Financial Frontlines

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by Rich Strickler

When service members are deployed, their spouses are often left to run the household on their own, including paying the bills and balancing the checkbook. So, what’s the best way to keep the family’s finances on the right track during this stressful time?

Planning and preparation can make a big difference and help keep you from coming down with four common money woes:

1. The Silent Partner Syndrome
Since deployment can happen at anytime, protect yourself from this potentially credit-damaging situation by planning in advance.

Make sure you understand your family’s finances, including your monthly budget, how much debt you owe, and what funds you have for emergencies. Take advantage of online banking services or automatic payment plans to help ensure all bills get paid on time.

2. The “Need to Know” Ailment
You’ll need more than your marriage license to manage all aspects of your family’s finances. Make sure that you’re listed as a joint account holder on your spouse’s credit card, banking, and investment accounts, so you’ll be authorized to make changes to the accounts, if needed, without your spouse’s signature.

Contact your local JAG office to create or update a durable power of attorney, which allows you to manage legal matters, such as refinancing your home. At the same time, ensure your wills are up to date.

3. The Discount Disorder
Money can be tight during a deployment, so it can pay to seek out special deals and take advantage of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which gives active duty military members exclusive benefits, such as reduced interest rates on credit cards, mortgages, and auto loans.

Some banks also offer interest-free mortgage assistance loans to help military families who may experience a financial hardship in the spouse’s absence. Some insurers offer reduced auto insurance rates for cars that will be stored.

4. The Back Burner Saving Bug
Continuing to save on a stretched budget might not be a priority, but time is the biggest asset you have when it comes to growing your savings. If your credit card debt is under control, begin saving for an emergency fund in a savings or money market account. Try to save at least three months of living expenses.

Then, start contributing to a retirement savings plan, such as a Roth IRA or the government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). Set up automatic withdrawals from each paycheck, to make saving easier.

With a loved one in harm’s way, it can be hard to stay focused on routine financial matters. But keeping your money goals on track can help ensure your household is prepared for the future.

Rich Strickler is a Deployment Assistance Program Manager with USAA. He served 30 years in the US Navy.

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