Service Member Survey Highlights Retirement Education Needs

February 19, 2009 ( - A new survey finds work remaining to be done in educating U.S. armed service members about their retirement savings options.

A news release said that the poll, funded by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation, found that 22% of service members did not know about the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan. The Military Financial Confidence Survey (MFCS) was conducted by the FINRA Foundation in cooperation with the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Mathew Greenwald & Associates.

“This survey highlights the incredible importance of giving our men and women in uniform the educational tools they need to prepare for their retirements,” said John Gannon, President of the FINRA Foundation, in the news release. “The fact that over one-in-five service members are unaware of the TSP, the retirement savings vehicle available to every service member, underscores the need to help them take advantage of every opportunity to save for a comfortable retirement.”

While 25% say saving for retirement is their most pressing financial issue, the poll found that immediate financial problems were of far greater concern to service members, with 29% citing paying down debt and 18% citing making ends meet as their most pressing financial issue.

More Realism

But there was a good deal of good news from the poll. The results also show that service members are more realistic than civilians about the amount of money they will need to retire comfortably. According to a 2008 EBRI survey, 26% of civilian workers believe they will need less than $250,000 for retirement, while only 10% of service members believe that this would be a sufficient amount.

Some 32% believe they will need to save $1 million or more, compared to only 18% of the civilian workforce. Even junior enlisted service members were far less likely to believe that $250,000 is enough for retirement, with only 9% of these service members reporting that $250,000 was sufficient.

Also, service members are considerably less likely than civilians to rely on guessing to determine their retirement savings needs (33% vs. 47% for civilians).

Nearly half (47%) of service members report feeling either very confident or somewhat confident about their ability to retire comfortably.

Financial preparedness was especially evident among military officers, who are less than half as likely to rely on guessing to determine their savings needs (18% vs. 47% for civilians), nearly twice as likely to ask an independent financial professional (32% vs. 17% for civilians), four times more likely to have filled out a retirement-needs worksheet or form (21% vs. 5% for civilians), and nearly six times more likely to have used an online calculator (40% vs. 7% for civilians).

Enlisted personnel are also more likely to use an online calculator or fill out a worksheet or form than civilian workers, the survey found.

The TSP was the leading vehicle used by service members saving for retirement, with 68% of such service members reporting contributing to the TSP. The likelihood of contributing to the TSP was steady across demographic groups, including rank. One-quarter of service members reported that a briefing given by military financial educators encouraged them to participate in the TSP.