Top financial experts are worried about a key piece of the military's new blended military ​retirement system and are urging the Pentagon not to shortchange avoid ripping off ​career troops — especially enlisted service members.

Specifically, the American Academy of Actuaries is scrutinizing element of ​the new system's – taking effect in 2018 – that is under scrutiny involves the ​lump-sum payout option and precisely how the fine-print details that ​the Pentagon will use to ​calculate it for those who elect to precisely how much career troops would get for ​cashing​ such in ​a large portion of their pension benefit​. The American Academy of Actuaries has sent a letter to the Defense Department Pentagon Wednesday voicing concerns about the how the Defense Department will peg a number to the present value of a promised military retirement pension.

Military The new military ​retirement reform that ​became law last year and takes effect in 2018, giving will gave ​future retirees the option of taking traditional monthly pension checks or, alternatively,​ accepting smaller a diminished ​monthly pay pension check ​along with a lump-sum cash payment at the time of separation. The lump sum would total that is equal to ​either 50 percent or 25 percent of a service member's their ​promised pension benefits.

It’s similar to the military's longstanding "REDUX" retirement option, which offers cash up front in exchange for smaller monthly checks. But unlike REDUX, which offers a flat $30,000 cash payment, the new lump-sum option will offer cash payments that will vary for individual troops based on the value of their personal retirement package as defined by pay grade and years of service.  


Determining The controversial question that Pentagon officials will have to answer during the next several years is how to actually peg a specific number to the present value of a promised military retirement pension and its annual cost-of-living increases. Figuring out ​the actual ​amount of that lump-sum check is more complicated than simply totaling just adding up the total value of ​future monthly pension checks. Rather, the calculations will rest upon a "discount rate," a device that financial professionals use to measure the current value of future payments. Discount rates assume money today is more valuable than money tomorrow. Akin — akin ​to reverse interest rates, the process shaves shaving ​money from the current value of a future benefit. So The ​higher the ​discount rates yield smaller applied, the lower the value of the​ lump-sum payments today​.

Therein lies the actuaries' concern. The American Academy of Actuaries notes that the difference between the present value of a benefit paid over 20 years discounted at, for example, 11.5 percent is about half of the present value of the same benefit discounted at 3 percent.

During the debate over military retirement reform, estimates varied dramatically for on ​the total value of a service member's retirement benefit varied dramatically​. An For example an ​independent military retirement ​commission, for example, said last year that retirement benefits for ​a senior enlisted service member in the E-7 pay grade could expect retirement benefits worth were pegged at ​$201,282. By contrast, the Defense Department suggested that same E-7 could expect — a small fraction of the ​$1.1 million in figure cited for ​"lifetime retirement income." for the same hypothetical E-7 retiree in an earlier Defense Department report.

The key ​difference hinged on the a ​discount rate. As it evaluated the consequences of reform, In their letter to the Pentagon, this week, the actuaries American Academy of Actuaries targeted their concerns on the discount rate and the extraordinarily high rate that was proposed last year by ​the independent Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission assumed a. The commission suggested a discount​ rate of 8 percent for officers and 12 percent for enlisted service members. In — far higher than the discount rate that is widely used in ​today’s financial markets, discount rates typically hover of ​between 2 and 4 percent.

"This higher rate would result in settlement amounts … that are, in some cases, less than half the amount that the same benefit would be settled for in a corporate pension plan, as part of a domestic relations action, or in the broader financial markets," according to the letter from ​William Hallmark, chairman of the American Academy of Actuaries' pension practice council, wrote to the Defense Department this month.



Hallmark said such

​a steep discount rate would be a bad deal for troops, Hallmark warned,

and may

​appealing primarily to those who don’t


​understand what they risk losing or who face such financial hardship they simply don't have another choice


​. He

"Those who accept lump sum amounts determined at higher personal discount rates," he wrote, "are likely to either not understand the financial value of their annuity benefits, or have an immediate financial need that cannot be met through the annuity payments," he wrote." Hallmark

​also questioned the military compensation commission’s suggestion that different discount rates should apply to officers and enlisted troops, resulting in


​enlisted troops receiving

would get

​far less money. The commission based that recommendation on studies


​suggesting enlisted troops would be more eager to take the cash up front and therefore won't require

the Defense Department does not need to offer as




e them

​ to take an option that, ultimately, would saves the government money.

Veterans advocates have criticized the disparity, likening it to a payday loan — one that

calling it that a "payday loan mentality" that

​exploits people


​with less financial education and fewer options for a traditional bank loan.

Many make the comparison to a gallon of gasoline, which typically costs a few dollars, yet someone stranded on the roadside with an empty tank likely would be willing to pay far more for that same gallon of gas.

​The American Academy of Actuaries said the Pentagon should set a fair and across-the-board discount rate similar to those applied by large corporations

and should avoid a "personal discount rate" which reflect individual preferences



In selecting the appropriate personal discount rate under the Act, we

​encourage the department to carefully consider the extent to which the discount rate should reflect a service member’s financial sophistication and immediate financial needs, or whether the discount rate should be independent of these considerations," Hallmark wrote. "Furthermore, we believe consideration should be given to whether all service members should be offered lump sums based on the same discount rate and whether that discount rate should be comparable to the discount rate required for lump sum payments from corporate pension plans

," he wrote


"Regardless, ...

of the discount rate used,

​we strongly encourage the department to provide a full and thorough disclosure about the discount rates used to calculate the settlement offers. Such a disclosure should include comparisons to settlement amounts that are calculated based on widely used discount rates and/or comparisons to what it would cost to replace the foregone pension benefits in the financial markets

," he wrote


The Pentagon has never explicitly supported the use of "personal discount rates." Instead, a Defense Department spokesman noted that applying the rate is required by the retirement reform law passed by Congress. "The department has made no decisions on personal discount rates and is working with outside experts on this issue," said Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson

, the spokesman, said Friday


The partial lump-sum payout would replace a portion of the retiree's monthly pension checks until the recipient reaches age 67. After age 67, military retirees would receive full retirement checks regardless of whether they opted for the lump-sum payout.

When the




​retirement system


​takes effect in 2018, a

. A

​ll current troops will have the

would have a grandfather clause and a

​choice to remain under the current system or opt into the new one. Future recruits joining the military in 2018 and beyond will


​have no choice other than the new system.

The new plan also

would, for the first time, give almost every service member some retirement benefits when they leave the ranks, rather than only the one in five who stay in uniform for at least 20 years. The new plan

​would provide

give almost all troops who serve for more than two years

​some retirement benefits, via a new 401(k)-style investment account, to almost all troops who serve at least two years

upon separation from the service.  vested 401(k)-style investments into their Thrift Savings Plan accounts


Career troops would receive the same 401(k)-style benefits, plus

as well as

​a traditional pension that is 20 percent smaller than the current one.

Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.

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