caps on interest rates, stays of certain legal proceedings, protection from eviction, and termination of leases without repercussions. Many of the SCRA's protections also extend to family members, but this varies from section to section. Because details of the SCRA are complicated, service members and their families are encouraged to contact their nearest Legal Assistance Office if they need help meeting their financial obligations.
The Thrift Savings Plan is a government-sponsored program that helps service members and federal employees save for retirement through payroll deductions. Although contributions are voluntary, many service members take advantage of the plan because their contributions are tax deferred. The Roth TSP Option is an option which allows service members to invest after-tax dollars and later withdraw their funds, plus any earnings tax-free, under specific guidelines.