Members of the military face hurdles every day — and financial challenges are among some of the biggest.
Eric Wanner, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, and his wife, Jana, have moved four times in the last 12 years — most recently to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
Because of frequent deployments and moving expenses, as well as cost-of-living adjustments and erratic pay, the couple struggles when it comes to managing their household finances.They are raising a family on a single military income.
For example, “when we came back from overseas we had to rent a car for two months while we waited for our other car to get shipped,” said Jana Wanner. “That was a massive expense.”
In fact,service members and their spouses ranked financial stress as their greatest concern, even over deployment, according to Blue Star Families’ annual military family lifestyle survey.
Rather than have some of those challenges subside as the economy improved, more military families are worried about meeting basic household needs and debt payments today than in 2014, the NFCC found.
In fact, service members are now twice as likely not to be able to pay all their bills on time than they were just a few years ago.
Roughly 3 in 10 spouses or partners of service members said they do not pay their bills on time and about 1 in 10 said they currently have debts in collection, according to the survey.
Still, because of issues such as increased childcare costs during periods of deployment and the likelihood of relocation, it can be hard for spouses to find full-time employment to supplement their military incomes and build retirement savings.
As a result, about half of service members and their spouses of service members say they rely on the gig economy to stay afloat, the NFCC found.
In general, people are struggling to make ends meet, said Rebecca Steele, president and CEO of the NFCC. That’s “amplified in military households.”
“Men and women in uniform face many challenges and daily sacrifices while serving our country,” she added. “Financial concerns shouldn’t be one of them.”
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To that end, Josh Andrews, a certified financial planner and advice director at financial services firm USAA in San Antonio, offers the following tips to active duty military and their spouses or partners:
The majority of those in the military do not serve until retirement. Consider other education options and training programs and make sure a transition plan for benefits, including health insurance and pensions, is secured before departure from the service.
You can keep on top of the many benefits the military offers, as well as whatever financial education it makes available, through Military OneSourceor other channels.
For its part, the NFCC offers financial education and credit counseling through its member agencies.
Institutions such as USAA also regularly work with current and former service members and offer a range of banking and insurance products.
As CNBC's personal finance correspondent and senior commodities correspondent, Sharon Epperson reports on personal finance for the network and also covers the global energy, metals and commodities markets from the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange.
In addition to reporting for CNBC and CNBC.com, Epperson is a regular contributor on NBC's Today and Today.comand appears frequently on NBC Nightly News, MSNBC and NBC affiliates nationwide. She also frequently reports for Public Television's "Nightly Business Report," which is now produced by CNBC.
Her book, "The Big Payoff: 8 Steps Couples Can Take to Make the Most of Their Money—and Live Richly Ever After," was a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Awards, honoring works that have "changed the lives of millions." She also was a contributing writer for "The Experts' Guide to Doing Things Faster."
Epperson's personal finance expertise has been featured in numerous publications, including USA Weekend, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Self, Essence, Ebony and Time, where she had covered business, culture, social issues and health as a correspondent prior to joining CNBC.
She is committed to improving financial literacy, particularly in underserved communities. She has been invited to the White House to speak about financial literacy and to moderate a public meeting of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability at the U.S. Treasury Department. She also speaks frequently at conferences and events for local and national organizations, colleges and universities about many facets of personal finance.
Epperson has received the Vanguard Award for her distinguished career in business and personal finance reporting from the National Urban League Guild, the All-Star Award from the Association of Women in Communications and the Gracie Allen Award from the American Women in Radio and Television for a series of reports on female CEOs. She also has won awards from the New York Festivals, the New York Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists.
An adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International Public Affairs for more than a decade, Epperson enjoys teaching the importance of budgeting and building long-term savings as part of her course on professional development for graduate students interested in media careers.
Epperson received her bachelor's in sociology and government from Harvard University, and a master's of international affairs degree from Columbia University. A Pittsburgh native, Epperson lives with her husband and two children in Westchester County, N.Y.