The retirement process can be a tricky one, between all the paperwork, figuring out your finances, looking for a job and finding a place to live.
Most of the basic information is covered in the transition briefs that service members are required to attend, and, with a little digging, other basic facts can be found on the internet.
But just like anything else in life, there are bound to be some unexpected reality checks. I polled some of my already-retired friends and asked them: “What are the most surprising things about military retirement ... from a spouse's point of view?”
Here are their top five answers:
- Taxes – Several spouses noted that they owed way more federal income taxes than expected, especially in the first year after retirement. Remember that a good chunk of active duty pay – specifically housing allowances, cost of living allowances and combat pay – are tax free. Obviously this will vary, but if you have retirement pay, plus a good-paying civilian job, you might find yourself in a higher tax bracket than when you were active duty. That tax rate could skyrocket if you retire in the middle of a year and your W2 has some months of active duty pay on it, combined with your retirement pay and civilian pay. Not to mention that a spouse who didn’t work before might have a job and income as well. Many also pointed out that they assumed the same deductions they claimed on their active-duty LES would carry over to retirement pay, but they did not. Bottom line: Check the deductions on your first retirement paycheck and adjust accordingly, and calculate your estimated taxes to make sure you are having enough taken out or are putting enough money aside to pay them.
- The job hunt – Again, many assumptions were made here. All of us know people who have jumped right from their active-duty job to a similar GS position, or contractor job. The reality is apparently more difficult than it looks. A couple of my spouse friends mentioned that it can be hard, if not impossible, to get a GS job if the retiree does not have a VA disability rating. We haven’t gone through the job search process yet so I have no idea how widespread that is, but it is something to think about if you are banking on that option. Others also noted that military job descriptions don’t always translate well to the civilian world, that jobs might not be available in your dream location to live, or that it can take as long as a year to be hired. Bottom line: Network. Getting a job is all about who you know
- Insurance – Whether on Tricare Prime or Standard, retirees have to pay a portion of their healthcare costs. The same is true for dental – while active duty families pay a monthly fee of $34.68 for dental insurance, the cost to retirees can be triple that or more depending on where you live. Life insurance is another high-ticket item, whether you choose something private or opt in to the military’s Survivor Benefit Plan. One spouse also mentioned that the level of services provided to her special needs child dropped dramatically after retirement, meaning a gap in care and more money out of pocket for her family. Bottom line: Research insurance costs carefully. If you have a civilian job, compare prices and coverage of what your employer may offer versus what is available to military retirees.
- Missing the life – Active-duty life has its ups and downs, but most of us thrive. We love the challenges, the opportunities and the adventures that come with it. But what we might love most is the camaraderie. In military-land, there is a new best friend waiting at every duty station. In the real world, not so much. Bottom line: It takes time to adapt. Find something you are interested in – be it a paid job, volunteer work or some other activity – asap at your new location.
- The uniform – There’s nothing like a man (or woman) in uniform. You’ll no longer see your service member looking good, strong and proud in their uniform. Instead, it might be business casual or an occasional suit. Definitely not the same. Bottom line: Try to get on base every once in a while and steal a glance at those lucky enough to still be wearing the uniforms of our country’s armed forces. Your heart will skip a few beats, guaranteed!