The Department of Defense Pre-symposium has not been part of the AFCPE Symposium for six years, so many were happy to see it come back. There were many financial professionals who work with Service members in attendance from Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The energy was dynamic and many great subjects were covered during the two day meeting.

One of the most important and frequently discussed topics was the new retirement system for Service members. The Blended Retirement System combines the defined benefit that Service members are eligible for after serving 20 years on active duty, or the equivalent point in the reserve component, with the Thrift Savings Plan that includes matching by the government. There were many key take-aways from the meeting:

  • An overview of the Blended Retirement System clarified a few things. Some key points discussed were: continuation pay bonus being available to those at the end of the 12 years of service and lump sum option information (i.e., it can be paid out in up to four installments which may help with tax consequences).
  • The Lifecycle Fund is the default for the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), Service members are automatically re-enrolled in the Lifecycle Fund January 1 if they take their Thrift Savings Plan contributions to zero.
  • Early in 2017, a calculator will be made available to compare the old retirement system to the Blended Retirement System, and matching stops at 26 years of service.
  • Information on the Blended Retirement System will continue to be distributed through Military OneSource, and
  • There are great frequently asked questions on the Blended Retirement System, and they will continue to update the FAQs on the websites above as more questions are answered.

There was an in depth presentation on the TSP and information related to how it will work with the Blended Retirement System. A reminder that Service members may qualify for the Saver’s Credit, receiving as much as 50 percent back as a credit on their taxes—a good thing to be aware of and remind those you work with as a benefit to saving for retirement.

The Department of Defense held an interactive presentation using case studies to help the financial counselors in attendance through examples to understand scenarios they may see related to the Blended Retirement System. Participants broke up into groups to discover and discuss important issues counselors need to know and help their clients think about when working together. It really helped people to see the wide range of issues they may encounter as they move forward with the new retirement system. There was a reminder to have Service members print their certificate to receive credit when they take the online course on the Blended Retirement System. It is available for family members to take too, so they can learn more about the Blended Retirement System, and help the Service member make a well-informed decision if they are to choose between the old system and the new system.

A brief about the Military Lending Act informed financial counselors that the new act became effective October 3, 2016. There is a newsletter available on Military OneSource, and a webinar with training guides is being developed. The Military Lending Act relates to credit issued during active duty, while Service members Civil Relief Act covers loans incurred prior to entering active duty (and those during qualified deployments).

During the briefing from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, participants first learned of the road Holly Petraeus has taken to get to where she is at the CFPB. The CFPB has returned more than $12 billion to Americans, and $200 million to Service members through the work they are doing. They shared with attendees the coaching program that is out there to work with veterans, with now over 6,000 veterans served. It was mentioned how important it is to get out there to where the people are—don’t sit in the office and wait for them to come to you! Lastly, they talked about the new program that they have called the Misadventures in Money Management that recruiters use with their recruits to help them learn in a fun, innovative way.

The last presentation before the financial counselors went to each branch of service breakout was a panel that had the following programs represented—Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Federal Trade Commission, FINRA, Military Families Learning Network, Military One Source, and Military Saves. All gave a description of what their program is about and the resources available for Service members.

Andi Wrenn, MA, AFC® works for Zeiders Enterprises as a Provider Network Manager. She recruits, trains, and educates Financial Professionals working as Personal Financial Counselors serving military communities in a management capacity since 2008.  Andi educates financial professionals in all areas of personal finance and counseling techniques. She has provided comprehensive financial counseling in all matters of personal finance since 2003. With a background in education, a Master’s in marriage and family therapy, and an Accredited Financial Counselor ® certification, Andi provides a well-rounded, holistic approach to financial education and counseling of clients and financial professionals.

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