Skip Fleming, a retired Marine Corps officer and pilot who works with veterans and active duty members of the military as a planner at Lodestar Financial Planning in Colorado Springs, says veterans are indeed in better shape with health-care benefits since they have access to military health benefits at reduced costs. “Certain benefits help them along the way. Great medical coverage. Good benefits if they stay and retire after 20 years.” However, he chafes at some of Skimmyhorn’s conclusions about veteran financial well-being in general, saying vets come from all walks of life and varying financial wisdom.

Fleming says he knows active duty members, senior duty NCOs and officers that have a certain amount of discipline in their lives that has carried over to their finances; he sees them as no more credit-prone than your average citizen.

He says comparing veterans financially is like comparing people with brown hair. “It’s tough to generalize people, so the report did them a little bit of injustice.”

But military personnel do face financial choices that civilians don’t, says Fleming. For instance, in the next year, they are going to have to decide whether to stay with the old retirement system or change over to the blended retirement system, which includes payments into the Thrift Savings Plan. The TSP was added to help those who don’t stay in the military long enough to draw a pension (20 years). Those in the new system get TSP matches of up to 5 percent if they stay in the military two years, but those matches can also affect their long-term pension if they stay the full 20 years, says Fleming.

“They have the option of making voluntary contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan, which is a 401(k). … If they opted into the blended retirement system they would have the benefit of up to a 5 percent match on their [TSP] contributions. But if they stayed for 20, that would mean a reduced pension, so instead of getting a pension in 20 years, the pension would be reduced because of the match.

Younger people who aren’t sure they are going to stay for 20 years are likely to want to opt in. “It behooves them to go in there and get the match if not more,” from the TSP, which he calls one of the best DC plans out there. But someone who has seven years or so of service already and plans on staying might want to stay in the old retirement plan and not get the match, he says.

"It is a question they are going to have to solve individually, and a lot of folks are going to have questions about that over the next year.”

The blended system goes into effect January 1, 2018.

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