Life as a United States military service member, and later on as a veteran, comes with great experiences and special financial circumstances. You’re now able to take advantage of benefits civilians don’t have access to, but navigating programs such as the GI Bill and VA home loan can be complicated. Plus, there are a whole host of other financial assistance programs that are now available to you.
Keep reading to learn about all of these services and how they can best benefit you.
VA Home Loans
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helps veterans, service members, and eligible surviving spouses become homeowners by providing VA Home Loans. These are guaranteed mortgages issued by private lenders, such as banks, credit unions, or mortgage companies.
A VA Home Loan can make it easier to buy a home because they usually don’t require a down payment. And most times, the lender is able to loan you the money with more favorable terms.
The GI Bill
If you’re a veteran, the GI Bill could be your golden ticket to getting a college education completely debt-free. It’s helped qualified vets and their family members get enough money to pay for college, graduate school, and training programs since 1944. In fact, the program was started after WWII. In a post-9/11 world, you could be eligible for up to 36 months of college or career training, although not necessarily consecutive, if you served on active duty after September 10, 2001. You can also get a monthly housing allowance and yearly book stipend for the period being covered under your GI Bill.
If you didn’t serve at least 36 months on active duty or received a 9/11 Purple Heart, you won’t receive all the benefits. But you can still take advantage of a portion if you served less active time.
Saving for retirement
Thrift Savings Plans (TSPs)
A Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a type of retirement investment program available to federal employees and members of the uniformed services. A TSP is also known as a defined contribution plan, or a retirement plan that’s tax-deferred like a 401(K) and offers federal employees similar benefits to those working in the private sector.
An employee will contribute a fixed amount of their paycheck to an account designated for future retirement use. A portion of the employee contribution will be matched as an added benefit. These plans have certain restrictions that control how much and when an employee can make withdrawals from their account.
Roth IRA contributions
A Roth IRA is another alternative plan for saving for your retirement. It stands for Individual Retirement Account and allows the account owner qualified withdrawals on a tax-free basis as long as certain conditions are met. And unlike a traditional IRA, this kind of retirement account enables your investments to grow tax-free.
You can only contribute to these accounts periodically, and the amount changes every year. Plus, you can’t contribute if you make too much money. However, this option is a good idea if you believe your taxes will be higher in retirement and you meet the eligibility now.
The Blended Retirement System (BRS)
In 2016, the National Defence Authorization Act created a new retirement system for members of the Uniformed Services. This system is called the Blended Retirement System and combines elements of the legacy retirement pension (or military retired pay or defined benefit) with a defined contribution benefit into a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). It provides a monthly pension payment for life after 20 years or more active-duty services and allows you to contribute to a retirement savings account the same as you would with a normal TSP.
Financial savings benefits
DoD Savings Deposit Program (SDP)
The Department of Defence Savings Deposit Program (SDP) was created to provide members of the uniformed services serving in designated combat zones the opportunity to build their financial savings. To participate in the program, members must be receiving Hostile Fire Pay and be deployed for 30 consecutive days (or 1 day in each of 3 consecutive months). Once enrolled, members can deposit up to $10,000 and will earn 10% interest annually.
Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides legal and financial protections for active-duty service members and their families. The details can be fairly complicated depending on your individual circumstances, so it’s important to get professional legal advice on how it will directly affect you. Here are examples of the kinds of benefits you could receive.
- Reduced Interest Rates. Creditors will reduce the interest rate on debts to 6% for any liabilities incurred before you entered active duty. This applies to credit card loans, car loans, business loans, some student loans, and more.
- Postponement of Foreclosures. The SCRA provides protection against the sale, foreclosure, or seizure of property if made during or within nine months after your service on active duty, unless it’s carried out by a valid court order.
- Deferred Income Taxes. The Internal Revenue Service and your state and local taxing authorities must defer your income taxes before or during your military service if your ability to pay the taxes is affected by your service.
- Postponed Civil Court. You will be allowed to request a 90-day delay in the proceedings of a civil court action if you cannot participate because of your military service.
- Other protections include eviction prevention, protection against default judgements, prevention of repossession of property, and so much more.
Military Spouse Residency Relief Act (MSRRA)
If you’re a spouse of a military personal, you might find yourself moving from place to place a lot. This means a lot of change and effort on your part! That’s why the SCRA (Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act) was amended to include the Military Spouse Residency Act (MSRRA) in 2009. This allows military spouses to maintain legal residence in whatever state they lived in before a permanent change of station move to be with their active-duty service member. This saves time and energy spent on filling out multiple tax forms and makes the overall relocating process much easier for the spouse who has to move.
Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018 (VBTA)
The Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018 was another amendment made to the SCRA that provided much needed additional benefits to military spouses. Military spouses can now also choose the legal residence of their service member, regardless of whether or not the spouse actually lived in that state. This allows them to follow the same state and local tax regulations as their spouse and has the potential to save everyone money.
Fee Assistance & Respite Child Care Programs
Childcare is a top priority for any family, but it’s especially important for military families who may find it extra challenging to juggle work and family life balance. As a member of the United States military, you may be eligible for the Department of Defence child care and fee assistance program. This connects families to a network of over 10,000 licensed child care providers and may also help you cover the cost of any fees associated with the care.
Leisure & entertainment benefits
Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC) resorts
AFRCs, or Armed Forces Recreation Centers, are resort hotels created to make vacations affordable and accessible for service members and their families, military retirees, and other authorized individuals. These facilities are owned by the Department of Defence and are run by the Army’s Installation Management Command (IMCOM). They’re located in some of the world’s top vacation sites, such as Shades of Green at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, or the Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, South Korea.
Space-A travel is a great resource for service members and their families to travel around the U.S. and worldwide for little to no cost! Formally known as the Military Airlift Command (MAC), these somewhat unpredictable flights are perfect for military families with flexible schedules and limited budgets. These are military flights going on a mission, not commercial, so there will be certain travel restrictions including:
- Eligibility. Only service members, retirees, and family members are allowed on MAC flights. With special qualifications, reservists, National Guardsmen and family members unaccompanied by an active-duty sponsor are permitted.
- You need to prepare. The flights are usually free, but be sure to contact your closest MAC, passenger terminal, or the terminal at the location you intend to depart from for specific information.
Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Digital Library
The Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWF) Digital Library is a great (and free!) resource for service members and their families. It provides free, online resources such as eBooks, audiobooks, databases, and reference books on almost every subject imaginable. This is a great way to learn a new skill, relax, or help keep your children engaged with school and their homework.
The Veteran Tickets Foundation (VetTix.org)
Vet Tix, or the Veteran Tickets Foundation, is a program dedicated to giving back to military members, veterans, and their families. They’ve teamed up with major sports teams, organizations, venues, and promoters to give free tickets to anyone who qualifies. It’s a positive way for service members and veterans to relax with their families and create fun memories!
Other benefits for active duty, veterans, & their families
In-store & shopping discounts
As an active military servicemember or veteran, you may be able to receive in-store and shopping discounts at some of your favorite stores. Hundreds of companies across the U.S. offer benefits, from auto businesses to grocery stores. Be sure to ask an employee when you get to the store, or you can check ahead of time at MilitaryBenefits.info.
Money Sensei™ financial insights
Organizing a budget that works for your individual needs can be overwhelming at times, especially when your schedule is as unpredictable as military life requires. Money Sensei takes the headache and stress out of your finances (and might even save you some cash!). It’s a budgeting app and money tool that also offers a free credit score. Get started and see just how easy it can be to change your finances to fit your lifestyle, and not the other way around.
Free financial coaching for military members, veterans, and their families
Being a service member or veteran comes with a lot of responsibility, but also free coaching for when you need help the most. If you have questions about your finances, turn to an expert who can provide free advice, support, and guidance towards achieving your money goals. Reach out to one of our financial coaches and start your plan towards becoming debt free, fixing bad credit, and bettering your overall financial situation!