More than 60 percent of all military spouses work. It's a demanding lifestyle, but it also provides a golden opportunity beyond the dual income: the power to choose from two benefits plans.
Since the military is known for its strong benefits package, it's easy to default to your spouse's military plans and overlook the benefits your own employer provides.
That's a mistake. You may be able to take advantage of benefits the military doesn't offer, or double up on valuable incentives and tax savings.
If you're eligible for benefits at your job, here are five important areas to explore:
Retirement plan. Your spouse may contribute to the military's Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), but that shouldn't stop you from signing up for your employer's 401(k) or similar plan - especially if your company offers matching funds, which the TSP, unless you're spouse is covered by the Blended Retirement System, does not. Contribute at least up to the amount matched by the company. Otherwise, it's like turning down free money. Check out retirement savings calculators to make sure both you and your spouse are saving enough to meet your goals.
Flexible spending accounts. These plans allow you to pay for health-care or dependent-care expenses with pre-tax dollars. If you spend a significant amount of money each year on medicines, doctor visits, day care, and other eligible expenses, "flex accounts" could save you hundreds in taxes. The military doesn't offer these plans, so be sure to take your employer up on the deal.
Health insurance. Choose the best plan, whether it's Tricare or your employer's. Review both plans closely at enrollment time to find out which plan best suits your family's needs. Compare monthly premiums, co-pay amounts, deductibles, and the convenience of physicians in the plan. You may be able to mix and match certain elements, such as dental from one plan and prescription drug coverage from the other.
Life and disability insurance. If your family counts on two incomes, then life insurance for you and your spouse becomes even more important. Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) from the military is a great bargain, but it may not be enough to fully protect your family. Similarly, disability insurance may be necessary to continue your income if you were to suffer a debilitating injury or disease. For either scenario, your employer may offer insurance options that are of lower cost to you than the military plans. If your employer doesn't offer this type of coverage, shop around.
Tuition reimbursement. While you may be eligible for a My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) scholarship through the military, many employers offer more robust education support. So if you're thinking about going back to school, find out if your employer can chip in. With the skyrocketing costs of tuition, fees, and books, getting a college degree without the burden of incurring debt is an extremely valuable proposition.
Taking full advantage of your employer's benefits is just another line to add your "super spouse" resume. And your family's financial security will be better for it.