Military personnel have a tremendous need for financial planning but little is available on a standardized basis, according to two former military members who are now CFPs.
Lack of financial education, especially for enlisted personnel, can cost military members hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime, according to Joseph Montanaro, CFP, who retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Army National Reserve. But guidance for financial decisions is on an installation-by-installation basis, with some being good and some being nearly nonexistent, he said.
Montanaro and June A. Walbert, also a CFP and retired U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, led a discussion on financial planning training that is available to military personnel during the Financial Planning Association conference, Experience 2012, in San Antonio, Texas, which was held from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2.
"When to leave the military can be a $300,000 to $400,000 decision between the pension and benefits the military member may be giving up by quitting before retirement," said Montanaro. "If you have a client who is determined to leave the military before they can retire, try to interest them in the reserves."
Such advice is only one small piece of the knowledge a financial planner needs to help military personal plan their financial futures, said Walbert.
Several Web sites exist to help financial planners assist their military clients, including www.military.com, www.va.gov and www.tricare.mil. Each of the affinity organizations, such as the American Legion and the Service Disabled Veterans Association, also have Web sites for benefits-related information.
"Termination from the service is a life-changing event, so all finances should be reviewed," Montanaro said.
Deployment can be hard on military personnel, but it can also provide special benefits, including tax-free pay and hazardous duty pay. If a spouse is at home, expenses are reduced to support one person rather than two.
"This is a time to save money and pay down debt, not spend," noted Montanaro.
Some of the benefits to consider when deciding what do to in a military career include health care benefits that continue into retirement; life insurance, which is a fraction of the cost of life insurance outside the military, and educational benefits for the military personnel and the family.
The military has a savings program that guarantees a 10% return on up to $10,000 a year. There is also an equivalent retirement plan, where up to $50,000 a year can be invested. If a person is deployed, leases for housing, cars and other items can be terminated without penalty.
This is the type of information financial planners need to serve military personnel, said Montanaro. There are 2.7 million people in the military and 83 percent are enlisted. The average age is 29 and 56 percent are married. This is a huge audience for financial planners, the two retired military members said.
"There is a gap in financial education for military personal and the military is aware of it," noted Walbert. It is being discussed but more needs to be done, she added.