NEW YORK – For military men and women, being deployed overseas — especially to Iraq or Afghanistan — means not just leaving friends and family behind but also mortgages, leases, apartments, cars, utility bills and other financial responsibilities.
Fortunately, being a member of the armed forces gives you a few advantages such as free legal services and tax breaks that civilians just don't get.
Kimberly Lankford, a contributing editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance, is married to an Army surgeon who has been sent to Iraq and expects to go again. She has some tips to help ensure your finances are in order before you're sent abroad:
Get a will. The office of the Judge Advocate General, or JAG, provides free legal services, so take advantage. You can get a legal officer to not only draw up a standard will but also prepare a power-of-attorney, in which you give to a spouse, parents, sibling or friend the authority to handle financial matters for you if you are unable to do so. Lankford used it to write her husband's checks, sign his tax returns and close on their house while he was in Iraq.
Buy life insurance. The basic policy offered to members of the military through Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance is a good deal, says Lankford. You can get $400,000 in coverage and a $100,000 benefit on your spouse for $312 a year. If you need benefits in addition to SGLI, shop for a plain-vanilla term policy from a major insurer. But make sure that term plan doesn't exclude war as a cause of death. One insurer that specializes in policies for service members is USAA.
Don't drop auto coverage. If you plan to tuck your car in storage while deployed, consider keeping your auto insurance. If you drop your policy you might find it difficult to get it reinstated when you return or else you'll have to pay a lot more. Lankford suggests lowering your liability coverage to the state minimum and dropping collision coverage altogether. That should lower your rate substantially. Keep your comprehensive provisions, though, to guard against theft, vandalism, flooding and other mishaps.
Max out your retirement savings. If you're being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, there's a good chance much of your pay while you're there will be tax-free. That presents a nice windfall courtesy of Uncle Sam and since you're unlikely to make many trips to the mall consider dumping as much pay as you can afford into your Thrift Savings Plan retirement account. You can contribute all of your incentive or special pay to the plan, up to $44,000 this year.
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