NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Military personnel have enough on their minds without having to worry about money. But just like the civilian population, military members have to set budgets, pay bills, save for new homes and retirement and set aside money for life insurance.
But military members really do operate differently. As a December 2013 study by Finra's Investor Education Foundation says:
Being in the military also involves unique circumstances and stresses that can make financial management even more difficult: deployments, frequent changes of station and prolonged separation from immediate family. Military personnel must also be vigilant about their credit ratings in order to preserve their security clearances. On top of these stresses, postwar force reductions may limit future military career opportunities for some service members.
The burden of dealing with finances while on active duty falls even harder on younger military personnel. Many enter the service while in their teens, and without a great deal of financial savvy under their belts. But there is help out there.
Michael Meese, a retired brigadier general with the U.S. Army and chief operating officer at AAFMAA, a nonprofit that provides military members and their families nationwide with financial planning solutions, has a few tips for younger military members.
"Give yourself a budget," he says. "Make sure to set aside a portion of your pay each month for necessities, and also a portion to put into savings. Avoid spending more than the money left over on unnecessary items."
Meese also advocates being aware of resources available to young service members. "There are a variety of military benefits and discounts that should be taken advantage of. For example, most military bases have trained financial counselors to help with money management, and there are discounts on necessities such as cellphone plans and car insurance."
Spouses of service members also need to focus on those unique financial needs, says Scott Smith, president of CreditRepair.com, a credit specialist firm in Salt Lake City. "Often, when a service member is deployed, there are some unique ways to save money," he says. "For example, does your spouse have a car that isn't in use during deployment? You can reduce or suspend insurance coverage during that time. The same concept can be applied to cellphones, cable television or any other service that is unnecessary and goes unused during active duty."
Smith also advises military spouses to save extra deployment income. "Deployment income is often higher during active duty, and is also not subject to federal income tax," Smith notes. "In addition, military spouses and dependents are qualified for a family separation allowance and other potential salary increases."
It may be tempting to spend this extra money, but the best course of action is to save it, he adds.
Trevor Ewen, who writes for PearOfTheWeek.com, a personal financial blog, calls real estate a particularly thorny issue for young military members, especially those with families. But military personnel have some leverage on the home front.
"You can use [Veterans Administration] loans to buy single-family homes near the base," Ewen says. "Even when you are reassigned, you can always rent the home to other servicemen or women." Ewen says the terms on VA loans are excellent. "Even though they're targeted towards a primary residence, you may move when reassigned and the terms of the loan still stand," he says. "Also, be ready when colleagues and other officers move and sell their homes. If you are very savvy, you can pick up an additional rental property with no costly fees from a realtor. The owner will be happy to get it off their hands, and you can provide a quick solution that meets both your needs."
— Written by Brian O'Connell for MainStreet