Bridging the military financial readiness gap through tailored guidance

As a former U.S. Air Force pilot and current leader of more than 500 advisers, I understand the financial challenges military members face. Military families are immersed in a culture of service, sacrifice and frequent relocation that often puts their financial security on the back-burner. There is a path to financial security for military families — and it starts with financial readiness, including education, planning and the successful management of personal finances.

To paint a picture about financial readiness among the military, a recent First Command survey revealed that military families scored 57% on a financial literacy quiz, compared to 69% for the general public. This statistic is even more alarming, knowing that more than half of middle-class military families say they have completed a financial training or education program. That compares to just 24% for the general population.

This gap has existed for over a decade and continues. Why is there such a gap in financial readiness between military families and civilians? Here are a few considerations:

  • Frequent relocations every 2-3 years make consistent financial planning difficult. The attention needed for recurring moves leaves little bandwidth to focus on finances. Finding new housing, uprooting kids from schools, building community ties from scratch – these tasks strain time and mental focus.
  • Military spouses struggle to maintain meaningful careers with each reassignment. The resulting income instability further complicates family finances. Civilian counterparts enjoy continuity in schools, community and careers – pillars that enable disciplined financial habits.
  • Carrying excessive debt as a service member can jeopardize your security clearance critical for certain jobs and promotions. No such direct link exists for civilians between finances and career advancement. This compounds financial challenges.
  • Constant relocation also severs ties with financial institutions and advisers. Military families must perpetually start over rather than benefiting from long-term guidance. Civilians develop these trusting relationships over years.

Clearly, more needs to be done to improve financial readiness among military families and one of the most critical steps is to work with a financial adviser.

Military families working with a financial adviser feel far more confident in improving their finances and retiring comfortably compared to those who go it alone. In fact, another recent First Command survey found that military families who work with a financial coach are less likely to worry about the state of the economy than their DIY colleagues – 39% versus 54%. They also save more monthly compared to those without an adviser. Military families who work with an adviser report average monthly contributions to savings and retirement accounts totaling $3,177 per month versus $1,756 for their colleagues without an adviser.

Financial coaching converts motivation into disciplined habits – the key to financial security. Advisers provide an invaluable source of education and accountability. Their knowledge equips families to optimize complex military benefits, budget effectively for upcoming moves, pay down debt, and pursue long-term goals. Advisers course-correct and reinforce positive behaviors. The combination of tailored education and ongoing motivation produces real financial readiness gains.

But the fees to work with a financial adviser can be a barrier to military families, which is why it’s so important that some firms waive financial planning fees for active duty families. Many also mistakenly believe they must have substantial assets already to warrant paying for guidance. In reality, advisers can guide families at any income level to significant benefit. But misconceptions deter many from reaching out. Financial readiness directly impacts mission readiness. Troops who are worried about money or family finances are distracted and less able to focus on their duties. So this is really a military readiness issue.

Coaching helps military families gain financial skills and confidence. And greater financial readiness strengthens our military and enhances mission effectiveness. With professional guidance, military families can feel more secure about their finances today and confident in their prospects for tomorrow. With the right adviser relationships, we can empower families and curb this detrimental financial readiness gap and deliver the support our military families deserve.

 

John Osarczuk is executive vice president and national director of adviser operations at First Command Financial Services.

 

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