Tips for Military Families to Save on Holiday Spending

Paper showing holiday spending budget

The holiday season and spending money often go together, but there are ways to celebrate with your family without going into debt. It’s all about spending wisely.

Consider these tips for staying in control of your finances during the holidays:

  • Create a spending plan. Money can fly out of your wallet quickly for gifts, special meals, decorations and travel. Decide how much you’re going to spend in each of these areas and stay in that range.
  • Be careful when using credit cards. If you are making the majority of your purchases with a credit card, it can be easy to lose track of how much you are spending. Checking your balance as you go, however, may keep you from spending more than you intended.
  • Take inventory. Before you rush out to buy wrapping paper, check to see if there’s a forgotten stash of rolls shoved to the back of a closet. The same is true for presents you may have hidden too well last year.
  • Shop for secondhand decorations. Thrift stores and garage sales usually have loads of holiday decorations as people upgrade, downsize or realize that the ones they already have multiplied when they weren’t looking.
  • Consider budget-friendly alternative gifts. Homemade gifts are a great option if you’re crafty or a whiz in the kitchen, or even if you aren’t but can follow online directions. “Coupons” for your services, such as babysitting, can also make good presents.
  • Make your own holiday cards. You can save money (and trees) by using e-cards to send greetings to your loved ones. Many websites offer free or inexpensive e-cards, some with options to add videos or slideshows.
  • Plan holiday meals early. Knowing what you’re going to cook well in advance allows you to watch for sales on the nonperishable items you’ll need. It also helps spread the higher food costs over a couple of paychecks instead of one.
  • Use your smartphone while shopping. Many retailers can send coupons directly to your phone when you walk into their stores. You can also use your phone to compare prices to make sure you’re getting the best deals.
  • Consider traveling on the holiday itself. You could score a much cheaper airline ticket by flying on the holiday instead of in the days before. And arriving on the big day conveniently gets you out of a lot of meal-prep duty.
  • Search hotel rates and airfares online. Take advantage of websites that compare airfares and hotels to make sure you get the best deal. Many will also alert you to price drops. And online reviews can help you sidestep a bad experience. Be sure to check out special travel options for service members on lodging and flights.
  • Consider Space-A transportation. This program allows you to fly for free or at a very low cost on military flights if there is room for you. Schedules change and restrictions apply, so learn more about Space-A travel.

There are a lot of ways to save money during the holidays. Check out other budget-friendly tips from Military OneSource, or take advantage of free financial counseling available in person, by phone or by video chat.

You will also find tips for smart spending through the Office of Financial Readiness and the Department of Defense’s free Sen$e app, available via the Apple Store and Google Play.

Getting a Tax Refund? Seven Ways You Can Put it to Good Use

Soldier holds one hundred dollar bill

Getting a tax refund may seem like free money, but it’s not. It’s money you worked hard for and are entitled to get back from the government. So, as you decide what to do with your refund ─ whether you are looking to help secure you financial future or otherwise ─ consider these options:

Free MilTax Software

To get a tax refund, you have to file your taxes first. That’s easy to do with MilTax’s preparation and e-filing software, available from mid-January to mid-October. It’s easy to use and guaranteed to be 100% accurate.

  1. Speak to a Military OneSource financial counselor or check out your installation’s Personal Financial Management Services. Military OneSource provides free access to counselors who are prepared to help service members and their families with general financial questions. Call 800-342-9647 or live chat.
  2. Pay down your highest-interest credit card debt. Take this opportunity to pay down your debt and lower the overall amount you end up paying your credit card company.
  3. Make an extra car or mortgage payment. If there is no prepayment penalty, pay ahead on these loans and enjoy 100% ownership of your car or house a little earlier.
  4. Build up an emergency fund. An emergency fund is not your retirement nest egg. Set up a savings account designed to pay for unexpected expenses such as a sudden car repair or appliance replacement. Start with a goal to save $500 or $1,000 for emergencies but aim to save three- to six-months’-worth of living expenses.
  5. Check your spending plan. This is a good time to check your spending plan to see if there are any holes you need to cover with your refund.
  6. Plan for future expenses. Consider designating a certain percentage of your income for retirement and potential college expenses through the Thrift Savings Plan or Roth Thrift Savings Plan.
  7. Invest in yourself. Have you always wanted to take a certification class, learn a new skill or earn a college degree? Consider using your refund to boost your skills.

Remember that while getting a tax refund is a good thing, you may benefit by adjusting your deductions and using that money throughout the year instead of lending it to Uncle Sam.

After all, you might as well try and earn some interest on that money instead of just banking it at the IRS. Better yet, consider taking that extra money from each paycheck and investing it directly into your retirement or college savings accounts.

Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or live chat to schedule a free appointment with a MilTax consultant or a financial counselor. OCONUS/international? View calling options.

5 Tips for Using Credit Cards Overseas

Soldiers board plane

Whether you’re stationed out of the country or just traveling overseas, paying with credit cards is generally a safer option than ATM cards. Check out these tips for protecting your money while you are abroad.

  • Pick a universal card. Stick to widely accepted credit cards, and choose a company that makes using their card while traveling as easy as possible.
  • Notify your issuer. If your credit card company sees your card being used in places you don’t normally go, it could result in your account being temporarily suspended. Save yourself that hassle by letting your card issuer know ahead of time that you are going abroad.
  • Ask about fees. Before you depart, ask the issuer what fees they will charge for using your card abroad. If you have more than one credit card, take the one with the best rates for withdrawing money and making transactions.
  • Keep the contact numbers for the card issuer handy. Look up your card issuer’s international phone number and keep it with you so you can get assistance quickly if you lose your card.
  • Save your receipts. When buying things overseas, or anywhere for that matter, save your receipts so you have a paper record of what you purchase in case of a disputed charge or for whatever reason you believe you are entitled to a refund.

If you plan ahead, using your card overseas should not be a problem. Manage your spending safely and securely from anywhere with help from the financial resources provided by Military OneSource.

Estate Planning

Single family home

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It’s for nearly everyone who owns property, which can include a house, car or savings account. Good estate plans address important situations that could arise should something happen to you, including:

  • What happens to your property?
  • Who cares for your children?
  • Who oversees your finances and health care options when you can’t?

Estate planning involves making decisions about how things like your real estate, investments, Social Security, cash, life insurance and business interests are used, maintained and distributed should you become incapacitated or after your death.

Why is estate planning important?

Estate planning offers you peace of mind by ensuring that you have your affairs in order for your loved ones in the event of your death and makes sure they are cared for according to your wishes. It can save you and your loved ones time and money.

There are pieces of an estate plan — such as a will — that are strongly recommended for service members with children. As a parent, you and your spouse or partner will want to decide who should raise your children in the event of your death. To do this, you’ll need a will that designates legal guardians for your surviving kids.

What does an estate plan include?

Several important legal documents make up your estate plan, which is tailored to meet your family’s needs. You and your spouse or partner — if you are married — will want discuss what the best approach is to ensure you family’s financial security. You may also want to include the following:

  • Power of attorney: This document gives one person the authority to act on your behalf on legal, money and health matters if you become unable to handle your own affairs.
  • Living will (advanced medical directive): This document allows you to describe what medical treatments you do or don’t want should you suffer a serious injury or become terminally ill. You can also designate who you prefer to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to do so via a durable health care power of attorney.
  • Long-term care and insurance: It is important to plan ahead for the care you may need if you have a disabling or chronic illness and can no longer care for yourself.
  • Last will and testament: With this legal document, you dictate your wishes for after your death. Without a will (or similar testamentary instrument, such as a trust), state law governs how your property will be distributed and who should be responsible for the care of your children.
  • Testamentary/nontestamentary trust: This legal document is used to manage or protect assets, offer privacy, provide for multiple beneficiaries and children or tax planning and avoid the delays and costs of probate court.
  • Servicemembers’ Group Life insurance: Service members have life insurance through Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance. Depending on the benefit amount you want to provide to your family, you may want to supplement your SGLI with another life insurance policy.
  • Survivor benefits: If you die because of an injury or illness incurred or aggravated during your service, your survivors may be entitled to benefits from the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some benefits are automatic, but there are others that your family must apply for.
  • Funeral and burial arrangements: Including funeral and burial arrangements in your estate plan helps ensure that your final wishes are carried out. Your family is also eligible to receive funeral and burial benefits through veterans affairs.

Estate Planning Resources

Be sure to give each of the documents in your estate plan the time and attention it deserves. Contacting an estate planning attorney at your installation’s legal assistance office is a good first step toward putting together a will and other pieces of an estate plan. The following organizations can provide additional legal assistance:

If you’re not sure where to start in the estate planning process, take advantage of Military OneSource’s free financial counseling.

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

Legal and Financial Considerations for Lesbian and Gay Service Members

Lesbian couple during wedding ceremony

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

Great strides have been made on behalf of the lesbian, gay and bisexual community. The following information will help you understand the benefits and protections for lesbian and gay service members.

Federal legislation

The federal government has worked to ensure that federal benefits for legally married, same-sex couples are implemented.

  • Spousal and family benefits for service members and their same-sex married partners — The Department of Defense extends benefits such as health care and basic allowance for housing to all married service members, regardless of sexual orientation.
  • Taxpayer benefits — For information and guidance on IRS regulations, visit the Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Same-Sex Couples webpage.
  • Social Security benefits — The Social Security Administration processes spousal and survivor benefits for same-sex married couples.
  • ImmigrationU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reviews immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of same-sex spouses in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouses.
  • Family support program — Department of Defense leaders extended access to family support programs and other resources to same-sex couples.

State legislation

The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in 2015, but here are a few things to take into consideration:

  • Taxes — Contact a tax professional to find out if you and your partner may file a joint tax return.
  • Property ownership — If you have property, be sure to familiarize yourself with joint property ownership rules in your state and how they apply to inheritance and property division in a divorce.
  • Parental and adoption rights — In many states, both same-sex partners may not be automatically considered legal parents when the couple has a child or adopts.
  • Inheritance rights — Depending on state laws, same-sex couples may not have the same rights of survivorship protection. Without a will, your property may be distributed according to your state’s rules.
  • Medical decision-making privileges — Medical personnel may look to immediate family members to make these decisions, so be sure you get legal assistance to ensure that you are covered.
  • Housing rights — In states that don’t explicitly prohibit it, same-sex couples may face housing discrimination.

Protect the financial future of yourself and your family

Here are some ways all couples can protect themselves and their families:

  • Know your state and local laws — You will generally have more protections if you are legally married.
  • Begin financial planning — A visit to your installation’s personal financial management office is a great place to start.
  • Create powers of attorney for both partners — A general power of attorney authorizes a person to act on your behalf for most things, while a special power of attorney authorizes your designee to act in your behalf in a specific situation, such as registering a car or getting medical care for your children.
  • Draft a will — A will is a legally binding document that describes how you want your property distributed after your death. It may also include other matters, such as the appointment of your child’s guardian.
  • Create a living will — A living will, or advance medical directive, allows you to describe medical treatments you want in case of injury or illness and to identify someone to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so.
  • Title your property jointly — When either partner buys personal property or real estate, you may want to be sure it is titled jointly with rights of survivorship, so the surviving partner receives full ownership.
  • Draft a parenting agreement — For parents who cannot legally share custody of their children, this document helps identify parental rights and responsibilities.

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

Estate Planning – The Essentials

Paralegal notarizes a legal document

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

You’re a guardian of your country and your family. To safeguard your family’s financial future, consider taking steps that help you gain control of your property and other assets so you can provide for your family for the long term. Military OneSource provides resources, services and information on many legal matters and offers advice to help secure your family’s future.

Here are the essentials:

Write a last will and testament.

With this legal document, you dictate your wishes for after your death. Without a will (or similar testamentary instrument, such as a trust), state law governs how your property will be distributed and who should be responsible for the care of your children. You can change your will at any time as long as you meet certain conditions.

Relevant Articles:

Relevant Resources:

Designate someone to hold power of attorney over your affairs.

A power of attorney is a legal document that gives one person the authority to act on your behalf on legal or financial matters after your death or if you become unable to handle your own affairs. Certain types of powers of attorney can also allow your designated person to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become unable to handle your own affairs. When drafting a power of attorney, you can choose between general, special and durable powers of attorney.

Relevant Articles:

Relevant Resources:

Create a living will.

Also known as an advanced medical directive, a living will allows you to describe the medical treatments you want or don’t want in the event of a serious injury or terminal illness. You can also designate someone to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so via a power of attorney. In some cases, it makes sense to have both a living will and a durable health care power of attorney.

Relevant Articles:

Relevant Resources:

Seek out estate-planning resources.

Military OneSource can provide you with resources to begin or update your estate plan, including guidance from an estate planning attorney at your installation’s legal assistance office. Other organizations that can provide legal assistance include the Defense Finance and Accounting Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Visit their websites for more information as well as Military OneSource.

Relevant Articles:

Relevant Resources:

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

How to Create a Financial Plan for Every Phase of Life

Monthly budget

A financial plan is a comprehensive statement of your financial goals and objectives that includes a detailed saving and investing strategy designed to help ensure your long-term security and well-being. A financial plan helps you evaluate your current financial state, identify goals for your future and make a concrete plan for financial success. This plan can serve to prepare you for anything and gives you and your family a financial roadmap so you can focus on the mission.

Assess Your Current and Future Needs

Questions About Saving for Retirement?

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The main elements of a financial plan include a retirement strategy, a risk management plan, a long-term investment plan and an estate plan. It also must take into consideration such long-term goals as purchasing a home and paying for college.

Think about your current income, expenses and debts — and how those might change through each phase of life. Here’s what you’ll want to consider as part of your plan.

  • Review your total income. Check the Department of Defense’s active-duty basic pay tables.
  • Determine what kind of debt you have. Knowing this can help you determine what needs to be paid down first.
  • Make a spending plan. Track all the money you bring in and what you spend for a month, then review the numbers and make adjustments to save more and pay down your debt. Listen to this Military OneSource podcast and get more information from this article.
  • Create security for later. Think about what the future holds for you and your family, and ask yourself: What kind of financial cushion will we need to face life’s milestones? Identify what you want to save for and create an actionable plan.
  • Assess your risk management. Assess your insurance coverage. Are you covered by life, disability, personal liability, property, casualty and catastrophic insurance? Do you have emergency savings? Make sure you and your loved ones are covered in case something happens.
  • Build an emergency fund. Financial advisers usually recommend saving three to six months of living expenses in case of an emergency. This should be the first step for anyone looking to build their financial security. If you’re currently deployed, you may want to consider the Department of Defense Savings Deposit Program and earn 10% interest on your savings.
  • Save for college. If you think paying for college for yourself or your children is in the future, you may want to look into different options for financing a college education, such as a 529 plan.
  • Save for retirement. Although it might be hard to imagine now, saving for retirement is one of the most important ways you can secure your financial future. Service members and federal employees can take advantage of the Thrift Savings Plan to grow their retirement funds. You can also look into opening a separate traditional or Roth IRA for your own personal account.
  • Invest for growth. You have many investment options for growing your personal fortune. Make sure you understand the relationship between risk and return before you start investing. You may want to explore your options with the help of a personal financial counselor.
  • Start estate planning now. You should complete a will, a power of attorney and a living will, and set up trusts to make sure your loved ones are cared for in the event of your death. Military OneSource has information on estate planning, and you can also use the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Locator or make an appointment at your installation’s legal assistance office.

Stick to your new financial plan

Concerned about sticking to your financial plan? Try these strategies:

  • Make it automatic as much as possible. Automated savings drafts or credit card payments can help keep you on track for your goals.
  • Write it down. Putting your goals in writing can remind you what you’re working toward when things get tough.
  • Find opportunities to save. Did your grandmother give you a big check for your birthday? Was your year-end bonus more than you expected? That’s great – now use those windfalls to help build your savings.
  • Be patient. Managing your debt and saving money takes time. Don’t expect major financial changes to happen overnight.

Review your financial plan

Remember, a financial plan is a living document. Things change. Goals and objectives change. Life happens. Make sure you revisit your plan at least once a year to ensure you’re on track, or to make any adjustments for changes in your circumstances such as getting married, the birth or adoption of a child, divorce, etc.

You can find plenty of resources to get you on the right financial track. Visit a personal financial manager or counselor at your installation Military and Family Support Center. For more information, visit the Office of Financial Readiness website. You can also talk for free to one of Military OneSource’s financial counselors to start managing your money more effectively today. The DOD’s personal finance app, Sen$e, can also offer you pointers on understanding and achieving financial success. Download Sen$e for IOS or Android.

Financial Services to Keep You Financially Fit

pilot sits in cockpit

Find out about the financial consultation services available through FMAP.

National Guard members and their families face many of the same challenges as active-duty military families. Your Guard status does, however, mean that you face some unique issues, like connecting with the resources you need when you don’t live near an installation and transitioning back to your civilian job.

National Guard members and their families are eligible for no-cost financial consultations through Military OneSource. See these frequently asked questions about using financial consultation services.

Your pay and benefits during COVID-19

Guard and reservists, find answers to questions about how changes due to COVID-19 might affect your pay, benefits, training and duty.

Financial consultation

Q: What types of services are provided through financial counseling?
A: Counseling covers financial issues such as basic budgeting, money management, debt consolidation (including coaching to help people contact their creditors and negotiate late fees, interest rates, and affordable payment plans), and assistance with housing issues (being behind on mortgage payments or facing potential foreclosure). The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can also help you develop a debt-management plan at no cost. Should you choose to enter into an arrangement with NFCC to manage a debt-management plan on a long-term basis, a nominal monthly fee may apply.

Q: Who is eligible?
A: The sessions are available at no cost to active duty, Guard, and reserve members (regardless of activation status), and families located in the continental United States. Up to 12 counseling sessions per issue, per calendar year are allowed for each person.

Q: What is short-term, solution-focused financial counseling?
A: The goal of short-term, solution-focused counseling is to help individuals change by creating solutions rather than dwelling on problems. Using this same strategy, short-term, solution-focused financial counseling helps people identify the issues and then work to identify realistic resolutions. Our financial-counseling goal is to provide the most effective counseling in the most efficient way possible so that service members and families can focus on the mission and live their lives.

Q: How do I arrange for financial counseling?
A: It’s simple. Contact Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 and ask for it. You must go through Military OneSource in order to access the sessions at no cost.

Q: Is financial counseling available to determine the best options for saving money for the college education of dependent children?
A: Military OneSource offers telephonic counseling with Certified Financial Planners who will help you review your options. While they can’t tell you which plan is the best fit for your personal situation, they will educate you on the types of plans available, describing the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Q: Is financial counseling available to review money-management and savings plans already in place?
A: Financial counseling can assist with basic money management. Financial planning (telephonic counseling with Certified Financial Planners) can help with reviewing savings plans, investing plans, stocks, bonds, and retirement plans. Financial planners can help inform you about the advantages and disadvantages of different savings plans and methods, but they won’t provide advice or recommend one over the other.

Q: What if I live overseas or if in-person financial counseling isn’t available in my area?
A: For those unable to attend in-person counseling or are in locations where in-person counseling is not available, Military OneSource will provide telephonic counseling.

Q: Who provides the financial counseling sessions (in-person and over the phone)?
A: In-person financial counseling is now available in most locations through Military OneSource, in partnership with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling*. NFCC, a nonprofit national agency, provides financial education and counseling services at hundreds of local offices nationwide. Military OneSource must arrange for you to meet face-to-face with a financial consultant in your community in order for you to receive the service at no cost.

Telephonic financial counseling is provided by the financial management team located within the Military OneSource call centers. This team is made up of highly qualified AFC Certified Financial Counselors.

*NFCC does not provide coverage throughout the entire continental U.S. Providers are made up of local consumer credit agencies that must pass a certification exam in order to participate in this program.

Q: How can I become a financial counselor for Military OneSource?
A: Please visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling website. Enter your ZIP code in the search engine to find the local agencies in your area. Please contact those local agencies for employment opportunities.

Q: Do the financial counselors push products or personal agendas?
A: No. The internal financial counselors and National Foundation for Credit Counseling counselors do not sell or promote products or agendas. NFCC is a national, nonprofit organization that does not sell or promote products. The only cost you may incur is if you decide to personally hire a local NFCC agency to manage your debt-management plan as part of a long-term arrangement. There is a nominal monthly fee for this service.