Virtually all military operations begin with some sort of detailed planning process. Take the same approach with your personal finances.
Here are eight money moves to make early in your military career:
- Build a budget. The first step to managing your money is developing a detailed list of what comes in and a plan for what goes out. Regular saving should be part of your what-goes-out list.
- Save for emergencies. Set money aside in a savings account for the unexpected. Start with an achievable goal, say $1,000, and then build until you can cover three to six months’ worth of expenses. Set up an allotment on the Defense Department’s myPay website or arrange an automatic transfer to move money into your savings account each payday. Even $25 to $50 a paycheck will get the ball rolling.
- Sign up for the TSP. The military’s version of a 401(k) is called the Thrift Savings Plan, and it’s a great way to save for your future. You can sign up to contribute a portion of each paycheck to this tax-advantaged account on myPay.
- Guard your credit. Your credit report and accompanying score are important — and fragile. Start by using credit responsibly and always pay on time. When it comes to credit cards, don’t borrow what you can’t pay back by the end of the month. Check your report at annualcreditreport.com and get your score for free by contacting the nearest military financial counselor. You can also enroll in credit monitoring and identity protection services, which provide credit tracking and helps safeguard against identity theft.
- Protect your stuff. A renters insurance policy is a great way to help protect your uniforms, computer, etc. — and what you will accumulate over the years. Having one makes sense even if you live on base, and they’re usually fairly inexpensive.
- Use pay increases to your advantage. You should see plenty of windfalls while you serve: annual pay raises, promotions, special pays, time-in-service increases and the like. Commit to using half of each raise to boost your savings instead of your spending.
- Read up on the SCRA. The SCRA provides qualifying military service members an annual percentage rate (APR) of 6% on credit card and other loan debt incurred before qualifying military service. In addition, there may be additional SCRA provisions that can benefit your financial security.
- Visit a financial counselor. Counseling isn’t only for people struggling with money. It can be great help to anyone — especially when it’s free and offers you a chance to better understand your finances. Every installation has personal financial managers and classes to help.