I could probably devote all my time to blogging about military matters and never run out of topics. A military career is something soldiers should be proud of, however, too many of us get half way to retirement before we realize how much money and opportunity we left on the table because of bad information or inability to properly prioritize.
Taking a quick inventory, I was able to come up with a short list of what I believe to be the most important military benefits that Guardsmen and Reservists should absolutely be taking advantage of.
No benefit outranks this one. If you’re eligible for Tricare and not using it, you are wrong.
I’m not going to bore you with specifics, but I’ll tell you that I’m not sure there’s a better insurance plan on the planet besides being a billionaire and just paying cash for any medical needs. Tricare has low premiums, low deductibles, excellent coverage, and seems to be accepted pretty much anywhere. I cover my family of seven for less than $220 per month, and rarely spend more than $500 out of pocket on any given year. If this were the only benefit of being in the military, it would still justify doing as many years in the military as they would let you stay! Healthcare costs seem to perpetually rise annually, while Tricare’s premium actually went down a couple bucks last year. I don’t care how good you think your civilian insurance might be, odds are, Tricare is probably better. Go sign up now by clicking here.
2.) Education Benefits
If you’re a soldier, and you’re paying anything out of pocket to go to school, you are wrong.
This is tricky. Upon swearing in, most soldiers know by the end of their Advanced Individual Training (AIT), that they will qualify for some school money. The challenge is for those soldiers who are not students yet upon joining. They know in the back of their minds that the school money is good and important, but when you start talking financial aid and school finances, for anyone that hasn’t dealt with it directly it can be very confusing. So imagine the confusion when a soldier graduates AIT and goes back to M-day status (monthly drilling) and tries to enroll at their local college or university. Anyone who has gone to school knows it’s not exactly simple. First you have to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will determine if you qualify for any financial aid outside the realm of the military, including student loans. Then you have to find your school’s Veterans Benefits Counselor (titles vary). These people are experts, so do what they say. Depending on what’s in your contract, you might qualify for more school money than you were aware. It’s important to utilize that resource at the school and get help from within your unit too (find an old-timer like me that’s done all this before). You need to know how many benefits you are qualified to use, and use them in the proper sequence to maximize all your benefits and get the most extra dollars in your pockets.
For example, if you are a new soldier and freshly graduated AIT, you probably qualify for Chapter 1606 Montgomery GI Bill benefits. If you’ve deployed, you qualify for an even better package (Post 911 Chapter 33). If you were previously active duty, there’s another package (Chapter 30) that might be your best option. Here’s the thing though, no matter what state you serve in, you probably qualify for additional state-funded tuition assistance, federal tuition-assistance, and even in awesome states like Wisconsin, it has it’s own state-funded GI Bill. Failing to take advantage of any programs you’re qualified to use is simply leaving money on the table.
3.) Thrift Savings Plan
If you’re not putting some money from your drill check into a Thrift Savings Plan, you are wrong.
The military just recently changed it’s retirement compensation plan. The downfall to that is anyone forced into the new plan is now at the mercy of the stock market and cannot rely on the same fixed benefit once they become eligible to start getting paid. The good news is that any long term investment in the stock market does just fine, and any of your money that’s not tied up in the fixed benefit portion (meaning any money in your Thrift Savings Plan) is portable.
For those of you that don’t know, the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is like a government 401k. You can choose to have pre-tax or post=tax money saved from your drill check that gets invested through this program and grows until you retire and are ready to start collecting. That’s the simplest way I can put it, but here’s the cool thing. If you only do 8 years and decide you’re done, now you can take any of that TSP money and roll it into a new plan. In the old days, if you didn’t do 20 years, you got nothing for retirement unless you voluntarily contributed to TSP.
Why does this matter? Every dollar you invest toward retirement matters. Every. Single. Dollar. Under the new Blended Retirement package, the government if matching money, so by not contributing, you’re missing out on free money. Secondly, it’s portable, so if you don’t stick around for a full 20+ years, you can take your TSP money with you and roll it into a civilian job’s 401k plan or go to your local bank or credit union and roll it into an Individual Retirement Account so you can continue to grow that money. You can set up TSP contributions right now by logging into MyPay.
These are what I would consider the big 3 under-utilized military benefits (for weekend warriors like me). There are more though that are worth discussing in future posts, such as the life insurance (both SGLI and SSLI), and other perks/benefits. Please like if you found this helpful, and subscribe so you don’t miss any future posts you might find helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to read this!
*I do plan on posting some more in-depth information on these benefits and more, and once I do, I will provide a link to the more in-depth analysis on this post in the appropriate sections. I hope you will read those too!