Military Stresses Financial Readiness

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — James McDaniel has a warning for servicemembers: act now, or you could be spending your golden years under the Golden Arches.

Many baby boomers put off planning for retirement until it was too late, he says. McDaniel and the military want to make sure young servicemembers don't make the same mistake.

McDaniel, a community readiness technician with Yokota's Airmen and Family Readiness Center, teaches Personal Financial Fitness, a mandatory class at the base's First Term Airmen's Center. It's one of the many campaigns and educational programs offered to servicemembers and their families to ensure that they will be financially stable after they leave the military.

During a recent class, he discussed topics including basic financial planning, obtaining your credit score, and understanding how the funds in the Thrift Savings Plan work.

McDaniel explained to the class that financial fitness is just as important as physical fitness. Like physical fitness, he said, trying to stay financially fit becomes more difficult the longer you put it off.

Setting realistic financial goals early in life — and coming up with a plan to achieve them — is the best way to achieve financial security later on, he said.

The requirement to teach financial responsibility to first-term airmen has been around for some time, McDaniel said, and there is a proposal within the Air Force to expand the training from two to four hours.

The other military services also require financial training for their first-term servicemembers.

Last year, the Navy mandated financial education, training and counseling for all sailors to prevent personal finance problems from detracting from overall mission readiness. Each command is instructed to maintain a ratio of one Command Financial Specialist for every 75 members assigned. The weeklong CFS course trains sailors to educate and counsel others about such topics as credit cards, identify theft and investing and saving.

In the Army, first-term soldiers must attend a Personal Finance Readiness Training course organized by Army Community Services.

While many of the mandatory courses target younger servicemembers, there are resources available for servicemembers of any age.

Last year, the Department of Defense launched MilitarySaves.org, a Web site and marketing campaign designed to help servicemembers better plan for their financial futures. The campaign culminates each year with Military Saves Week, starting the last Sunday in February.

At Yokota's Airmen and Family Readiness Center, classes on mutual fund investing, long-range planning for retirement and financial readiness for deploying are available, as well as one-on-one financial consultations.

McDaniel's students peppered him with questions about how they can plan for their future.

One student asked what happens to his TSP account when he gets out of the military, while another wanted to know if it was possible for his wife to make contributions to his TSP as well.

McDaniel explained that only the person whose name is on the TSP account can make contributions and that once a servicemember leaves the military there are several options for managing the money in a TSP.

He said that while servicemembers can no longer make contributions to their TSP once they leave the military, they can roll over their account into an IRA or let the money already deposited into their TSP continue to grow on its own. McDaniel also cautioned against withdrawing money from the TSP early to avoid having to pay penalties on the account.

"I think it's very important to have the class, because some people don't have the motivation to start saving," said Airman 1st Class James Porath.

"The earlier you start saving the more likely you are to succeed," McDaniel said.

Tips to get started saving:

  • Consider your long- and short-term goals. Where do you want to be financially a year from now? Five years? 20 years?
  • Figure out how much money you will need to achieve those goals.
  • Make a plan to achieve your goals and write it down.
  • Figure out your current financial status by adding up what you own versus what you owe to determine your "net worth."
  • Keep track of your income and expenses every month so you know where your money is going.
  • Once you've figured out where your money is going, try to trim some of the fat off of your budget. (A $3.50 pack of cigarettes every day adds up to $1,278 a year!)
  • Always pay more than the minimum payment on credit card bills, which will save you lots in interest payments.
  • Know the consequences of bad credit. Find out your credit score and work on improving it.

Source: Yokota Airman and Family Readiness Center

For more information about financial planning, visit Military.com's Finance channel.

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