Updated: Sep 22, 2021
Serving in the military, both enlisted and as an officer, can be overwhelming, especially financially. The military brings new opportunities, as well as challenges. From transitioning from base to base, long deployments, and the general demands of serving. Although there may be a lot on your mind, one thing to consider early on is your financial plan, including savings, investments, education, insurance, and other benefits coming with your service.
One study shows that more than one-third of military families responded that they struggle to pay the bills every month, and 20% also had to borrow money from entities other than banks. Although one significant benefit of joining the military is a steady paycheck, getting your finances in order early on is essential.
Here are some best tips for new military members & families to help organize and improve their financial situation.
Set up a military bank account
Now that you are military, you are eligible to join an armed services-specific financial institution. Most join the credit union associated with their branches, such as Marine Federal Credit Union or Navy Federal Credit Union. Members can join as early as a poolee in delayed entry, during boot camp, or anytime during or after their active service.
TIP: Join a military credit union before shipping to boot camp training. Make sure you take your debit card and a deposit slip to set up your direct deposit easily.
Many advantages of joining a military credit union include getting paid early, favorable mortgage and car insurance rates, and easy access to services, especially when deployed. Depending on the financial institution, family members are also qualified to join. Always compare rates with other lenders before finalizing any financial contract.
TIP: Identify a trusted family member or friend to be on your account, at least initially. You may also consider setting up a power-of-attorney allowing this person to make specific decisions on your behalf.
Managing your Pay
For many, the military is the first time they receive a steady paycheck, and the newness of having money can be overwhelming. While in recruit training, it can be challenging to manage your new checking account; and sometimes, unbeknownst to you, the military automatically debits your account for uniform expenses, educational benefits, and miscellaneous costs associated with your training.
The one good thing about being paid by the military is they ensure you pay your taxes by deducting them from your payroll. And yes, taxes can seemingly be a lot of money if you aren't expecting them.
TIP: Wait for at least 6-months after recruit training before making any financial debt obligations such as a vehicle.
As a service member, many businesses would love to get a piece of your paycheck. And many are located directly off the front gate, tempting you each time you leave or enter the base to make a purchase. Be patient and commit to always sleeping 24 hours before making any purchase over $500. Or better yet, establish an accountability partner/mentor who can politely challenge your decisions.
Savings Account and Investments
It's never too early to start saving for a rainy day or retirement. In most cases, your credit union will recommend opening up a simple savings account, which is a great way to initiate your emergency fund.
TIP: Start creating an emergency fund equal to 3 to 6 months' worth of living expenses by stashing $50 - $100 per month into your savings account.
If this is your first paycheck, you may not understand investments, which can be a good thing - no bad habits. Be careful! There are many so-called financial advisors out there ready to gobble up their share of your investments (they call fees).