The Final Month to Opt-In to the Blended Retirement System is Here.
This post is sponsored by USAA as part of the military personal finance bloggers #BRSBlitz education campaign.
The Final Month to Opt-In to the Blended Retirement System is Here.
On Jan. 1, 2018, the military retirement system changed to the Blended Retirement System (BRS). It decreases the military pension (for those who earn retirement) and adds a matching and vesting schedule to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). For the 1.2 million military servicemembers that are eligible to opt-in to the new system, the window to choose is closing soon. 31 December 2018 to be exact. The majority of you reading this are military spouses, not military servicemembers. That’s OK. You have a role in this too. You need to understand how this will affect you, your military servicemember, and your family. Learn about the BRS. Talk it over with your spouse. Make your decision by 31 December 2018.
Learn About the Blended Retirement System
Is My Spouse Eligible to Opt-In to the BRS?
As of 31 January 2017, if you have less than 12 years of service (or earned less than 4,320 points for Guard/Reserve), you have a choice of choosing the new BRS or old Legacy system. If your spouse joined the military on 1 January 2018 or later, they’re already enrolled in the new Blended Retirement System. If you came in before 2006, you’re under the Legacy system. However, for those of you that joined the military between 2006 to 2017, you have a choice to make between the two systems. The best way for your spouse to know where they fall for eligibility is to have them double-check their “Date of Initial Entry to Military Service (DIEMS).
Why is this an Urgent Decision?
If your spouse is one of the 1.2 million military servicemembers who are eligible to switch to the new Blended Retirement System, the deadline is soon. Like really soon. The deadline is 31 December 2018. As in, at the end of this month! That’s the very last day they will be able to switch into the BRS or stay with the old system. If they don’t make their decision by 31 December 2018, they will automatically be grandfathered into the old system.
Legacy System v. New BRS
The BRS is different from old, High 3 or “legacy” retirement system. The main difference most people will immediately see is that with the BRS, the military retirement pension the servicemember receives is 20% less than under the legacy system. However, the BRS supplements this by offering several other benefits that the legacy system does not offer such as TSP contributions and matching mid-career bonuses, and even a lump-sum pension offer.
The BRS is different from the old system in these four main ways. However, I’m a visual learner, so here’s a chart I made to quickly compare the benefits of the two systems.
- After 20 years of service, there is still a retirement pension, but it will be decreased by 20% as compared to the legacy system.
- Servicemember will receive an automatic 1% Government contribution to their TSP plus potential matching funds for a portion of their TSP contribution.
- The Servicemember may be eligible for a continuation pay bonus at their mid-career point.
- A partial lump sum retirement payment option may be offered for a portion of the pension.
Discuss Your Options
After you’ve spent some time learning about each retirement option, it’s time to have “the talk” with your spouse. If the both of you already know that your spouse does not plan on retiring from the military, your decision is easy. You choose BRS and you walk away from military service with some “free” DoD TSP contributions.
If they are planning on retiring from the military or are unsure, that’s when you need to sit down and do some talking and planning. Here are some key categories to consider discussing as a couple.
Remember that opting-in is a final decision and it cannot be reversed. However, after 31 December 2018, if you don’t opt-in, you will never have the chance again. The opt-in window closes at the end of 2018. The most important thing is to actually make a decision either way. Opt-in or stay legacy, but make sure you choose. I would hate for families and servicemembers to not discuss their options and default into the legacy system, simply because they never gave it any thought.
Years of Military Service
How many years of service does your spouse currently have? At one or two years of service, decisions about the future are not clear. At 10 or 11 years of service, they are a little bit more clear, but still how easy is it to forecast the next ten years of your life. Just food for thought.
- Is your spouse competitive in their career? What do their promotion prospects look like?
- Do they like what they’re doing?
- Do the jobs of their bosses that are 1-3 ranks above them seem like something they’d want to do someday?
- How many more PCS moves or deployments are in your future?
- Do you have children? Do you plan to have children? How will the military affect their schooling?
- Will you have any issues with possibly being far from extended family?
- Do you foresee issues with child custody situations?
- Are your spouse and children happy with Military life?
- Any family health situations?
- Servicemember health problems?
- PT/Weight Issues
- Do we already contribute to the TSP? Do we plan on contributing in the future?
- If I chose BRS, what does our potential DoD match look like? (hint use a calculator)
- How do we feel about using the stock market to help us invest in our future?
- Are we counting on a military pension to fund our retirement?
Compare BRS versus Legacy
If you’re interested in how each system will affect your financial retirement benefits (as you should be) the best thing to do is play around with a BRS calculator. Both USAA and Department of Defense have published their own calculators. Try them both out since they are a little bit different from each other. Below I’ve included a screenshot collage of USAA’s Military Retirement Comparison Tool, so you can see how easy it is to use. It will literally take you 15 seconds to peek a quick snapshot of your potential retirement benefits in either system.
Why are you pushing us to pick BRS?
I’m not, I promise. I just want you and your servicemember to have fully considered all your options. Look below, if you or your spouse has said or thought any of these ideas below, please keep reading.
- “I already know that my spouse is going to do 20+ years, BRS is a bad choice.”
- “Anything the DoD offers us is probably a raw deal.”
- “I’m not in the military my spouse is, I know they’ll just handle it.”
- “I’m sorry, BRS, TSP, DoD, retirement….snooooooooze….we’ll look into it later.”
Even if your spouse does plan on doing 20+ years, BRS is not a bad option. In, fact, it’s a really great option. You’ll still get a retirement pension under BRS plus all those DoD TSP contributions, and your mid-career continuation bonus too.
However, I’m just gonna leave this little chart here, that shows a Rand.org study on the historical likelihood of retirement at different years of military service for both enlisted and officers. Remember, that if your spouse does not retire from the military, the legacy system does not provide any benefits, however, BRS will.
You Are Ready to Make Your Retirement Plan Decision
- You understand the differences between the BRS and Legacy retirement System. Now you know the benefits of each system no matter which system you choose.
- You and your spouse talked about your future together and all the factors that could affect your spouse’s time or career in the military.
- As a couple, you sat down together and ran some scenarios with the BRS/Legacy calculators tools. You have a good idea what your financial benefits could look like when you leave the military with or without a retirement pension.
- Your Spouse is ready to make the choice.
- Stay Legacy. You’ve decided to be grandfathered into Legacy, but no physical action is required (unless you’re a Marine)
- Go BRS. Thank you Military Dollar for step-by-step instructions.
Whatever decision you choose. I hope you take the time to look at each system and weigh the pros and cons. Don’t listen to what your friends tell you, some blogger (me), the media, or your boss. You have the tools and the information to make the right choice for you and your family. Remember: There is less than one month left to make your decision. Learn about it. Discuss it. Make your choice.