There’s a lot to plan for when transitioning out of the military. In addition to getting a handle on being a civilian again, your finances are going to completely changing. Creating a game-plan and having a financial checklist will help you stay organized and make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
Know your VA Benefits.
You might’ve already run across the benefits in an exit brief, but if you’re even a little unfamiliar with what the Department of Veteran Affairs can do to help you, then get a refresher course. In addition to tuition assistance and career counseling, the VA can serve as your first-stop resource to stepping back into the civilian world.
Start thinking about civilian retirement.
During the transition, your primary focus is going to be on your short term needs like employment and housing. But it’s never too late to start actively saving for retirement. You probably already have money set aside in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), but as a civilian, you’re going to have a new range of retirement investment options. Most often, the money in your TSP can be rolled over to a private retirement plan, but consider discussing all of your options with a certified financial planner. Civilian plans might offer more opportunities, but they can also come with higher fees.
Understand how taxes will change.
In the military, your home of record state directly impacted how much you paid in state taxes. It’s much the same as a civilian, so it’s equally important to consider your state of record. Some states in the country offer a number of significant benefits for veterans. Before discharge is complete, take some time to explore your state of record options to make sure you don’t miss out on valuable perks.
Your paycheck is going to change dramatically. You’re likely going to have more taxes withheld from a civilian paycheck. Don’t get too discouraged – there are a number of tax breaks available to help veterans and their families. A few states offer property tax incentives for veterans.
Filing taxes are going to have to become more of a priority, since you’re going to be held to the April 15 deadline, just like the rest of the country.
Know the limits of your paycheck.
Your civilian paycheck isn’t going to include allowances for food or lodging. Much of your nonmilitary income is subject to being taxes, so take-home pay is likely going to be less than when you were in the military. Try to get a sense of how much you’ll be taking home after taxes by overestimating your city, state, and federal taxes and then create a budget around that number. It’s better to exaggerate these numbers than underestimate and not have enough to live on.
Create a transition fund.
Be realistic and know that it might take you a few months to find the job you want after exiting the military. At the same time, you’re going to be faced with all kinds of expenses that require deposits be placed upfront. It’s recommended that six months before you start your ETS paperwork, begin setting aside any extra money you have to help cover these costs.