Being a Personal Financial Counselor to the US Military

I started providing financial counseling to Servicemembers in 2008, and during that time have been pleased to help thousands understand and implement sound financial decisions. Unfortunately, the Department of Defense has re-structured how they procure those services, and how often, and it is no longer worth the effort to keep up with the administrative burden of being with a contractor company part-time when I haven’t had an assignment in a year.

It’s not a good use of my time to spend over 20 hours per year of training on HR, expense reporting, time keeping, privacy and sexual harassment training, if I don’t even spend one weekend afternoon at a Yellow Ribbon event. So today I resigned from my position in the Personal Financial Counselor program.

I’m honored to have been able to assist Soldiers, Marines, and Sailors, in places like Okinawa, Texas, Hawaii, and of course here in Washington. In future, I’ll only be serving in Washington (see below).

On the bright side, I am a provider for those looking for a financial planner under the Military One Source program. Military One Source (MOS) is a program where Servicemembers can call an 800# for just about any issue they face, whether it’s legal, tax or financial related, as well as a host of other areas that might be considered social services (for example, translation), and they will be given providers in their local area, free of charge to the Servicemember.

If a Sailor on Whidbey Island were to call MOS for help with understanding how to buy a house, for example, they’d be given a short list of providers in their area, and I will be on that list. From there, it is up to the Servicemember to decide which provider they choose to work with.

BRS Opt-in period over

A recent article on said that the estimates from the consultant that advised the military on how many people would opt in to the new retirement system was way off, and that only about 20% of the servicemembers forecasted to opt in actually did, and as a result, the future pension obligations of the Department of Defense were going to be higher. I read that, and thought, “Duh?” DoD is going to have higher outlays because people didn’t choose the option that gave them less in total benefits. Doesn’t that tell you that they made good decisions, as a group?

That said, BRS is definiteely a good thing for servicemembers who don’t stay for an entire career, because before BRS, there were no retirement benefits for anyone who separated prior to 20 years of service. Now, young people who spend 3, 4, or 6 years and then go back to civilian life will also have a head start on their retirement. And the Thrift Savings Plan is one of the best platforms for long-term investment accumulation that exists.

Blended Retirement System (BRS)

If you have less than 12 years of service as of the end of 2017, you have a decision to make about whether to stay in the existing retirement system, or switch to the new BRS, which is the retirement system that applies to everyone who joins the military on Jan. 1, 2018 or later.  


The Department of Defense has made a tool available to help people with the decision, and tells you it’s totally your responsibility to make the right choice. They won’t tell you what to do, just give you this tool to help you decide.


One way to look at it:

They’ve done the analysis, and decided there’s no way that anyone with more than 12 years of service could be better off with the Blended Retirement System, so they won’t let those people make a bad choice.


There are some people for whom this should be a really easy decision:


 If you have decided that you absolutely aren’t going to stay in long enough to retire, then the only way to receive any military retirement benefit, is to opt in to BRS. That way you’ll have a TSP account that can keep growing for 40 years, versus leaving with nothing under the legacy system.


Finally, if you have between 4 and 12 years in the service, especially if you aren’t sure whether you’re staying for 20 years, you DO have a TOUGH decision to make. And there are so many variables to consider:


  • The amount DoD contributes to your TSP account

  • How much you will be able to afford to put in

  • How much those TSP investments will earn over 20 to 40 years

  • When you will receive promotions

  • When you will start taking withdrawals from TSP

  • Whether, and how much you’ll get, for a continuation bonus

If you want to discuss how to make a good decision, go to the “Contact” page, and schedule a phone call. Helping people with difficult financial decisions is what Penn Cove Financial is about.  

This section of the website is going to be geared toward the Military Community.

It has occurred to me recently that there is a lot of military specific information that I could make available. Since I have personal experience with being a mid-career person, facing the decision of whether to stay in the Navy (I did), and the transition that came with transfer to the Fleet Reserve (20 year retirement), and the switch to working in the civilian sector, that this could be a great place to share some of that experience, and to make resources available for those that would like them.

The first give-away I'm offering is a spending plan template. Yes, I know Fleet & Family Services provides one, as does Army Community Services and Air Force Community Center. The one I use is one page, and lets you enter info for the current and a proposed future scenario. It's great if you're trying to compare your budget from one duty station to the next, or after transitioning to the civilian sector, or from working to retirement.  If you'd like a copy, just email with "Spending Plan" in the subject line.