4MCA.com  /  Operation Reach Out: Suicide Prevention App

Military Retirement: A Blessing and a Curse

Written by

I lost you, didn’t I? You said “this guy is completely insane! Half my pay for the rest of my life is a curse?” While I am prepared to concede your first point, gentle reader, allow me but a few paragraphs to elaborate on the second.

Retirement from the military can occur as early as 38 years old. If you believe the life expectancy numbers provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, a woman retiree could have over 40 years left to fill. If you’re a man you have a few years less, a blessing or curse argument in its own right.

Whichever way you cut it, that’s a lot of golf, bingo, or, perhaps, something else! If your retirement plan is, as one of my shipmates so elegantly put it, “bail at 20,” you’re going to have a paycheck for the rest of your days. Given the economic turmoil in the world, that’s a blessing. How you will fill your days is a concern, but let’s talk for a moment about that paycheck.

Let’s consider a hypothetical potential military retiree on her 19th year and 364th day of military service. “Sergeant First Class Collins” is married with two children. She is stationed in San Antonio, and has a base pay (as an E-7) of $4,143, a housing allowance of $1,329, and BAS of $325.04. She may have specialty or other pays due, but for our purposes, she makes (before taxes) $5,797 a month, or just a shade under $70,000 a year.

SFC Collins enlisted at 18, is on the “high-3” retirement system, and decides to retire at the 20-year point. Her retirement income (using the calculator available at  http://militarypay.defense.gov/retirement/calc/02_highthree.html) is $23,901 a year, or $1,992 a month. She receives a shadow box, some nice words from the Colonel, and sees her paycheck cut by two-thirds literally overnight.

Herein lies the curse. The point of SFC Collins’ story is that “half your paycheck for the rest of your life” sounds like a lot of money, but it may not be as much as you think. Far too many military members begin (and end) their retirement planning at the afore mentioned “bail at 20,” and proceed smartly to the next topic.

According to the Census Bureau, a woman who lives to 65 years of age can expect to live an additional 19.9 years. Can SFC Collins last from age 38 until 65 on $1,992 a month and on that amount plus whatever is left in the Social Security fund for 20 more years? More to the point, could you?

Of course, it’s not really that simple, you say, and you’re right. SFC Collins’ spouse probably has a job which brings in money, so it’s not as if she and her family are going to go from her retirement ceremony straight to the welfare office. And she has marketable skills, so it’s not as if she won’t be able to get another job if she needs to. The point is that service members are blessed with a generous retirement system, but far too many let it blind them to the necessity of sound, rational retirement planning.

The military retirement system is generous, and it provides a good starting point for life after active duty. However, a military retirement probably won’t be enough to allow you to live the lifestyle to which you’d like to grow accustomed. Viewing your retirement paycheck as merely the first step in your retirement plan is critical. Planning now to meet the financial needs of retirement will make sure you have something other than memories to live on.