Comprehensive Deployment Guide
Deployments can be a very stressful time before they begin, and a very exciting time when they end. In both cases, however, there are many things that can (hopefully) make the entire process a bit easier. We’ve collected that information below. (And for more information on how the military can help during deployments, visit this DOD website.)
As you near your date of deployment, life can get awfully complicated. Between preparation, training, and the loving goodbyes, it’s easy to let small but crucial details slip through the cracks.
From policies to pay to obligations, you’ll want to address and complete the following tasks before you deploy.
- Polices and benefits—First things first: Locate your policy documents. Then, spend a couple of hours going over insurance, investments, benefits and beneficiaries with your spouse. Be very clear about what is expected, explain the details and make sure you and your spouse write down your desires for future reference.
- Tax-free and hazardous duty pay—Service members may receive several hundred dollars more each month due to hazardous-duty pay or a tax exemption on wages earned while in a war zone. This is a good opportunity to build up savings or pay off outstanding debt. Decide as a family where you are willing to commit these funds to before deployment — then create a plan and follow through with it.
- Creditors—Review your monthly budget and contact creditors to ask about paying bills by allotment or Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). It may also be easier to pay bills online rather than by mail. You may also choose to consider a debt management loan that can consolidate many bills into a single payment to be managed during deployment.
- Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA)—If a service member's military obligation has affected his or her ability to pay financial obligations such as credit cards, loans, mortgages and more, the service member can have his or her interest rate capped at six percent for the duration of the service member's active-duty obligation. NOTE: The interest rate reduction only applies to debts incurred prior to active duty service, and the service member must prove that he or she has been materially affected by coming on active duty. Check out our guide on the subject for more information.
- Banking—If you are keeping the same bank or credit union, your direct deposit will not be affected. If you are switching institutions, make sure that the new direct deposit is working correctly before canceling your old bank account. As a rule of thumb, wait at least one month to ensure that everything is working properly.
- Bills—Make sure that all bills are organized and that you have a payment plan ready, with a power of attorney in place, if needed. Also be sure to inform creditors, banks and any investment representatives of your deployment.
- Income tax—If a service member is deployed when taxes are due, decide in advance how your income taxes will be filed. Extensions can be filed through the Internal Revenue Service by filing Form 2350: Application for Extension of Time to File U.S. Income Tax Return, available at the IRS’ website.
There are many simple and straightforward administrative tasks that must be completed before you deploy. Here’s a list to make sure they aren’t overlooked.
- Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS)—Verify DEERS enrollment prior to deployment to ensure that your family at home can receive medical care. To confirm enrollment contact DEERS at 1-800-538-9552.
- ID cards—Check the expiration date of all ID cards. If they expire prior to the end of your deployment, contact the appropriate personnel office to initiate the paperwork.
- Service record—Ensure contact information is correct in case of emergency.
- Contact list—Compile a precise list of agencies, businesses and units that offer assistance in case of an emergency. This will help both the family staying stateside and the family member headed overseas.
- Staying in touch with home—For the service member being deployed, include a voice recorder (tape or digital), stationery, stamps, an address book and email addresses, depending on what is allowed. There are also ways to set up virtual private networks with your loved ones back home.
- Red Cross Notifications—The Red Cross is often the most efficient, fastest way to contact service members overseas. Write down your local Red Cross contact information, including phone number, address and hours. The Red Cross also has an entire section dedicated to helping military families on their website: www.redcross.org.
- Spouse relocation—It is imperative that you notify command of new contact numbers and addresses if the service member's family will be moving to a new location (back to a hometown, closer to family, etc.). If moving off post, you need to notify housing authorities in advance of the move.
From Powers of Attorney to wills and insurance, here’s how to make sure you and your family are covered.
- Power of Attorney—Make sure you complete a Power of Attorney before you deploy so that others can legally act on your behalf. There are several different types of Powers of Attorney.
- General Durable Power of Attorney: A general grant of authority that authorizes one spouse to act on behalf of the other in financial affairs. It can be revoked at any time and usually takes effect immediately unless otherwise stated in the document.
- Health Care Power of Attorney: Necessary when one spouse becomes incapacitated and is unable to make medical decisions on his or her own, as determined by one or more physicians.
- Limited Power of Attorney: Intended to grant a spouse a limited amount of authority with regard to one or more matters. For example, it can grant the authority to make withdrawals from a specific bank account in order to pay bills, but nothing else.
- Wills—The military will assist with a General Will and Testament. However, both a Living Will and Ethical Will are also options.
- Living Will: Either spouse can state wishes regarding future health care in case one or both become incapacitated and are unable to share their wishes. This includes how to handle such issues as having a feeding tube inserted or removed or if "extraordinary" measures should be used.
- Ethical Will: A letter that expresses feelings on common themes such as personal and spiritual beliefs, values, life's lessons, forgiving or asking for forgiveness and love. This information is shared with family and friends in case of death. Our blog on wills and trusts can provide more information.
- Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI)—Each active duty service member is eligible for life insurance, which is available in increments of $10,000 up to a maximum of $400,000. Before deployment, verify beneficiaries and make changes as necessary.
When you return from deployment, catching up with family and friends, seeing firsthand how your kids have grown, enjoying some home cooking and sleeping in your own bed again are among the highlights. There’s no doubt that resetting and reenergizing is important to your state of mind. But it’s just as important to the state of your finances. Don’t worry: This section can help you adjust to the new fiscal realities of being home while preparing yourself for a secure financial future.
- Review your budget—When you were deployed, it was easy to get used to all the specialty pays and tax benefits that provided extra income. But now that added money is gone, so it's vital to revisit your budget and adjust accordingly. How you do that depends on how you handled that income in the first place.
- Did you save?—If you saved, you should be in a position to withstand the reduced pay you will receive. Even so, you should review your debt to see what obligations you can pay off in full. Depending on your cash flow needs, pay down either the debt with the highest interest rate (so you’ll pay the least interest), or the debt with the highest monthly payment (giving you extra money each month). Then check your savings allocations to see if you have a solid emergency fund. If you do, divert some of that money over to a longer-term savings option, such as the Thrift Savings Plan
- Did you spend?—If you weren’t able to save while you were deployed, you may find yourself struggling to pay your bills without the extra funds you came to expect. To get a handle on your finances, first review all of the things you spend money on. Then, develop a spending and savings plan to organize your debt. This will help you get a grasp of where you stand today, and how to best get yourself into a better financial position tomorrow. It may include consolidating debt, reducing discretionary spending and even getting rid of unnecessary services (such as cable or satellite TV). Remember, a few sacrifices now can pay huge dividends later. Note: If you’re married, make sure to do this step as a couple. It will help not only your finances, but also your relationship as you get back into “normal” life and resume working as a two-person, husband-and-wife team who share the same goals.
While deployments might be a fact of military life, we hope these tips make the process go much easier for you and your family.
- Savings Deposit Program (SDP)—If you took advantage of this program, remember that withdrawals can begin once you return home from the designated combat zone or to your permanent duty station, but interest will stop accruing 90 days after you've been home. It’s best to wait until that 90-day window is nearly over before withdrawing the money so you can maximize your accrued interest.
- Power of Attorney—If you set up a Power of Attorney of any kind, check the effective dates of these documents, including when (or even if) they end. Make any necessary changes to reflect the fact you are home if there is still a need for you to keep the documents in force. If you don't have a need, be sure the documents are properly terminated, which may require legal assistance (offered for free on almost all military installations).
- SCRA—If you are a member of the National Guard or reserves and were called to active duty, you may have used the SCRA to reduce interest to six percent on credit cards and/or loans opened prior to being called to active service. Once you return home, those reductions in rates will end, so be prepared for that — along with the increases in the monthly bills they will bring.
- Meet with a financial advisor—Many military installations and even a few financial services companies offer some sort of free financial advice to military families. Use your homecoming as an opportunity to sit down and reassess where you are financially and where you want to be in the future.
- Do something nice—Although going on a reckless spending spree is not recommended, go ahead and take a look at your family budget to see if there is any money to do a little something special. A trip to see family, or even just a night out for you and your spouse at a nice restaurant may be in order. This may seem like strange financial advice, but as important as it is to save, it’s equally important to enjoy yourself now and then. And you can’t do that if you feel as though you’re so constrained financially that you can’t have fun. In fact, that approach may cause you to resent money, budgeting and planning. Instead, strike a balance between having fun and overdoing it. Remember, emotions can run high during this time. Unfortunately, many families go overboard trying to make up for lost time, only to realize they’ve buried themselves in debt. The key is to compromise, stick with the budget and just enjoy being home.
- Prepare for the next time—Deployments are part of military life, and just because this one ended doesn’t mean another one isn’t on the horizon. Take a look at what worked this time with your finances, what didn’t, and make changes where necessary. Whether you need to save a bit more or pay down some debt before leaving, make a note of it and keep it somewhere safe where you’ll remember it. A little thought up front will make the next deployment much easier on your finances.