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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Predeployment Financial Checklist

A recent Air Force Times story reported the difficulty family members sometimes have after their military member is injured while deployed. As a commander, I had to help deployed members on multiple occasions to reestablish pay, replace lost ID cards, and gain access to bank accounts and other personal information. I have also seen the heartbreak of a deployed fatality turn into a personal financial disaster when wills and beneficiary information have not been properly updated.

With those things in mind I offer this checklist of predeployment financial items.
  1. Update your will and your virtual Record of Emergency Data (vRED).
  2. Make sure your accounts have your spouse or beneficiary listed as the survivor beneficiary, particularly on individual retirement accounts.
  3. Give your spouse a special power of attorney for the following items: ID cards, base access, vehicle registration, and changes to bank information.
  4. Call your creditors and tell them that you're going to deploy. Because of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, you'll be able to lower your rates, or even break your leases if necessary.
  5. Put your accounts on automatic pilot. Set up automatic payments for your fixed expenses. If your utility company will allow levelized billing, sign up for it so that you can simplify your monthly budget.
  6. Build a financial information binder with your account numbers, addresses, and details. A great template for what should go into the binder is available from the US Navy Web page.
  7. Ensure that all dependent ID cards will not expire during the length of the deployment plus 3 months. (Deployments get extended every day!)
  8. Have "THE TALK." Sit down with your spouse and use the binder to discuss the family budget, your spending plan during the deployment, and how you'll ensure that all the bills get paid on time. If the military member is usually responsible for the bill paying duties, work through this process with your spouse for at least a month before departing so that they understand who needs to be paid and when.
This is just the beginning of the issues to consider. Armed Forces Crossroads has an excellent guide. USAA also has a free guide for deployment preparation.

During your spin up for deployment you may also find that your spouse doesn't want to discuss financial issues because of their own fears about the separation. You may want to involve a counselor in the weeks leading up to the departure to ensure that they understand the situation and to minimize their fears. Finally, some spouses who normally are not responsible for the financial aspects of the family may have a tendency to let their guard down during a deployment. They may overspend, or they might be the victims of scam artists who pray on family members. By taking the time to properly prepare for deployments, you can reduce stress and improve communications before, during, and after the deployment.