In order to eliminate some of the guesswork, here are five of the best investments servicemembers should look into:
- Invest in your education. Servicemembers who reduce their military pay by $100 a month can get up to 36 months of Education when they leave the military. That's the best return on $1,200 you'll ever get.
- Invest in your debt, by reducing it. You probably don't think of this as an investment, but it is. Every payment you make on a debt gives you a cash return on your money equal to the debt's interest rate. For example, say you pay an extra $100 on 16 percent credit-card balance. You've immediately earned 16 percent, guaranteed. (Why so? Because not paying 16 percent in the future means that you have an extra 16 percent in your pocket.) If you're being charged a penalty interest rate of 24 percent, because you were late on a couple of payments, paying an extra $100 earns you a 24 percent return. This is another investment that's hard to beat.
- Invest in the Federal Thrift Savings Plan. It's a great deal. You can have money withdrawn from your paycheck automatically and invested in low-cost mutual funds, for long-term, tax-deferred growth. What's best in the Thrift Plan? A Lifecycle Fund that spreads your money over a variety of stocks and bonds, appropriate to your age. It's the only fund you need.
- DON'T invest in the mutual funds sold by agents at the base, even if the agents are former military personnel. These funds carry high fees, which means you'll get a poor return. The funds in your low-cost Thrift Savings Plan will do far, far better, over the long run.
- Invest in U.S. Savings Bonds, with any money you want to keep absolutely safe. You can do it through payroll deduction. Series I bonds, whose interest rate is linked to inflation and changes every six months, is paying 6.73 percent through April. That sure beats a bank account.