An open letter to military spouses:

If you’re married to a servicemember, you may be one of the 84 percent of employed active-duty spouses who say that military affiliation had a negative impact on their ability to pursue a career. Frequent moves, deployments and family separations are just a few of the obstacles military spouses face in their career.

Blue Star Families recently authored a study on the economic losses that military spouses experience. Military spouses face an 18 percent unemployment rate compared with less than 5 percent for all Americans. And for those lucky enough to find employment, the study found that military spouses were over six times more likely to experience underemployment — defined as earning a salary less than peers with equivalent education and experience.

There are numerous potential reasons for this poor employment climate for spouses, including frequent moves, a mismatch between career skills and opportunities in the communities near military bases, not enough cost-effective child care, and a lack of flexibility in a military family’s schedule. Regardless of the reasons, this economic sacrifice is significant and is not only felt by you personally; it affects the financial flexibility and security of your entire family. In any family — civilian or military — when one spouse is chronically un- or underemployed, it dramatically decreases the family’s earning power, its ability to accumulate wealth and its ability to endure life’s unexpected financial setbacks.

The challenges of managing finances for military families are even greater because these decisions are often made in the context of moves, deployments and family separations that increase uncertainty while making effective communication challenging.

These guiding principles can help you navigate the unique demands of military service, create more financial security for your family and empower you in your own career:

1) Be the family CFO. Given the unique demands your spouse faces, such as long deployments in dangerous environments with limited communication, you are ideally suited to become the financial leader in the family — the family chief financial officer. Like the CFO of a company, your responsibilities are much broader than simply paying the bills; you must ensure the family makes good investments in education and career choices, manage risk through insurance and savings, and plan for transition from service and retirement.

2) Military service is dangerous business. You must actively prepare your family for the unfortunate possibility of death or injury while serving. Because of the high risk of active-duty service, many commercial companies don’t insure against these risks. Fortunately, active-duty servicemembers are automatically insured by Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance for up to $400,000. You will need this benefit to compensate for the potential lost income of your spouse, so accept the automatic enrollment and elect the maximum coverage.

3) Expect to leave the service. Only 17 percent of those who serve on active duty will actually qualify for retirement. The remaining 83 percent must navigate a mid-career transition. To effectively manage this transition, minimize your debts and work to accumulate savings equal to three to six months’ of expenditures to support your transition to civilian employment.

4) Invest in your career. Investments in yourself through education and networking are generally much better investments than stocks and bonds. Seek out opportunities like Networks Live! and Blue Star Families’ partnership with Veterati — these connections will be particularly valuable as your spouse transitions to the civilian workforce.

5) Select a career that offers flexibility. Given the frequent relocations common to the military lifestyle, portable careers can be a perfect fit. For example, programs like Blue Star SpouseForce can help you acquire the skills to qualify for highly sought-after, portable career opportunities in the IT industry.

6) Start your career before your family. Active-duty service families have to be flexible in order to accommodate long deployments and frequent moves. Having an established career, valuable skills and additional income potential before having children makes it easier to adjust to the inevitable changes in your family’s situation.

7) Save your Veterans Affairs loan benefit. The VA loan offers veterans long-term, low-cost financing to purchase a home with no money down. However, homes are long-term, illiquid assets and should be purchased only if you are sure you can live there for a long time. Maximize your flexibility and the value of this benefit by using it later in life when you are likely buying your permanent residence.

8) Create a transition business plan. Your spouse has acquired valuable skills and benefits through service: his or her labor skills, GI Bill benefits, disability payments, small-business and home loan programs, and transition assistance support. These assets must be managed in a coordinated fashion to secure the best employment options at the time of transition to civilian employment.

9) Adjust your investments to fit your time horizon. Much of the above advice focuses on creating flexibility so your family can navigate the uncertainties of military service and the likelihood of transition to a civilian career. Once you have determined you are likely to qualify for military retirement benefits, your time horizon for selling investments becomes very long and you have significant assets in the form of your pension and Social Security. Given this, your savings should be heavily invested in stocks. In the long run, stocks are likely to deliver greater expected gains with less risk than bonds.

10) Family Inc. is only as secure as your succession plan. Your family’s financial security depends on someone at the helm who is knowledgeable and competent — the family CFO. Don’t make the mistake of putting your family at risk because you haven’t trained your replacement.

We all know that military families sacrifice a lot for our country and face many challenges in the process. Your financial security and your career don’t have to be among those sacrifices.

Douglas P. McCormick is a former active-duty Army officer, cofounder of HCI Equity, professional investor and the author of “FAMILY INC: Using Business Principles to Maximize Your Family’s Wealth.” Kathy Roth-Douquet is co-founder and CEO of Blue Star Families.

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