Your Money: Still time for service members to start savings plan

In this Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, file photo, members of the 449th Aviation Support Battalion of the Army National Guard participate in a mobilization ceremony at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Austin, Texas in advance of the unit's deployment to Kuwait. (AP Photo/San Antonio Express-News, Bob Owen)

The week ending Sunday was Military Saves Week, so I wanted to express my gratitude to the American men and women serving, and to those who have served, in the armed forces: Thank you for your sacrifice. As the daughter of a Naval Academy graduate and the spouse of a Marine Corps reservist, I appreciate your service.

In your honor, we share some financial tips for servicemen and women.

Military Saves Week is over, but you can still sign a pledge and start a savings plan. Barbara Thompson, director of the Pentagon's Office of Family Policy, Children and Youth, reminds service members and their families that saving money should be a year-long practice. On the Military Saves website (, you can find out how to start small - even with the spare change in your pocket - and begin saving.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has tips for service members, veterans, and their families. It includes: "[You] are easy to find, so lenders are confident they can collect debts you owe. Your military pay represents a steady income that could be garnished. Military families often start young, leading to big money-management decisions by first-time decisionmakers." The CFPB's guidance for people in the military can be found at

Lenders tend to prey on those in the armed forces, according to Steve Repak, author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training for Your Money. An Army veteran and financial planner, Repak racked up more than $32,000 of credit card debt while serving 12 years in the military, and says auto and home lenders, in particular, can demand payment by threatening to inform a recruit's commanding officer.


Fixed-rate mortgages

Mortgage rates in 2013 are even lower than they were a year ago, and it's possible they won't get any lower.

So, it's an unusually good time to lock in a very low interest rate for a very long time, which can give you more financial flexibility.

In the event interest rates rise dramatically, which we've warned about, it's a great time to lock in a fixed-rate mortgage - rather than an adjustable rate. From a borrower's point of view, this could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

In January, interest rates on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 3.38 percent, down 0.50 percent from the same time a year ago. According to Freddie Mac, the country's largest lender, 15-year fixed-rate mortgages have dropped to 2.66 percent, down from 3.17 percent a year ago.

If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage, that probably paid off for the last few years. But now would be a good time to refinance to a fixed-rate mortgage, especially if you have good credit.


LGBT planning

Accounting and advisory firm Marcum L.L.P. introduced an interactive online map last month that tracks the status of same-sex marriages in each of the 50 states and how such unions are treated for tax purposes.

The firm created the tool for clients of Marcum's national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and non-traditional family practice group. You can view the status of same-sex marriages state by state. A pop-up chart with a highlighted state reveals whether same-sex marriage or rights similar to marriage are recognized there, and the effective date of the applicable law. The map also notes whether it is a community property state and whether protective tax-refund claims or amended allocated tax returns should be filed. The map can be accessed at


Erin E. Arvedlund is a finance reporter and a resident of Philadelphia. Contact her at or 646-797-0759.