Money needs of military families

Military families make many sacrifices so we can enjoy our freedom. While military families are called to apply the same Godly principles to their finances that we all do, they are confronted with a number of unique challenges. Frequent moves, deployment-related separations and extra demands placed on the spouse at home combine to create added stress.  

What is the financial state of military families today? What are the unique financial issues they face? What steps can military families take to manage their finances in ways that honor God and their families? How can the Church help? 

First, a snapshot of the financial status of military households. A 2010 military survey showed the following: 

27 percent of military households have more than $10,000 in credit-card debt, compared with 16 percent of civilians. 

More than one-third of military households have trouble paying their bills on time. 

20 percent of military households borrow from non-bank lenders. 

The unemployment rate for military spouses is 26 percent. 

Housing options

While these results show there are problems, the military does provide a number tools to help its members succeed with their finances. Let’s consider several important ones. 

military family
It’s critical for military families to save for college. Shutterstock

Housing is a key issue for military families. While provided with a tax-free housing allowance, they are confronted with the question of whether they should rent or buy. Given the expenses associated with buying and selling real estate, I recommend military families only purchase a house when they are confident they’ll be able to stay in it for at least five years. I also recommend keeping housing related expenses to about 30 percent of their gross income (including their housing allowance). 

When a soldier is deployed, there are several steps that can help make the deployment go more smoothly. First, consider completing a power of attorney on behalf of the spouse staying home. This will insure the spouse has the legal ability to conduct the family’s financial affairs. Second, consider ways to save money during the deployment. Changing the registration and insurance on a car that won’t be used, eliminating services that will go unused on mobile phone plans, and signing up for active duty alerts with credit bureaus are ways to save money and provide added consumer protection during the deployment. 

Saving for future

It’s critical that military families save for the future, including basic reserve funds, as well as college and retirement savings. Military pensions are designed for long-term (20 years or more) personnel and even then, supplemental savings is important. The military provides a 401K-like option for retirement savings called a Thrift Savings Plan. It also has a special program for saving while deployed where the soldier can earn a guaranteed 10 percent on up to $10,000. Soldiers and their families need to take advantage of these plans. 

When it comes to funding education, the Post-9/11 GI Bill continues to be an important benefit. Not only does it pay the full cost of in state tuition at public colleges, or up to $17,500 toward the cost of private schools, but the benefit is transferable to a spouse or child.

Spiritual guidance

Military families face many challenges. By managing their finances well and utilizing the financial programs the military offers, they can minimize the stress that comes with military life. Remember that how we manage our finances is meant to fit within the context of our spiritual life, and the Church supports the spiritual needs of military men and women through the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. Visit www.milarch.org for additional resources. 

Finally, military families can take comfort in these words from Joshua 1:9: “I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.” God love you. 

Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to askphil@osv.com.