Deploying servicemembers need a financial plan
Stars and Stripes March 9, 2008
Anne-Marie Tosh and her husband, Capt. David Tosh, always had split bill-paying and other financial chores. When her husband was deployed to Iraq in April 2003, Ann-Marie took over.
“Anne-Marie handled everything,” David said.
Luckily, the two had set themselves up for success.
“The accounts were all in both of our names,” said Ann-Marie, who lives with her husband, now back from Iraq, in Leander, Texas. “For anything I didn’t know about already, he left information.”
Many deployed servicemembers leave more confusion in their wakes, said Meredith Leyva, a Norfolk, Va., wife of a Navy officer and founder of CinCHouse.com, an online portal offering ideas for managing finances during deployment and other help for military families.
“In my husband’s first deployment, he had forgotten to pay a credit card bill,” Leyva said. “It wasn’t clear on the statement how much money was owed, but when I called the financial institution, it refused to give me any information because it was not a joint account. And that hurt his credit rating.”
Servicemembers who are single face different challenges. Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Baehr had an eviction scare when rent on his stateside apartment was paid a week late while he was in Kuwait for a year.
“Fortunately, the apartment manager gave me the benefit of the doubt and didn’t charge late fees,” said the San Jose, Calif., servicemember, who used his bank’s online bill payment and a helpful friend back home to handle most financial issues.
Joseph “J.J.” Montanaro, a certified financial planner with USAA Financial Planning Services, said troops should be aware of the financial opportunities that come with deploying.
“With the possibility of combat zone tax-free income and a host of allowances (separation pay, hazardous duty, etc.) added to the monthly bottom line, you may be able to use the additional income to pay off pesky credit cards, build your emergency fund, and even start up or increase your automatic savings into a Roth IRA, Thrift Savings Plan or College Savings Plan for the kids,” said Montanaro.
Mark Henricks is a Certified Financial Planner practitioner with USAA Financial Planning Services, one of the USAA family of companies.
Be prepared· The first line of financial defense is an emergency savings fund. Experts typically recommend that you work toward having three to six months of living expenses in such a fund. If you’re facing deployment you should set aside at least $2,000 extra to deal with car repairs, plumbing leaks and other bills, Leyva said.
· If unused cars or trucks are to be stored, investigate savings on insurance that may be available.
· If you’re single, you may be able to put all possessions left behind into storage, eliminating rent and utilities. If that’s the case, you should maintain rental insurance to protect your belongings.
· The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2004 may qualify you to receive a lower interest rate on mortgages and credit card debts and protection from eviction for late rent payments. Plus, you may be able to delay civil legal actions including bankruptcy, foreclosure, and divorce.
· You can sign a power of attorney to designate a trusted friend or family member to handle your financial transactions.
“If you don’t have a significant other or family member who can regularly take care of your small issues, make sure you take the time to list your account numbers and customer service phone numbers, and give that information to whomever you are giving power of attorney,” Lt. Cmdr. Baehr urged.
— Mark Henricks
Waiting until you get orders to deploy may be too late to start building a solid financial plan, so start preparing today. If you need help, refer to the following checklist:
Build an emergency savings fund. The fund should contain three to six months’ of living expenses. Include at least $2,000 extra to deal with car repairs, plumbing leaks, and other unexpected bills.
Deputize a trusted friend/family member. Ask someone back home to handle paying bills and other tasks. A power of attorney may be required.
Create a record of accounts. Take a copy with you when you deploy. If you’re married, make sure both spouses’ names are on all accounts. If you’re single, provide the information to a responsible friend or family member entrusted with power of attorney.
Eliminate rent and utilities. If you’re single, you may be able to put all the possessions you leave behind into storage, eliminating rent and utilities. If that’s the case, you should consider maintaining rental insurance to protect your belongings.
Set up automatic deposit, investments and bill payment. For bills that can’t be auto-paid, investigate a bill payment service that will allow you to pay them online from anywhere you have Internet access.
Prearrange any loans your family might need. Don’t be afraid to ask for lower interest rates that recognize your service to your country. (The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2004 may qualify you to receive a lower interest rate on mortgages and credit card debts and protection from eviction for late rent payments. Plus, you may be able to delay civil legal actions including bankruptcy, foreclosure and divorce.)
Save receipts. Set up a folder to hold receipts and financial and legal documents in your absence.
Update life insurance, beneficiaries and wills. This may include investigating special dismemberment benefits available on your life insurance policy and reducing or eliminating coverage on autos that won’t be driven while you are deployed.
Remember traumatic injury protection. Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance now includes coverage called traumatic injury protection, which can help you and your family if you suffer a traumatic injury.
Notify creditors and other financial institutions that you are being deployed. Provide them, as well as your stateside deputy, a way to contact you with problems.