Military retirees have one of the best pension plans in the US. After only 20 years, military retirees can retire with 50% of their basic pay, full medical coverage, and a slew of other benefits that will stay with them throughout the remainder of their lives. It is not a stretch to say that a military retirement is worth millions over the life of the retiree.
Considering that one can begin receiving retirement benefits around age 40 and potentially receive the benefits for another 40 years or more, this is an extremely good deal. But is it enough to live off for the rest of your life?
Can you live off military retirement?
For most people retiring from the military services after 20 years, the answer is most likely “no.” A military retirement is fairly generous compared to most civilian retirement plans, and can even be worth millions over the life of the retiree. However, the immediate cash flow is probably not enough for most people to retire immediately, especially for many retired enlisted military members who bring in $20,000-$30,000 per year.
Living on military retirement pay becomes even more difficult if you have a mortgage, credit card debt, a car loan, and other regular payments. I many cases, a military pension is a great financial blessing, but it may not be enough to live on.
Making it work – living off military retirement pay
Not everyone can make a living from a military pension, but there are some people who are able to do it. One example is an enlisted couple who both retired from the military and had their story featured in CNN Money. They both are military retirees who will receive a combined $58,500 per year in military retirement pay, in addition to other military retiree benefits such as medical care. This is not a bad sum of money for not doing anymore work for the remainder of their lives!
Even with their retirement pay and health benefits, there are some potential roadblocks to their plan not to work anymore. Their retirement pay currently covers their fixed costs including their mortgage and other regular bills. But it won’t give them a lot of freedom if they need to support their children through college, or have many unexpected large expenses arise. Even something like taking a family vacation will need to be carefully planned.
I think it may be possible for them to do it, but I imagine that after awhile they will want to find some source of work to keep them occupied. It may not be a traditional 9-5 job, but it may be a part time job, or a hobby that provides them income.
The most important thing about their situation is this: their military retirement pay and benefits are giving them the option and freedom to decide whether or not they work. The freedom of bringing in $58,500 per year without doing anything else gives them the opportunity to work, or choose more rewarding work if they decide to do that. That is a beautiful thing!
How to stretch your military retirement pay
The key to being able to retire on your military pension is paying off as many loans and credit cards as possible before you officially retire from the military. Debt is the quickest way to enslave yourself and tie up your future pension checks. But eliminating your debt gives you the opportunity to use your money for more important things, such as your regular living expenses, vacations, and other enjoyable activities.
Another important factor in military retirement is the addition of other sources of retirement funds, especially those which will be available to you later, when inflation erodes the relative value of your military retirement pension. That is why it is important to open a Roth IRA, Thrift Savings Plan, or other investments. You can open a TSP account through your military pay unit or you can check out the best IRA brokerages for good places to start your civilian retirement plan.