When Your Pay Is Wrong

Are You Doing Retirement Savings Right?

You may have noticed that we moved this summer, and, as often happens, my husband’s pay hasn’t been right since.  In fact, it has been all over the place – up, down.  I swear it would go sideways if it could figure out how.

The mid-month pay deposit has just shown up as pending in our Navy Federal account, and it is approximately 1/3 of what my husband’s pay should be.  Yup, not a  typo:  one-third.  Kind of surprising.  Except that I’m not surprised at all, because this kind of screw-up is pretty typical of the military pay system, especially during PCS moves.  (If we ever meet in person, I’ll tell you me about my friend who PCSed to Germany and her husband didn’t get paid at all for FOUR months.  Someone in finance put in the “leaving the Army” code instead of the “leaving this base” code.  Or something like that.)

Days like this I am super-duper thankful that we have an emergency fund.  Even if we figure out what in the heck they’ve done, it probably won’t be straightened out until the end-of-month pay, which isn’t for weeks (did you notice the long pay period?)

What can you do if your pay is all messed up and you don’t have the savings to tide you over?

Find The Problem

It is essential that you find the source of the issue so that you can get it fixed.  Check your last few Leave and Earnings Statements (LES) for clues.  I suspect that my husband’s small paycheck can be traced directly to an overpayment he received in September.  Of course, since it is the mid-month pay, we may not know for sure until the LES comes out in a few weeks.

Talk to your command’s finance folks, either to confirm what you think you’ve discovered or get help figuring out the problem.  Your First Sergeant or Command Master Chief can assist with getting the answers that you need, plus it is always good to keep your command in the loop about pay problems.

If this is a mistake on the part of the military or the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), get that in writing.  It may help you with the next parts of the process.

Prioritize

Rob Aeschbach, The Military Financial Planner, points out the need to focus on essentials:  food, gas to get to work, diapers.  Most other bills will be OK if you postpone them by a week or two.  Talk to your creditors and landlord about what options they can provide.  It would be best if you can avoid late fees, but late fees are better than many other options.

Get some outside assistance to create a short-term spending plan to use until your pay issue is resolved.  Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society offers caseworkers who love to help with this stuff, and I’ve not yet met a Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society office that wasn’t glad to help members of other branches.  Your family readiness center (Air Force Airman and Family Readiness Center, Navy Fleet and Family Support Center, Army Community Services, Marine Corps Community Services) should also have financial counselors that can help you figure out how to prioritize.

Check With Your Aid Society

Talk to your branch’s emergency relief society:  Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Army Emergency Relief, Air Force Aid Society, or the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance.  At these offices, you can find a variety of  interest-free loans to fit your needs, and they’re used to seeing servicemembers with verified pay problems.  In some cases, you may be able to get a loan for the amount that your pay should be, or the difference between what your pay should be and what your pay is going to be.  Repayment options will vary depending on the situation.

It’s never fun to discover that your pay is going to be less than you expect.  Taking action to find and resolve the problem will help get things back on track as quickly as possible.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.