From budgeting and car buying to building a good credit score or getting a handle on student loans, your service member has access to several free benefits and protections to help them gain firm financial footing.
- Free financial counseling is available through Military OneSource. Financial counselors can help service members with things like budgeting, money management, debt management or assistance with housing issues. Military OneSource MilTax is also available for free tax consultations, filing and tax preparation resources. They can get started by calling 800-342-9647 or starting a live chat.
- There are personal financial managers and counselors at your service member’s installation. These certified professionals offer classes and can meet in person with your service member for free. Learn about the many other resources the Office of Financial Readiness offers your member.
- Two laws — the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the Military Lending Act — afford your service member with several financial and legal protections as a benefit of military service, including reduced interest rates, protection from wrongful loan practices and the ability to terminate certain leases and contracts. Learn more about these protections.
- Benefits.gov has information on interest rate reductions, tax benefits, educational and medical benefits, and other advantages that service members and immediate family members are entitled to.
- The Defense Finance and Accounting Service offers service members a three-tiered retirement plan that spans from paying an equal amount of Social Security taxes to assisting military members with growing their finances through a long-term savings plan.
- There are 11 personal finance calculators available to help service members manage their money and take the first step in making a financial decision. To get started, they can log in to create an account with Military OneSource.
- Retirement calculators can help your service member project their income when they retire from the military. The High-3 and Final Pay military retirement calculators are for those who joined the military between Sept. 8, 1980 and July 31, 1986. Others can use the official BRS Retirement Calculator to estimate their pension under the blended retirement system plan.
- Free help preparing and filing taxes is available through the MilTax and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs.
- Two new benefits from the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program can give your service member’s spouse a career boost. Free membership to Udemy, an online career development platform, gives spouses access to more than 5,000 courses to prepare for a new career or take their current one to the next level. The program is available through June 29, 2022. Spouses can also register for a free one-year membership in FlexJobs, a job site that specializes in flexible and remote job openings.
- American Forces Travel is a one-stop travel booking site that can save your service member money on travel and entertainment.
Four money-management reminders to share with your service member
For your service member, being in the military may mean having a steady paycheck for the first time. However, they may need some help when it comes to budgeting and spending wisely. You can help them get on firm financial ground by sharing these four money-management tips.
- Set up a monthly budget. Your loved one receives a set amount of income each month, and they need to be sure it can cover their bills and expenses. They should make a list of their monthly expenses — such as rent, car insurance, cell phone, clothing and groceries — and then compare those expenses to their monthly income. This will determine how much they need to set aside for bills each month, and how much will be left over. Here are some other budgeting tips:
- Create an emergency fund for unexpected expenses, such as when their car breaks down or for replacing a lost cell phone. They can choose a specific day and number of dollars to contribute to their emergency fund on a monthly basis.
- Set aside a certain amount of “fun money” every month and use it to pay for things like entertainment and eating out.
- When buying a car, consider buying “used.” A shiny new car is nice, but the monthly payments and insurance may put a strain on their finances. A used and affordable car could more comfortably fit within their budget. Some additional car buying tips:
- Save a bit of money to make a down payment, which can lower the monthly payment.
- Shop around for an auto loan and insurance to make sure they are getting a good deal.
- Avoid add-on products like service contracts, window etching, and tire, dent and paint protection packages — they increase payments.
- Bonuses: Spend some, save some. Enlistment bonuses and other special pay can amount to thousands of dollars, and it may be tempting for your service member to use it all on dream or impulse buys. Help them make the most of it by encouraging them to divide it — use part for something special and the rest to improve their financial standing by building up their emergency fund, paying down debt or contributing to their Thrift Savings Plan.
- Limit the use of credit. Using credit cards is one way to build a credit history, which is important for buying a home or taking out a loan. However, misusing credit can lead to mounting debt. Encourage your service member to use credit responsibly, for convenience — not as a lifestyle. Also let them know that paying off cards quickly to prevent a growing balance can help them avoid paying even more in interest. Other tips:
- Shop around to find the credit card with the lowest interest rate and with no annual fee.
- Look for cards that offer low introductory interest rates or allow users to transfer balances from high-interest cards at 0% interest. (Military credit cards, such as the MILITARY STAR card offers a low interest rate, no annual fees, no late or over-limit fees, and can be used at commissaries and exchanges around the world.)
Finally, your service member can learn the fundamentals of money management by taking the Money Matters courses. These free courses were developed for service members by financial experts who understand the military. They cover consumer credit, creating smart financial goals, setting a realistic spending plan, making smart money moves, negotiating when buying a car and avoiding debt during a PCS.
The military wants service members to make good financial decisions, which can only help them in their military careers. If the service member in your life doesn’t know where to start or has specific questions, Military OneSource is here to help them get answers and reach their financial goals.