On Friday, one of the other money pages here at Military.com featured this question: “How can we help our son figure out military pay?” I thought the answer missed many of the resources that are available. The Ask Scott & JJ page is written by Scott Halliwell and JJ Montanaro of USAA, and I am sure they have a huge number of legal and corporate restrictions on what they are allowed to say. So, I’ll say it for them.
First, JJ recommends that the soldier start looking at his Leave and Earnings Statements (LES). This is absolutely the first step. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) website has a variety of resources to help understand military pay and allowances, including an Army-specific Reading Your LES document. (It is a PDF, so you might have to download it to read it.)
If things are still confusing, the soldier can choose to look for more answers within the military’s own support structure, or reach out for help on the internet.
Military Financial Help
If the LES doesn’t make sense, and it often doesn’t, then each command has a Command Financial Specialist (CFS). This is a fellow soldier, usually more senior, who has special training in financial counseling. I’ve attended the Navy’s Command Financial Specialist training, and I thought it was very good, but the actual quality of the program varies greatly depending on the person who has been volunteered/voluntold that they will be the CFS.
If the CFS is unavailable or isn’t able to answer the soldier’s questions, the next stop is Army Community Services (ACS) , or the equivalent community services organization if he is not on an Army base. ACS (or its equivalent) will have a trained financial specialist available to help with any family’s financial issues. Outside of the ACS financial counselors, many installations also have Personal Financial Specialists (PFS) as part of the Military and Family Life Consultants (MFLC) program. The MFLC PFS often work inside the community services group, but they are completely independent and confidential.
Depending on his location, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) will offer financial counseling to any service member. While they are the Navy and Marine Corps’ assistance organization, they operate differently than the other branches’ assistance group and they also provide counseling. I have not yet seen a soldier, airman, guardsman or coastie turned down for counseling, though I suppose it could happen.
Resources Outside the Military
Outside of the military support structure, there are many great places to look. I’d be silly if I didn’t mention this blog…I answer questions like this every single day, usually via email but sometimes in comments. I also write outside of the Paycheck Chronicles, including at my eponymous site, KateHorrell.com. I estimate that about 1/4 of my daily work is trying to figure out specific answers to specific questions for specific readers.
There are several other great military finance blogs, including The Military Wallet and The Military Guide. It is hard to imagine an aspect of military pay that hasn’t been covered between the three of us. And if you find something missing, an email usually resolves that problem pretty quickly!
There are also financial planners who specialize in military issues, such as Rob Aeschbach of The Military Financial Planner.
I can’t speak for any of these sites or the people behind them, but I know these people and they want to help military service members. We all understand that military pay is confusing, and that LES are sometimes tough to decipher.
There is really no reason for any soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsperson, reservist or National Guard member to be confused about their pay. The military and non-military communities have a wide variety of resources available to help un-confuse anyone!