This America Saves Week: Take Your Financial Future into Your Own Hands

By Katie Bryan, America Saves Communications Director

America Saves Week, February 23 – 28, 2015, is the perfect time to review your finances, set your savings goals for the year, and set up a system that will allow you to save automatically. That’s why the America Saves Week theme is – Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically.

ASWDid you know that only half of Americans report having good savings habits? Even if you are already saving, it’s good to take a look at your greater financial picture and decide whether there’s potential to save more or set a new savings goal. Join thousands of others who are pledging to pay down debt, save money, and take financial action during America Saves Week.

Not sure what to save for or what to save for next? Here are the most popular saving goals of those who have pledged to save through America Saves:

  • Save for Emergencies – Research has shown that low-income families with at least $500 in an emergency fund are better off financially than moderate-income families with less than this amount. Nearly a quarter of savers who have taken the America Saves pledge have chosen “emergency savings” as their first wealth-building goal. Learn more.
  • Save for Retirement – Retirement savings is a top priority for many savers. Saving for retirement now will ensure that you have enough money to maintain a comfortable standard of living when you stop or reduce the amount of hours you work. Learn more.
  • Save for Education – Saving for education is the second most popular goal savers select when they pledge to save with America Saves. There are many different things to factor in when saving and paying for college. Learn more.
  • Pay Down Debt – Getting out of debt is the #3 goal savers select when they pledge to save. The good news is that there is hope. With planning, discipline, patience, and maybe some outside help, almost anyone can reduce their debts and start to accumulate wealth. Learn more.
  • Save for a Home – For decades, home ownership has been the main path to wealth for most Americans. Today, home equity – the market value of a home minus the balance on any home loans – represents more than four-fifths of the typical family’s wealth. Learn more.

 Not sure how to save for your goals? Here are some saving strategies to help:

  • Save Automatically – The easiest and most effective way to save is automatically. This is how millions of Americans save at their bank or credit union, and how millions of employees save through 401(k) and other retirement programs at work. Learn more.
  • Save at Tax Time – Do you spend weeks eagerly anticipating your tax refund? When the money finally comes in, is it gone tomorrow? Many people view tax refunds as unplanned bonuses. They see the money as a gift from the government, to use for splurges or treats. But a tax refund provides the opportunity to improve your financial situation. Learn more.

Take the America Saves Pledge, or re-pledge, today to set your savings goal and make a plan to save. When you take the Pledge, you can also choose to receive text message tips and reminders to help you save for your goal. And don’t forget to follow America Saves on Facebook and Twitter.

America Saves Week is coordinated by America Saves and the American Savings Education Council. Started in 2007, the Week is an annual opportunity for organizations to promote good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status.

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on February 23, 2015.

Suicidality Among Veterans after Surgery

Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

Suicidal ideation and behavior is a critical topic for the U.S. military.  According to a recent Huffington Post article, 185 active-duty Army soldiers committed suicide? in 2013 – more than the number of Army soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan in that year [1].    However, much still needs to be learned about what increases risk of suicide, and the role that ethnic status could play in suicide risk.

Cover photo image: Creative Commons Licensing [Flickr, White Wreath Association, May 29, 2009]
Cover photo image: Creative Commons Licensing [Flickr, White Wreath Association, May 29, 2009]
Copeland and colleagues researched suicidality in Hispanic and African American veterans [2] to determine if there was a relationship between suicidal behavior and ideation (SBI) in post-surgical patients who had a history of severe mental illness. This analysis included 89,995 veterans who had undergone surgeries such as bone or joint surgery, vascular surgery, or amputations.

Of the 89,995 VA patients (with an average age of 64) in this sample, 2,836 were found to have suicidal behavior and ideation in the 3 years following surgery.  Consistent with previous research (Prior suicide attempts, Oct 2014), the researchers concluded that veterans with a previous history of severe mental illness (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or depression) experienced a significantly increased likelihood of SBI.

However, the results of the study were not as clear when examining different ethnicities – African Americans showed an increased likelihood of SBI while Hispanics did not, and it was not clear why this was the case. It was noted that both African-American and Hispanic surgical patients reported higher rates of severe pain after surgery, but received lower doses of medication than White, non-Hispanic pain patients.  More study will be required to determine the influence of ethnicity on   the risk of SBI following surgery.

While this study had a number of limitations, (the study used archival data and was limited to veterans, there were few women in the study) the importance of mental health care following surgery was clear.  Pre-operative and post-operative mental health monitoring is important to achieve a positive outcome for the patient.

When working with minority groups in the military, consideration should be given to the individual client’s environment – family, work, and community – and the influence of culture in these groups.

In an upcoming webinar Dr. Andrew Behnke will focus on current issues and implications for clinical and advocacy work with Latino military families.

References

[1] Wood, D. (2013, September 25).  Tragedy of military suicides will ‘go on for many years,’ army chief warns. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/military-suicide-rate/

[2] Copeland, L. A., McIntyre, R. T., Stock, E. M., Zeber, J. E., MacCarthy, D. J., & Pugh, M. J. (2014). Prevalence of suicidality among hispanic and african american veterans following surgery. American Journal of Public Health, 104, S603-8.

 This post was written by Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, You Tube, and on LinkedIn.

Service Professionals Offer Advice for Military Caregivers

What advice can you offer families of wounded service members? In the latest Military Caregiving, ‘Professionals Helping Professionals’ video, military helping professionals from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor in Washington state offered their advice to family caregivers of wounded service members on various issues.

Watch and listen as each professional provides key tips and strategies for caregiving, especially if the service member is currently going through the medical evaluation process.

After listening to the military helping professionals, what advice can you offer that you think is beneficial for military caregivers to be aware of?

___________________________________________________________________________

The ‘Professionals Helping Professional’ video series was developed in order to highlight various military service professionals and their work with wounded service members and families throughout the branches of service. The goal of the video series is to enhance the work of military helping professionals and provide educational development to better support our service members and their families.

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on February 17, 2015. 

Adapting Care to Culture

Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

Cover photo image: Creative Commons Licensing [Flickr, 35th CSSB hosts Hispanic Heritage Month observance, October 9, 2014]
Cover photo image: Creative Commons Licensing [Flickr, 35th CSSB hosts Hispanic Heritage Month observance, October 9, 2014]
What are the most important factors in creating a culturally competent mental health practice?

In a recent article published in Advances in Social Work, Christi Luby reviews cultural competency literature related to the military and provides a framework for increasing cultural competency [1].  The framework for developing cultural competency is an ongoing process, beginning with a self-inventory to evaluate office or individual prejudice on military issues.  Next steps include: 1) Adapting care to the military culture; 2) Increasing personal or office involvement by attending military activities; and, 3) Encouraging military member’s participation in community activities.

Luby, 2012, p. 69

Adapting care to the military culture may include the following steps:

  • Consider the military mission and values. For instance, in the military culture the mission may be the most important aspect in the military member’s life.  This attitude will influence the military member’s view of his/her role in the family.
  • Organizational structure and rank hierarchy play an important role in success of the military member at work. Providers may benefit by understanding rank and how rank influences an individual’s behavior at work, in the family, and in the community.
  • Consider the demographics of the individual military member’s unit. Characteristics of the work group surrounding the military member may influence the available support for the individual.
  • Become familiar with terms and idioms that are specific to the military. Communication on the client’s level is important to building a strong therapeutic relationship.
  • Include the family when considering the culture. For instance, the family may be experiencing the stress of deployment differently than the military member and the stressors experienced by the family and their ability to cope will affect the performance of the military member.

A large number of active duty military members and reservists seek mental health care in the community away from base.  By developing and maintaining cultural competency, a community clinician can develop the communication skill and knowledge to build a trusting relationship with the client that can help achieve successful outcomes.

 Reference:

[1] Luby, C.D. (2012). Promoting military cultural awareness in an off-post community of behavioral health and social support service providers. Advances in Social Work, 13(1), 67-82.

This post was written by Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, You Tube, and on LinkedIn.

Asset Allocation in Real Life

By Michael Gutter, Associate Professor, Interim FCS State Program Leader, and Family Economics Specialist, University of Florida

Photo Courtesy of DVIDSHUB https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
Photo Courtesy of DVIDSHUB

Marcus, 27, and his wife of five years Stephanie, 26, have a three year-old son, Alexander. Marcus is a proud member of the Army, his wife Stephanie is just thinking about going back to work now that their son has started going to daycare. They recently decided that they wanted to do a better job of managing their finances.

First, they met with a counselor who helped them to create and write down their goals. So they worked together to identify several SMART goals; that is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Adaptable, Realistic and Time-bound. They came up with:

  1. Payoff their $3,900 in credit card debt in the next 3 years.
  2. They want to payoff Stephanie’s $16,000 in student loans in the next 10 years.
  3. They want to be able to fund their son’s college education in 15 years, for four years, assuming $12,000 per year in today’s dollars.
  4. They want to be able to retire in 34 years and afford a similar lifestyle to what they have now.

Their counselor worked them on a debt repayment plan and budget. They were able to determine how much money they could afford to save for their last two goals.

For Alexander’s education savings, they chose their state’s 529 plan, which happened to be Florida. The Florida state 529 plan allows for 11 different investment choices. This was a bit overwhelming for Marcus and Stephanie who have very little background in investing. Their first thought was to take little or no risk. However, when they looked at this option, and used the online estimator, they found they would not be able to save as much money as needed to reach their goal for Alexander’s education.

They asked some questions and learned about the relationship between risk and return. They also learned how the amount of ups and downs differed between different types of investment assets. Stocks had a higher return in the long run but had a lot more ups and downs. On average, the risks and returns tend to work out over time, with stocks doing well for long-term goals that are more than a decade away, but bonds were more stable in the intermediate terms. Short-term goals, within the next year or so, would require cash and fixed income. So different time frames required different weighting for each of those areas; stocks, bonds, and cash. They settled on a mutual fund whose allocation to these asset types changed over time as the child aged; it was timed to his high school graduation year.

This same information was helpful as they looked into Marcus’ Thrift Savings Plan that he was eligible for, Marcus is a Sergeant in the Army. He looked at the different fund options. They also looked at the Lifecycle Funds.

What would you pick if you were Marcus?

Stephanie decided to open an account herself. She went with a Roth IRA. She had to build her asset allocation in this account, too. Using the same concepts, she learned about screening mutual funds from the MFLN webinar on Asset Allocation. She was able to find a mix of funds that gave her a lot of growth potential over the decades she still had until retirement.

Asset allocation can make a difference in how much we need to save to reach our goals. Asset allocation can also be a tool to diversify or manage the risk of the portfolio. It is an important decision most of us will face as we seek to save for our goals! For more information on asset allocation in personal portfolios, check out a recorded web conference by the Military Family Learning Network Team.

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on February 16, 2015.

FD Webinar: Current Issues and Implications for Clinical Work on Latino Military Families

Current Issues and Implications for Clinical Work on Latino Military Families

Date:  Thursday, March 5, 2015

Time:  11am-1pm Eastern

Location:  https://learn.extension.org/events/1845#.VKw0QCv158F

Familia. MFLN

Andrew Behnke, PhD is an associate professor of human development and an extension Latino parent specialist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. He has served the Latino community since 1997 in different capacities. He developed the “Juntos” program along with Cintia Aguilar. He conducts applied research and outreach on academic achievement among Latino youth, parent involvement in academics, stress and parenting, and Latino fatherhood. His life mission is bringing better attention to those factors that help immigrant Latino families succeed and thrive in the U.S.

We offer 2.0 National Association of Social Worker CE credits and CE credits for licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in the state of Georgia for each of our webinars, click here to learn more. For more information on future presentations in the 2014 Family Development webinar series, please visit our professional development website or connect with us via social media for announcements: (Facebook & Twitter)

Encouraging Service Members to Save for Retirement

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension

More than 80% of service members never reach the 20-year mark to qualify for retired pay. That is why it is important for them to “hedge their bets” by contributing as much as they possibly can to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). Otherwise, they run the risk of serving in the military for a number of years and having absolutely no retirement savings to show for their service when they leave.

Service members can contribute a portion of their pay to the TSP while they are on active duty and can fund an individual retirement account (IRA)—a traditional IRA and/or Roth IRA—as well. A retirement planning calculator available at the Ballpark Estimate website  can help service members determine how much they need to save for retirement.

Financial experts agree that people who start saving money for retirement at a young age will see the largest growth in their savings. Service members can start contributing to the TSP when they begin their career. The TSP is savings they can take with them in the likely event they don’t receive a pension. The TSP.gov site demonstrates the value of starting TSP contributions as soon as possible.

From tsp.gov
From tsp.gov

TSP fund options are among some of the lowest-cost investments available anywhere. TSP fund expenses average 0.025% or 2.5 basis points (a basis point is 1/100th of 1% or 0.01%). Stated another way, TSP expenses are about 25 cents for every $1,000 invested. If someone had a $100,000 TSP portfolio, he or she would pay only $25 a year in investment management expenses. Learn more here. The TSP also offers many helpful financial planning tools.

A Roth Thrift Saving Plan (TSP) account is a good option for many service members. With a Roth TSP, participants invest after-tax dollars (i.e., money that has already been taxed) that cannot be taxed again upon withdrawal in retirement. While plan participants don’t receive an immediate tax write-off for the amount of their contribution, they receive tax-free earnings after age 59½ if their account has been open at least five years. Also, unlike Roth IRAs, there are no maximum income limits for Roth TSP participation.

Roth TSP accounts are especially attractive for young service members because they have four to five decades of tax-free investment growth ahead of them. In addition, they are likely to be in a lower tax bracket (e.g., 15% marginal tax bracket) currently than they will be later in life (e.g., 28% tax bracket), so a current tax will have less impact than a future one. Learn more here. For a list of federal marginal tax brackets, see http://njaes.rutgers.edu/money/taxinfo/.

How do you convince service members to save for retirement?  Show them the money! Provide a compelling illustration of how small amounts of money grow over time. Research indicates that people often save more when they fully understand how savings can grow with compound interest. Here’s an example from , a publication for military families. If someone saves $300 every paycheck, this lowers their take-home pay by $225 in the 25% tax bracket ($300 minus the $75 tax benefit). Do that twice a month and you’ll save $7,200 a year ($300 x 24 paydays). Assuming an 8% average investment return over 30 years from age 25 to 55, a service member would save more than $900,000.

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on February 9, 2015.

Resource Discovery: Ending Domestic Violence Captivity

Green, Ludy 2014

Dr. Ludy Green’s introduction to the battered women’s movement took place when she volunteered in a shelter in Washington, D.C. many years ago. She immediately saw the need to assist victims of abuse and trafficking by placing them in the workforce—her theory that financial independence would fulcrum these women away from their abusers, by providing them with the necessary skills to earn a living.

“Through employment a woman can gain her independence, her well-being and her dignity to ultimately distance herself from her abuser.”

Under the careful guidance of Dr. Green, Second Chance Employment Services has assisted women by outfitting them with new clothing, training and the commensurate confidence with which to interview for and hold a job. This concept of establishing employment for victims of abuse and trafficking is a solution oriented step in overcoming abuse. Along the way, Dr. Green tapped a nerve-engaging politician, CEOs of large corporations, Congress and the United Nations to acknowledge and embrace her vision. In 2013, she was instrumental in providing some new language for the updated Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Through employment a woman can gain her independence, her well-being and her dignity to ultimately distance herself from her abuser. Dr. Green’s book is a road map for this journey.


Don’t forget our February 12th Domestic Violence: Helping Survivors Obtain Economic Freedom webinar featuring Dr. Ludy Green.

This post was written by members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, You Tube, and on LinkedIn.

Target Sports As a Form of Therapy

Blog post written by Keith Tidball, Ph.D., Cornell University

The idea of practicing target sports as a form of therapy may seem counter-intuitive to those involved in working with returning service members and veterans. However, many service members report that involvement in target sports is something they find relaxing and therapeutic as well as an enjoyable form of activity. Most of what is written about target sports as therapy, is popular reporting based on anecdotal evidence. The use of this form of therapy requires controlled, peer-reviewed study for its use and efficacy in order to become a clinical recommendation or best practice.

Though we cannot advise all service members or veterans to engage in target sports as therapy, we also cannot dismiss the use of this therapy in the right context. To that end, we talked with Louis McGranaghan, a physical therapist at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, who has thought a little about the subject. Here’s what he had to say —

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on February 2, 2015. 

Resource Discovery: Enhancements to the Family Lifestyle Survey

By Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD

The Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey, which has been conducted annually since 2009, has been enhanced to gather more information about the mental health of military families. The Institute of Veterans and Military Families collaborated in the development and administration of this year’s version of the survey. Additions include:

  • New survey questions about mental health including: depression, substance abuse and stress
  • Additional questions regarding veterans’ transition, education, and use of resources
USS Doyle returns
U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sunday Williams, DVIDS, 2011

Respondents to the online survey were primarily active duty and veterans’ spouses. Key concerns voiced by survey respondents focused on financial resources: military pay and benefits, changes in retirement, and military spouse employment. The impact of deployment on children was also a big concern, with 43% of active duty spouses reporting this as an issue. Uncertainty was also a highly reported issue, with 32% voicing concern over the uncertainty of military life.

Visit the Blue Star Families Military Family website for more information.

This post was written by Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, You Tube, and on LinkedIn.