- Managing Stress
Dealing with Deployment
Deployment is a stressful time for every member of the family. By taking time to talk together as a family, and separately as a couple, you can better manage both the emotional and logistical aspects of being apart from your servicemember. There are numerous issues you should consider addressing together as a couple to best manage a deployment including:
- Discussing and sharing important information such as financial account number, passwords and user “id’s” for bank accounts,
- Deciding how you will handle bill-paying responsibilities
- Jointly determining your financial priorities while your spouse is deployed
- Compiling important paperwork like copies of insurance policies, contact information, military orders, birth certificates, etc.
- Deciding how you will keep in touch while you are apart
- Learning if you are able to “cap” certain payments and credit interest rates because of your family’s active duty deployment military status
- Determining if you are eligible for tax preparation assistance or tax deductions
- Making sure you are maintaining health insurance
- Making childcare decisions
- Knowing what sources of help you are entitled to and that the military makes readily available for soldier’s families while they are deployed
If you're suddenly faced with your spouse's deployment, following is some information and encouragement to increase your peace of mind and help you make the best financial decisions possible for you and your family during this difficult time.
Before your spouse leaves, there are several decisions you should make together, as well as some information that you should be sure to compile jointly. Consider buying a notebook to record information and some clearly labeled file folders to keep important papers. Gather the following information with your spouse if possible:
- Account numbers and contact information (billing addresses, phone numbers and customer representative names) for credit cards, mortgage loan or rent, bank accounts, loans (i.e. car or student), and safety deposit box
- Investment statements (i.e. stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or other investments)
- ATM pin numbers and passwords for accounts
- Policy numbers and contact information for insurance policies such as health, life, auto, disability, homeowners or renters' insurance
- Contact information for any professional help your family uses and or may need access to including lawyers, doctors, financial advisors or investment professionals, mechanics, repairmen
- Maintenance records for cars, major appliances, etc.
Also record your spouse's military information, including:
- Name of his/her unit
- Names and ranks of his/her chain of command
- A copy of his/her orders and travel itinerary
Following is a list of documents that you should try to locate and keep in a safe, central location:
- Your military I.D.
- Your spouse's birth certificate
- Your marriage certificate
- Your spouse's social security number
- Power of attorney document
- Financial statements including checking, savings, CD, brokerage, retirement accounts, and credit card statements
- Copies of both your and your spouse's wills and living wills
- Instructions about guardianship arrangement for your children
- Car title and registration
There are a handful of important family decisions you and your spouse should discuss before deployment. Those decisions include:
- preparing a budget or reviewing your expected expenses and bill-paying habits;
- having wills made for both of you;
- what guardianship arrangements you want to make for your children in the event that something were to happen to both of you;
- making sure that you have adequate health/homeowners or rental/and life insurance;
- preparing a power of attorney document or living will;
- and figuring out how you'll keep in touch while your spouse is deployed.
If Your Spouse is in the Reserves or the Guard
If you're in the reserves or the Guard and you're being called to active duty you may have additional considerations such as what about health insurance? How will your military pay compare to your current civilian pay? What additional expenses will your family have to incur because the deployment? For example, childcare, home or car repairs, travel or moving expenses? Following is some helpful guidance:
There may be a difference between what your spouse is currently making and his/her military pay. If you don't know how much your spouse will make during active duty, you can check out the Complete Active Duty and Reserve Monthly Drill Pay Tables or ask your spouse's commanding officer or pay clerk.
- Health Insurance
Maintaining health insurance coverage is a top priority for most reserve families. You'll want to check to see if you can maintain your current health insurance while your spouse is on active duty. If your assignment lasts for more than 30 days, your employer can drop you from their plan. If your active duty assignment is for less than 30 days, you cannot be dropped from coverage. Talk to your human resource department to get more information on your plan and to make arrangements to pay your portion while you're gone.
If you stay with your current insurance, in most cases you'll still have to pay the same premium that you're currently paying or you'll be dropped from coverage. Depending on the difference between your civilian pay and your military pay that could be a significant amount of money. If you're not eligible to maintain your current insurance or if it's too expensive, consider moving your family onto your spouse's plan. If you've been called up to active duty for 30 days or more, you and your dependents are eligible for the military's TRICARE health care and dental program. Using Tricare, your family can still see civilian doctors and medical professionals, but you'll need to check to see if they participate in the Tricare program first. For more information on Tricare, check out their website at www.tricare.osd.mil.
Being called up to active duty may require you to change your current childcare arrangements or to use childcare for the first time. You may have added expenses to extend day care or enroll kids in after-school care if you have to go back to work while your spouse is mobilized. Added expenses can include not just tuition, but other associated costs such as transportation (additional gas costs or bus for after-school programs); meals; program fees for special things like field trips, art supplies, etc. While your spouse is on active duty you may be eligible for the Department of Defense Child Development Programs (CDP). These programs provide full-day, half-day or hourly day care for children ages birth through 12. Placement is not guaranteed. Talk to your base family support group for more information.
Federal Laws to Help Guard and Reservists
There are two laws - USERRA ("Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act") and SSCRA ("Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act") - to protect the rights of, and to provide assistance to, guard members and reservists while on active duty.
- Getting Health Care Coverage and USERRA
USERRA was created to protect the rights of men and women who serve in the military through the National Guard or as a Reservist as they leave and return to civilian life. USERRA gives service members the right to stay with your current employer's health care plan if you pay 102 percent of the cost for coverage while on active duty. Although it may seem expensive, it does ensure that you have access to health insurance particularly if you live in an area where Tricare is not widely accepted.
- Paying Bills and SSCRA
SSCRA provides a wide range of protections, including several to help if you are unable to pay your bills while on active duty because your military pay is less than your previous civilian pay. Through SSCRA, you can:
- Break or suspend certain leases (i.e. car or apartment lease). It must be an existing lease that you entered into prior to being called up; you must give adequate notice to your creditor; and you must provide proof of reduced salary.
- Have the interest on certain existing loans (i.e. credit cards, mortgage) temporarily "capped" at 6 percent while you're on duty. To take advantage of this benefit, you have to write your creditors to let them know you're on active duty and that you're invoking the six percent cap. Your creditors will also need proof of your mobilization and reduced salary.
- Avoid eviction from leased housing under certain circumstances.
- Delay some civil lawsuits such as personal bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, paternity or child custody hearings. See your unit's legal assistance office for more information on SSCRA protections.
Helpful Tips A-Z
- Accounts & Authorization
Make sure you have any necessary authorization from your spouse to handle things like withdrawing money from jointly-held accounts, resolving billing or paycheck problems, etc. Make sure that your bank, credit card, and other financial accounts are held in both names, listed as "Sally OR John Doe" rather than "Sally AND John Doe." That way if there's a problem with the account you don't need your spouse's signature or authorization to solve it.
If you've never handled your family's finances, sit down with your spouse and discuss how he/she has done the bills up to this point. Begin by making up a list of your regular, monthly bills such as your mortgage/rent, utilities (i.e. electric, gas, water, phone), car payment, student loan, and credit card bills. For a list of other typical expenses and an interactive budget worksheet, click here for english, or click here for spanish.
Once you have a list, make sure that you've located your checkbook and have adequate checks (or know how to pay your bills online). Make sure that you know when your bills are due. Since you know you'll be under stress and have more to do managing what your spouse did or what two of you previously did together, don't try to rely on your memory. Write down the "due date" of your recurring monthly bills on your calendar and highlight to make sure you send your payments in on time.
If possible, you may want to set up automatic withdrawal from your checking or savings account for any recurring monthly expenses (i.e. mortgage, car loan). You can stop in at your local bank branch to set up automatic withdrawal. While you're there, you can meet with a bank representative to ask questions you may have about using checks, withdrawing or depositing money in your account; and loan or credit options. That will help ease your stress, save you time, and ensure that your payment isn't late.
- Cell Phones
Depending on your contract, canceling cell phone service can be costly. Some companies will allow you to "freeze" your account while your spouse is deployed and pay just a minimum monthly payment to maintain your account. Check with your wireless provider to see what help, if any, they can offer.
- Credit Cards
If you haven't been responsible for managing your family's finances it can be easy to misuse credit cards while your spouse is deployed. Before your spouse is deployed, ask what cards he/she used and for what type of expenses.
It's important to keep current on your bills, meaning that you send your payment in on time. If you're having difficulty paying your bills, contact your credit card company. At the very least you want them to know that you want to keep current on your bill, but you're having difficulty. They'll note that on your account and may offer ways to help you such as extending your payment date. Some companies will lower or waive the interest rate on your card if your spouse has been called up to active duty.
Try to keep a close eye on how much you're charging, and if you're charging things that you used to pay with cash. Using credit inappropriately can add up quickly and put you under a real financial strain. For tips on keeping your credit habits under control, click here.
- Child Care
The Department of Defense now requires families with two parents being called into active duty, and families headed by a single parent called to active duty, to have a family-care plan. The plan should outline specific directions on who is to care for the children, how children will be transported to their designated caregiver, and what financial arrangements are in place to provide for the children while their parent or parents are gone. In addition to regular expenses such as food, clothing, tuition or daycare fees, you'll also want to make sure to put aside money for any emergency medical needs and for transportation such as plane or train tickets in the event that you need to send your children to stay with designated friends or relatives while you or your spouse is deployed. If you or your spouse is in the National Guard or is a reservist, see "If Your Spouse is in the Reserves or the Guard" for more information on military benefits regarding child care. Stop by your base's family center if you need help in preparing a family-care plan.
- Keeping In Touch
It can be logistically difficult and costly to keep in touch with your spouse while they're stationed overseas. Ask your family care center if you'll be able to send packages or mail and if so, how much will it cost? Will your spouse have access to email? Do you know his/her email address? If you want to talk by phone you have three options:
- Using your current long-distance service,
- Using a calling card, or
- Using a pre-paid calling card
Using your phone-based long distance service can be costly. Call your long-distance provider (listed on your phone bill) and ask if they provide military discounts for regular long-distance and overseas calls. Some long-distance providers are offering reduced rate calling cards. Calling cards enable you, or your spouse, to make calls from any location using a calling card number and PIN (personal identification number).
Prepaid calling cards allow you to pay upfront a certain sum of money for a specific amount of calling time. For example, you can pay $25 for 500 minutes of calling. You can obtain a pre-paid calling card at local drug stores, warehouse stores, or online. Check on the card to make sure you or your spouse can make international calls with the card.
You should also check with your base's family center to see if you can obtain a free "Operation Uplink" calling card courtesy of the Veterans of Foreign Wars or other similar organizations that donate cards free of charge to service members.
- Legal Assistance and Power of Attorney
You may want to consider a power of attorney document. A power of attorney document gives you, or somebody else that you designate, the legal authority to act on you or your loved one's behalf for financial, health-related, or other business matters. The legal assistance office on base should be able to help you with this decision.
- Military ID
If you don't already have a military ID card, you'll want to get one as soon as possible. Check in with your command or unit readiness office for information on how to obtain an ID card and for the location of the nearest ID card facility in the area. Having an ID card, along with your service members' orders to active duty, will help you obtain medical benefits and commissary privileges. If you already have an ID card, check its expiration and make sure you know how to renew it if it's due to expire while your spouse is gone.
- Red Cross Assistance
The Red Cross provides assistance to all sectors of the military and their families, whether they are active, inactive, retired, in the reserves, serving in their local community or deployed. The Red Cross provides communication links, financial assistance and counseling. You can get more information on Red Cross assistance through your local chapter (listed in the phone book or by accessing their website at www.redcross.org) or by contacting your on-base Red Cross station or field workers.
- Sources of Help
The military offers several sources of help for service member dependents during active duty including:
- Pre-deployment briefings. If you can't attend a briefing, contact your local family center for more information - they offer information and services by experts on a wide variety of topics to help you prepare.
- Employee benefits book.
- Financial counseling personnel. Most bases or posts have financial professionals on staff that can provide you with information about financial options and programs created specifically for military families.
- Your on-base community. Even if you're living off base, military spouses bond closely and can provide invaluable services and support.
- Your base's family readiness coordinator.
If you've never done your family's taxes before, you may want to get professional help. You may be eligible for a tax extension, or exclusion, depending on your spouse's orders. Check out the IRS' website for information on military exemptions and for online help in preparing your taxes. You may also want to consider using a tax preparation firm such as H&R Block or Jackson-Hewitt, or a smaller, local tax preparer. You can find a listing of local firms in phone book. Make sure you ask upfront how much they charge for their services.
While Your Spouse is Gone
Trying to maintain stability at home and work while your spouse is deployed is difficult. While your spouse is gone, you can avoid unnecessary stress by:
- Sticking to a budget and keeping an eye on credit. When a spouse is deployed, you're now suddenly faced with trying to cope with things on your own. There used to be two of you and in some cases, there was more money, or at least fewer expenses, prior to your spouse being mobilized. Of course you'll encounter unexpected expenses while your spouse is gone, but keeping to a budget can help provide you with structure and help you resist emotional overspending, which will create greater stress over time. For more information on budgeting and an interactive, online budget worksheet, click here for english, or click here for spanish.
While you're managing the family's finances on your own, be careful about using your credit cards for items that you don't usually charge or writing a lot of checks without keeping track of how much money you're spending. Making sure that you record the checks you're writing, balancing your checkbook, and reviewing your credit card bill will help you keep track of how you're doing financially.
Although most families will be facing additional expenses and/or reduced pay, some service member's families will find that they have additional income. Think twice before spending it. Why not use it to pay off some debt or deposit it into your savings account? Depending on how much money you'll receive, you could consider opening a money market fund or depositing money in a Certificate of Deposit ("CD") with your local bank. For more information on the when, why and how of saving and investing, click here for english, or click here for spanish.
- Staying connected to community. Seek out people in your same situation. These friendships can help ease the stress and provide you with help you might need, especially if this is the first time that your spouse has been deployed.
- Seeking professional help. If you're having trouble financially, legally or emotionally there are resources you and your family can take advantage of. Contact your base's legal assistance office or family readiness office for help. Following is a list of additional websites that may provide you with help.
- Air Force Reserve
- Air Force Aid Society
- Air National Guard
- Alliance for Children and Families
- American Red Cross
- Army Family Liaison home page
- Army Emergency Relief
- Army Family Team Building
- Army National Guard (ARNG)
- Army Reserve
- Coast Guard Mutual Assistance
- Coast Guard Reserve
- DEERS Information
- Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS)
- Department of Defense (DOD)
- Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve
- Internal Revenue Service
- Marine Corps Reserve
- Military Assistance Program "MAPsite"
- Military Homefront
- National Military Family Association
- Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
- Reserve Affairs
- TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors,Inc.)
- U.S.Army Community and Family Support Center - Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR)
- Veterans Affairs
- Veterans of Foreign Wars