Lawmakers are moving to strengthen the financial literacy of troops and families by requiring defense officials to improve training and provide it early and often.
The financial literacy plan approved by the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel panel April 23 mirrors recommendations from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which found that "existing financial literacy programs do not adequately educate service members and their families on financial matters."
The new programs would start within six months after the plan becomes law. This and other personnel proposals will next be considered April 29 by the full House Armed Services Committee.
Increasing the strength and frequency of financial education is especially important because service members will have to make some financial decisions if the commission's recommendations related to significantly overhauling the military's retirement and health care systems go forward, commissioners noted.
Lawmakers are moving toward adopting the commission's plan on retirement reform, but appear inclined to defer decisions on health care changes for now.
"By not establishing a retirement plan when they begin working, service members are several years, if not a decade, behind financial planning for retirement guidelines," wrote officials of five military associations in a letter to leaders of the House Armed Services Committee.
The groups — the Air Force Association, Enlisted Association of the National Guard, National Guard Association, Reserve Officers Association and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — urged lawmakers to adopt the commission's retirement recommendations, and to consider the financial literacy recommendation in conjunction with that proposal, as they are doing.
The new plan would require defense officials to include questions related to the financial literacy and preparedness of troops in the Defense Department's annual status-of-forces survey. Service officials would use that information to evaluate and update their financial literacy training.
Lawmakers added health insurance, budget management, Thrift Savings Plan and Survivor Benefit Plan into the definition of financial services to be addressed in the training.
Under the proposed legislation, troops would be required to receive financial training:
— During initial training.
— Upon arrival at the first duty station.
— Upon arrival at each subsequent duty station for enlisted members in paygrades E-4 and below, and for officers in grades O-3 and below.
— On the date of promotion for enlisted troops E-5 and below and officers O-4 and below.
— When the service member is vested in the Thrift Savings Plan.
— At each major life event during a member's service career, such as marriage, divorce, birth of first child, or disabling sickness or condition.
— During leadership training.
— During pre- and post-deployment training.
— At transition points, such as moving from a regular component to a reserve component, separating from the service or retiring from service.
— As part of periodically required training provided at a military installation.
Lawmakers noted that defense officials also should strengthen their arrangements with other federal agencies and with nonprofit organizations to help improve the financial literacy of troops.
The commission noted that implementing the financial literacy recommendations would cost DoD about $400 million over the five years from 2016 through 2020, with annual costs totaling about $75 million by 2019.
DoD previously had estimated that increased financial training could save between $13 million and $137 million a year by providing service members and their families with more protection against high-cost debt and thus reducing the number of forced separations because of financial problems.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.