Military Finance Report: January 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016

Blended Military Retirement System

Under the new “blended” retirement system, military members may be able to save more than the current system; however, it requires action on the service member and an exposure to market risk—both concern me.

The current retirement system allows us to retire at 20 years, and is called a defined benefit retirement system.  If we serve less than 20 years, we get nothing.  The value of the current retirement is abstract.  It is calculated at 50% of base pay, with an extra 2.5% a year, up to 75%.  We can also contribute to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) up to the maximum contribution limit ($17,500 in 2016).  Check out my blog post here where I explain how much a military retirement is worth.  I compare it to a 30-year bond.  Right now, the interest rates (and inflation) are low, making the current value of a military retirement valuable.  When inflation rises, our retirement loses value, or in economic terms, we are exposed to inflation risk.  The main reason for a change is to escape the “all or nothing” scenario, where a military member honorably serves for 1-19 years and 11 months and gets nothing if he or she gets out. 

I also feel that this change is designed to cost costs since the American public sucks at saving money.  The blended retirement system requires action on us, which after nearly 2 decades of helping people with finances, concerns me a lot.  It also pours money into the stock market through the TSP funds, and what government wouldn’t want more control over the financial system right?

For members entering service after 1 Jan 2018, the blended retirement reduces the defined portion of the retirement to 40% at 20 years.  No government system would be complete without the corrupt misguided option of offering us a lump sum payment.  We have the redux under the current retirement system.  A lump sum payment is a way for the government to save money, by not inflation-adjusting the payment.  You’d have to put that lump-sum payment to serious work to ensure you keep up with inflation.  I still haven’t met someone who took the redux and made that $30K earn more than a traditional retirement.
The Department of Defense (DoD) will put 1% of every military member’s paycheck into the TSP.  We will be auto-enrolled into 3% of our pay, which we’ll have to update annually.  The 4%, the 1% DoD and 3% auto-enroll, will be ours, and we keep that portion if we were to separate before 20 years.  A 4% retirement-savings rate is not ideal but at least it will “force” military members to start saving for retirement.  The best part of the blended system is that we’ll finally get a matching TSP contribution.

I refuse to share any graphic created by the DoD that shows a comparison between the two retirement systems because the DoD assumes an unstainable rate of return from the stock market.  While the stock market generally goes up, a good portion of our retirement is now reliant on the bond and stock market.  Additionally, I’ve spent nearly 2 decades trying to get military members to save more for retirement, and it’s not happening quickly.  For this new blended retirement system to be “better”, we must save more and hope for good market returns.
Should you opt-in?  If you know, with all your heart that you’ll be separating before hitting 20 years then yes.  But remember, like nearly everyone I met still serving after 10 years, I was only supposed to be in for 6 years, and now I’ve been in for 16 years.  The current system is still superior thanks to the 50% plus 2.5% each year (versus 40% and 2% each year) and the TSP contributions.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 New Year's Resolution Breakdown

2015 was not a great year for my personal finance goals.  Here’s a quick rundown of my 2015 financial resolutions and how I plan to meet them in 2016.
1.       Max out my IRA.
a.      Accomplished.  It’s the first thing I do every year so I have money to invest with.
b.      2016:  This is always my first goal, so I’ll definitely accomplish this.

2.      Save $X in my savings account.
a.      Accomplished.  This is the second thing I do every year now that I have a house, to cover large maintenance expenses.
b.      2016:  This will come second after my IRA, and I have no doubt I’ll accomplish this.  I plan to buy a car in cash this year too, so this near-term goal will be a primary objective.

3.      Save at least $X every paycheck.
a.      Not accomplished.  We had some large expenses this year, and we basically took 3 vacations.  We went back home for two weeks, Vegas in December for two weddings, and my in-laws came to my house for the holidays.  I came close though; just needed one more paycheck in the year.
b.      2016:  I’ve already implemented some routine deductions in expenses throughout the year.  This should help balance some of the larger expenses like car and housing maintenance.  I’m also going to try and publish blog posts more frequently and build some side income.

4.      Increase 2015 passive income (dividend/interest/mutual fund distributions) by 50%.
a.      Not accomplished.  I waited too long in my investing career to focus on passive income from investments—which explains the goal of trying to reach a 50% increase.  There were several factors contributing to me not reaching my goal in 2015.  The first was a reduction in end-of-year mutual fund distributions.  There weren’t a lot of short- and long-term gains with the market dropping this year.  Additionally, some of my dividend stocks gained quickly and I sold the profit.  For example, WWE offered a 5% dividend when I bought it a low of $9, but then it skyrocketed to $18—doubling my money, and I sold it.
b.      2016:  I’m going to put more money into mutual funds during large market drops.  I will also put more money into large dividend payers whose industry isn’t doing well like oil companies and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).  I have a solid chunk of money in bonds, so I’ll need to keep a close eye on the bond market and make sure that I don’t take a huge capital loss by keeping my money in those bond mutual funds just to get a passive income.

5.      Net assets of $X on 31 Dec.
a.      Not accomplished.  I rarely reach my net asset goal, mainly because the percentage increase is always higher than the market average.  I’ve also never measured my progress monthly or quarterly.  I guess I just hoped I would land on the arbitrary amount at the end of year.  The main reason for not meeting my goals this year was the massive loss I took trying to get quick money.  I invested in some speculative, risky, short-term investments and underestimated how quickly I could lose money. 
b.      2016:  I’ll need to split the goal into monthly and quarterly goals and work harder if I’m not meeting those goals.  I won’t make those same risky investments I tried in 2015 either.
I have a feeling that 2016 will be a great year for those prepared and ready to take advantage of it.  What are your 2016 New Year’s goals?