Guide to Managing Finances for Deploying Service Members

Life in the military offers some distinct experiences compared to civilian life, and that includes your budget and finances. The pre-deployment process can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re organizing your money and bills. 

It’s important you provide your family with everything they need to keep you and any dependents comfortable and stable. This means gathering paperwork, making phone calls to service providers, creating new budgets, and organizing your estate. The more you prepare ahead of time, the less you have to worry about the state of your investments and finances when you return home. 

To help make the process easier, we’ve gathered everything you need to know for deployment finances. Read on or jump to a specific category below:

Pre-Deployment Needs

Review Your Estate
Reassign Financial Responsibilities
Update Your Services
Build a Budget
Prepare a Deployment Binder

Deployment Needs

Protect Yourself From Fraud
Adjust Your Savings
Financial Assistance

Post-Deployment Needs

Update Your Budget
Pay Off Debt
Review Legal Documents

Before Your Deployment

There’s a lot of paperwork and emotions involved in preparing for deployment. Make sure you take plenty of time for yourself and your loved ones, then schedule time to organize your finances for some peace of mind. 

Review Your Estate and Beneficiary Plans

While there’s a lot to work through, you should prioritize settling your estate planning. This sets a plan for your property, finances, investments, and dependents. It’s an important conversation to have with your partner and establishes:

Power of attorney
Living will
Last will and testament
Long-term care
Life insurance
Survivor benefits
Funeral arrangements

Anyone with property, wealth, or dependents should have some estate planning basics secured. These documents will protect your wishes and your family in the event you suffer serious injury. There are several military resources to help you prepare your estate:

Defense Finance And Accounting Services’ Survivor Benefit Plan and Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan
Department Of Defense’s Military Funeral Honors Pre-arrangement 
Service Member’s Group Life Insurance
Veterans Affairs Survivor’s Benefits
The Importance Of Estate Planning In The Military
Survivor Benefits Calculator

Reassign Your Financial Responsibilities

Communication schedules can become difficult to maintain while away from home, so it’s important you have a go-to contact for your financial responsibilities while gone. For many, this is a spouse or parent. You can choose whoever you trust, but keep in mind that they’ll have access to most of your personal information. Communicate in advance what your needs and expectations are, and make sure your point of contact is open to the responsibility.

If you have any dependents, you’ll need to ensure that they have access to your finances, too. Talk to caregivers and financial contacts to establish a plan for communication and access to money so everyone is on the same page and no one is left without resources while you’re deployed. 

Update Your Contracts and Services

List of SCRA benefits for deploying service members.

As you plan, go through your payments and determine which ones you can cancel while you’re gone. For example, you may be able to save on car costs by canceling your collision insurance, since you won’t be driving. Similarly, you won’t have to budget for maintenance or gas, though you should keep comprehensive insurance to cover damage or theft. 

For any payment you’ll continue to pay, it’s best to set these to autopay while you’re gone. Share any payment dates and account information with your financial point-of-contact in case anything needs extra attention. 

If you live on your own, then you can also cancel your rent. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows you to cancel a housing or auto lease, cancel your phone service, and avoid foreclosure on a home you own without penalties. Additionally, you can reduce your debt interest rates while you’re deployed, giving you a leg up on debt repayment or savings goals. Learn more about the SCRA benefits below:

Terminating Your Lease For Deployment
SCRA Interest Rate Limits
SCRA Benefits And Legal Guidance

Build a Deployment Budget

Your pay may change during and after deployment, which means it’s time to update your budget. Use a deployment calculator to estimate how your pay will change to get a foundation for your budget. 

Typically, we recommend you put 50 percent of your pay towards needs, like rent and groceries. If you don’t have anyone relying on your income, then you should consider splitting this chunk of change between your savings accounts and debt. 

Make sure you continue to deposit at least 20 percent of your pay into savings, too. Send some of this towards an emergency fund, while the rest can go towards your larger savings goals, like buying a house and retirement. 

Use these resources to help calculate your goals and budgets, as well as planning for your taxes:

My Army Benefits Deployment Calculator
My Army Benefits Retirement Calculator
Mint Budget Calculator
IRS Deployed Veteran Tax Extension
IRS Military Tax Resources
Combat Zone Tax Exclusions

Prepare a Deployment Binder

Mockup of someone completing the deployment checklist.

Illustrated button to download our printable depployment binder checklist.

It’s best to organize and arrange all of your documents, information, and needs into a deployment binder for your family. This will hold copies of your estate planning documents, budget information, and additional contacts and documents. 

Make copies of your personal documents, like birth certificates, contracts, bank information, and more. You also want to list important contacts like family doctors, your pet’s veterinarian, household contacts, and your power of attorney. 

Once you have your book ready, give it to your most trusted friend or family member. Again, this point of contact will have a lot of information about you that needs to stay secure. Finish it off with any instructions or to-dos for while you’re gone, and your finances should be secure for your leave. 

While You’re Deployed

Though most of your needs are taken care of before you deploy, there are a few things to settle while you’re away from home. 

Protect Yourself From Fraud and Scammers

Illustrated statistic that service members lost a median $775 to fraud.

Scammers have a habit of targeting military personnel, both while deployed and on base. Having someone you trust to maintain your assets and security at home can protect you from property and identity theft. You should also notify your bank and financial institutions of your leave so they can watch for suspicious activity. 

Still, many scammers take advantage of soldiers online through dating apps, phishing, and impersonation on social media. Keep yourself safe and don’t share personal information or money with people you meet online. Romance and identity scams are especially popular and can cost you thousands. 

Social Media Scams To Watch For
Romance Scam Red Flags
Military Scam Warning Signs

Adjust Your Savings 

Since you won’t be responsible for as many bills, and you may have reduced debt interest rates, deployment is the perfect time to build your savings.

While you’re deployed, you may be eligible for the Department of Defense’s Savings Deposit Program (SDP), which offers up to 10 percent interest. This is available to service members deployed to designated combat zones and those receiving hostile fire pay.

Military and federal government employees are also eligible for the Thrift Savings Plan. This is a supplementary retirement savings to your Civil Service Retirement System plan.

Savings Deposit Program
Thrift Savings Plan Calculator
Civil Service Retirement System
Military Saves Resources

Additional Resources for Financial Assistance

Deployment can be a financially and emotionally difficult time for families of service members. Make sure you and your family have easy access to financial aid in case they find themselves in need. 

Each individual branch of the military offers its own family and financial resources. You can find additional care through local support systems and national organizations, like Military OneSource and the American Legion. 

Family Readiness System
Navy-marine Corps Relief Society
Air Force Aid Society
Army Emergency Relief
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance
Military Onesource’s Financial Live Chat
Find Your Military And Family Support Center
Emergency Loans Through Military Heroes Fund Foundation Programs
The American Legion Family Support Network

After You Return Home

Coming home after deployment may be a rush of emotions. Relief, exhaustion, excitement, and lots of celebration are sure to come with it. There’s a lot to consider with reintegration after deployment, and that includes taking another look at your finances. 

Update Your Budget

Just like before deployment, you should update your budget to account for your new spending needs and pay. It’s time to reinstate your car insurance, find housing, and plan your monthly grocery budget

After a boost in savings while deployed, you may want to treat yourself to something nice — which is totally okay! The key is to decide what you want for yourself or your family, figure if it’s reasonable while maintaining other savings goals, like your rainy day fund, and limit other frivolous purchases. Now is not the time to go on a spending spree — it’s best to invest this money into education savings, retirement, and other long-term plans.

In addition to your savings goals, make sure you’re prepared to take care of yours and your family’s health. Prioritize your mental health after deployment and speak with a counselor, join support groups, and prepare for reintegration. Your family and children may also have a hard time adjusting, so consider their needs and seek out resources as well. 

Pay Off Debt

Illustrated overdue bill stating that 34% of active service members don't pay their bills on time, and military families are more likely to fall behind on payments than civilians.

Instead of a new car, you should try to use a bulk of your savings to pay off debt. You may have saved on interest while deployed, but now your debt will continue to accumulate extra costs. Paying a significant amount now can save you hundreds to thousands in the long run, and may also reduce your monthly payments. 

Separate Your Emergency Funds

If you didn’t already have an emergency fund, now’s the perfect time to set some money aside. An emergency fund should cover three to six months of expenses should you lose your income. Separate some of your savings to start or complete this fund and feel confident that your family is protected. 

Review Your Legal Documents

Finally, you’ll want to go back over your estate planning documents and update them as needed. If you plan to deploy again sometime soon, make sure your power of attorney is up-to-date, as they do expire. Otherwise, adjust your beneficiary and estate details as necessary.

Families experiencing deployment have a lot to consider, from childcare and housing, to finances and estate planning. Explore the financial resources above to restore your peace of mind and spend your time where it really matters — making memories and enjoying time with your loved ones. 

Source: FTC | NFCC 

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