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Bill sets sights on improved financial literacy for troops

Murray's bill aims to increase financial literacy for troops about to exit the military

Murray hopes to reduce financial stress among servicemembers, particularly younger, less senior troops.
Murray hopes to reduce financial stress among servicemembers, particularly younger, less senior troops. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bipartisan bill expected to be unveiled Friday would expand financial literacy training for servicemembers in an effort to reduce financial stress and smooth their transition to civilian life. 

The bicameral legislation is sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., as well as Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., and Del. James C. Moylan, R-Guam. Murray, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, indicated Friday she would seek the bill’s inclusion in the fiscal 2025 defense authorization, which lawmakers will begin compiling in the coming months. 

The Defense Department should take greater steps to ensure servicemembers have solid financial skills when they leave active service, Murray said. 

“Financial literacy is a huge part of that — everything from knowing how to create a budget to getting a mortgage, planning for retirement, doing your taxes, and just having the knowledge and the confidence to make smart decisions with your money,” she said. 

According to the Military Family Advisory Network’s most recent Military Family Support Programming Survey, over 80 percent of respondents reported finances as a source of stress. 

And more than 22 percent of current military families and 38 percent of veteran families have $500 or less in emergency savings, the survey found. 

The Defense Department has identified financial readiness as an important component of military family readiness, a 2022 report by the Congressional Resource Service highlighted. Certain aspects of military life — unpredictable deployments, frequent moves due to reassignments — can make managing personal finances more challenging.

“Approximately 40 percent of the total DOD military force is 25 years old or younger,” the report said. “DOD survey data have found generally that junior enlisted servicemembers experience lower levels of financial well-being than officers.”

The Defense Department requires financial literacy training for servicemembers, but it stops at the fourth enlisted rank and is primarily conducted online. The bill would expand those offerings to more servicemembers and revamp them to avoid too much reliance on online modules that “can incentivize servicemembers to focus on course completion rather than true comprehension,” according to a fact sheet.

Specifically, the bill would require development of a standard financial literacy curriculum across all military departments and prioritize financial literacy classes held in person or as one-on-one counseling sessions instead of online modules.

It also would make financial literacy classes available to military spouses and expand financial literacy training program requirements to include E-5 and E-6 ranked servicemembers, or junior noncommissioned officers. 

“Our bill is straightforward: it will update and improve DoD’s financial literacy training to better prepare servicemembers for the transition to civilian life and set up their families for success,” Murray said. 

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