Serving in the Reserve or Guard Has its Benefits

Members of the Illinois Air National Guard assemble medical equipment.
Members of the Illinois Air National Guard assemble medical equipment at the McCormick Place Convention Center in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Chicago, Ill., March 30, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Jay Grabiec)

A quarter century ago, I made the move from active duty to the Army Reserve. At that time, the commitment of continuing to serve wasn't as big as it is in today's environment. There's no doubt, today's Guard and Reserve members and their families sacrifice a lot for our nation. Thank you!

Whether you or your spouse are already serving in the Guard or Reserve or are contemplating a move from active duty to the reserve component, it pays to understand both the commitment and the benefits.

Here, I'll focus on several finance-related considerations of service in the Guard or Reserve. In my mind, all six provide a clear incentive to serve:

  1. It comes with the possibility of retirement benefits. While retirement benefits are normally earned after 20 "good years," you generally have to wait until age 60 for the retirement checks to start. Reserve retirement can provide a powerful boost to your financial security. For example, with six years of active duty and 14 years in the Guard or Reserve, a retired E-7 who turns 60 this year will receive a monthly retirement check of roughly $1,200. That's valuable. It's like having an additional $250,000 in your retirement nest egg! And that's not even considering the health care benefits that are part of the retirement package. Tricare Retired Reserve overview.
  2. Health care coverage is available. Speaking of health care, serving in the Guard or Reserve can open your eligibility for Tricare Reserve Select. This affordable premium-based health care option is available to members of the active Guard and Reserve. In 2020, the monthly premium for family coverage is just over $228 a month. More information about Tricare for the Guard and Reserve.
  3. Health care coverage in retirement is huge. At age 60, your Tricare retiree health care benefits begin. Having worked with civilians who have retired after 60, but prior to being eligible for Medicare, which generally starts at age 65, I've seen how health care coverage can be an expensive proposition. That's not the case for Guard and Reserve members who qualify for retirement benefits. Furthermore, once you sign up for Medicare, you'll switch to Tricare for Life.
  4. Life insurance. As a drilling member of the reserve component, you'll continue to be eligible for $400,000 of quality Servicemembers Group Life Insurance coverage. Typically, the $25 monthly premium will be deducted from your drill pay.
  5. Additional income. Continuing to serve also affords you the opportunity to earn monthly drill pay along with active-duty pay for annual training. If you're making ends meet with your civilian pay alone, this "extra" income can be used to save, invest or pay down debt.
  6. Access to installation services. You'll still have an ID card that will allow you to tap into a nearby installation's PX/BX, commissary, MWR and other money-saving services.

For my family and me, the decision to serve in the Army Reserve was a good one that I hope will continue to benefit us for decades to come. And while there's much more to the decision than money, it's certainly a factor to consider.

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