Managing personal, family financial readiness is a challenge

Managing personal, family financial readiness is a challenge

Monday, November 28, 2016

The end of large-scale combat deployments that have dominated military life for over a decade may resurrect another old, familiar stressor for soldiers and their families – the need to maintain personal financial readiness, an expert said at Military Family Forums at the 2016 Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

“We may well see more financial challenges for military families who have grown used to the infusion of extra cash and benefits that go along with deployments,” said Holly Petraeus, assistant director for service member affairs with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Adding, “I think that will be a hard landing for many.”

Holly Petraeus, assistant director, service member affairs, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said at an AUSA Annual Meeting Family Forum it will be a tough decision between the lump-sum or new blended system retirement pay. (AUSA News photo)

And that’s happening just as soldiers will soon face one of the biggest personal financial decisions of their lives: Whether to stay with the traditional lump-sum, “all or nothing” military retirement pay system, or opt into the new “blended” system coming online on Jan. 1, 2018.

That system will offer a mix of traditional defined benefits and 401(k)-style matching contributions, along with other new wrinkles.

The new system is aimed at the 90 percent of enlisted soldiers and 73 percent of officers who don’t serve for at least 20 years and leave the Army with no retirement pay, said Lt. Col. Steven G. Hanson, allowances branch chief in the Compensation and Entitlements Directorate under the Army deputy chief of staff for personnel.

“When 2018 comes around, everybody who joins the service will fall under this new plan. The tricky part is getting from now to 2018” for all the soldiers already in uniform who will have to make that momentous choice, Hanson said.

Adding, “Over the next 15 months, we have to make sure our service members who can opt into this new system if they so choose have the financial acumen, the tools, skills and knowledge, to make an informed decision.”

To that end, defense and service officials are building a training and education plan that includes online training courses being developed through the Joint Knowledge Online, or JKO, portal, to give leaders an overview of the new system.

And starting in January, a new course, the Blended Retirement System Opt-In Course, which will be required for all soldiers who have the choice of going with the old or new system.

Those initiatives are among a number of other new, broader financial literacy requirements mandated by the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, forum panelists said.

Expanded financial training to meet those requirements will be given “at various touch points in a soldier’s career, and before and after significant life events such as marriage, promotion or divorce,” said Col. James Love, chief of staff of the Army Installation Management Command.

The new emphasis on personal finance education is flowing through every available channel, Love noted, including Army Emergency Relief offices on posts worldwide and the U.S. Army Education Foundation.

The Army is also enlisting outside support from organizations like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which are only too happy to pitch in, Petraeus noted.

For example, the CFPB has developed an online curriculum, in graphic novel style, for new recruits who go into the delayed entry pool, to ensure they gain “some basic financial education before they get to boot camp and get that first military paycheck. We rolled it out in January, and it’s now deployed by recruiters,” Petraeus said.

On the far end of military careers, the CFPB provides “free financial coaching to help veterans transition from military to civilian financial life,” she said.

Forty “veterans coaches” were hired, trained and deployed around the country in the spring of 2015, and as of July had delivered services to more than 3,000 transitioning veterans, she said.

The CFPB also has recently added a “telecoaching” function to expand the reach of that assistance.

Scott Halliwell, financial readiness program lead for the nonprofit USAA Educational Foundation, urged Army officials and attendees at the forum not to let the myriad financial education requirements of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act “degenerate into some sort of ‘check the box’” exercise.

“This is an exciting time,” Halliwell said.

Adding, “It gives you the opportunity of a lifetime – you literally get to force your soldiers to learn about something that’s incredibly important for them and their families.

“I’m sure that at least initially some of them won’t appreciate it, but if the training is good, and if they pay any attention, I’m sure they will appreciate it later when their families are in a better financial situation because of it.”