Americans across the country are today pausing to pay their respects to those who have served to help keep the United State free. So too are advisors.
As part of an informal poll, A4A asked advisors about Memorial Day and what it means to them, and to their clients. Here’s what we learned:
Curt Weil, CFP, who is a director at Foundation for Financial Planning as well as a managing partner with Lasecke Weil Wealth Advisory Group, says many advisors have clients who are either children of World War II veterans, or veterans themselves of such wars as Korea or Vietnam, or parents of children who have served in the Gulf War Afghanistan or Iraq.
“To fail to acknowledge Memorial Day or, as it used to be called, Veteran's Day, is a major error in relationship building/maintaining,” says Weil, who noted that he was dashing off his email just before leaving for Golden Gate National Cemetery to visit the grave of his father, a World War II 8th Air Force navigator/bomber.
As for how best to acknowledge Memorial Day with clients, Weil says it doesn't have to be anything elaborate. For instance, it could be a note in the adviser’s quarterly letter to clients, “remembering that the freedom and prosperity we enjoy is due, to a large extent, to the service and sacrifice of the few who stood for what we believe in,” he says.
Mary Bell, a doctoral student at Kansas State University and a former financial counselor for the Army offers these tips for advisors who have clients who served or are serving in the armed forces:
- Don't always assume all veterans want to remember their time in the service. For many, this can be a difficult experience to talk about and some are trying to forget that period.
- Many soldiers don't want to stand out from the crowd. Some just want to blend in; often, they don't feel that they have done anything heroic and feel embarrassed to be recognized.
- We as Americans have forgotten about what Memorial Day is and what it stands for. We think of it as another day off where we BBQ and hang out at the beach. It's important to take a moment of silence and teach our children that freedom comes at a high cost.
As for financial matters, Bell says many soldiers have many of the resources and educational tools they need at their fingertips, but many think it's a lack of money problem when really it's more of a perception of income issue. “If one perceives their income as not enough, then they will spend it as such. I have also found that, as with other Americans, as their income increases so does the lifestyle,” she says. This is particularly true during deployment periods when soldiers receive special pays and other tax free income. When they return home, they continue to spend as if they are still deployed. This leaves many financially needing to return down range to make ends meet or in the case of a dual military couple, sometimes both will need to deploy.
On an upside, Bell says there are many ways for service members to receive special benefits during deployment. One, the Savings Deposit Program (SDP) is a guaranteed interest of 10% on up to $10,000 while deployed. And two, the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) this summer opened their Roth TSP plan for soldiers. This will be an ideal investment vehicle for many of the young uniformed men and women. While deployed, they can also put up to $50,000 in their TSP tax free. Many opportunities exist if the soldier is disciplined enough to take advantage of these and many other financial opportunities.
Phil Dyer, CFP, RLP, CPCC, the chief financial educator of Dyer Financial Advisory has this advice.
Over two million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 9, 2001. Many have five to six deployments and cumulative deployment time that exceeds that in World War II. Somewhere between 15-20% of them will exhibit some signs (ranging from moderate to severe) of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Advisors serving a significant veteran population should become familiar with signs of PTSD, Dyer says.
Total casualties over the last 10 years include 6,471 fatalities and 47,454 wounded. However, the wounded figure does not include up to 200,000 additional service members that have suffered from TBI (traumatic brain injury), ranging from mild to severe from IED explosions. TBI can cause short and long term memory loss and personality changes that might not become evident for years. Advisors with military clients need to be on the lookout for these signs, says Dyer.
The new Post 9-11 GI Bill is a very valuable education program that can be used those with 90 days of cumulative Active Duty service since 2001. In addition, it can be transferred to children and/or spouses in certain cases. It is designed to provide enough education and housing benefits to allow one student to complete four years of undergraduate education at any public university nationwide. Many private universities also provide generous matching funds under the "Yellow Ribbon" program, putting elite four year schools within reach of many veteran students. A good “plain English” resource can be found at NewGIBill.org.
Lastly, Dyer notes this. World War II veteran are dying in this country every 90 seconds, which may have estate planning implications. These veterans qualify for certain burial benefits which are unknown to many family members that can help defray final costs. Find out more here: http://www.cem.va.gov/bbene_burial.asp.
The death gratuity for a line-of-duty death is now $100,000 (tax-free) and most Active Duty service members carry the maximum $400,000 of SGLI (Serviceman's Group Life Insurance). The beneficiaries of these policies may be different and multiple beneficiaries may be used, Dyer notes.
Meanwhile, Ryan Guina, a veteran and blogger at The Military Wallet, a site about money management and military benefits, recommends that advisors ask new clients during the data gathering process if they are veterans, and if they are aware of which benefits they may be eligible for. "The advisor doesn't need to be an expert in military benefits, but could easily recommend the client visit with a benefits expert if they are a veteran," he said. Most counties have a Veterans Affairs (VA) office, or there may be a federal VA hospital or office near by).
The advisor could either offer to refer them or set up an appointment for them. In some cases, veterans won't be eligible for many benefits, but in other cases, it could have a profound impact on their finances.
"The issue, however, is that most advisors won't think to ask about this, and many veterans don't know which benefits are available," says Guina. "It's a simple question to add to their checklist, which could have a lasting impact."
And still others said Memorial Day is a day to express gratitude in general. Nick Nicolette, CFP of Sterling Financial Group said he has two partners in his firm, as well as close friends, who served our country. “There is so much that one needs to be thankful for on this weekend,” Nicolette says. “The sacrifice so many have made for us all in so many ways often gets overlooked on this weekend. Too much focus on things, like furniture sales and not taking a moment and think of our friends, family, neighbors who are, or have been, in uniform.”
His advice: Say a prayer for those who may have died serving our country as well as those who were injured and will carry their service with them every day. Say thank to them and their families. Also, think about those who died on September 11th.
“Whether with family and friends at a service or a picnic, this is a special time to give them homage,” says Nicolette. “I also hope people take a moment out their lives whenever they see a service man or woman to say thank you ever day, not just this weekend.”
Dick Wagner, JD, CFP of WorthLiving LLC shares those sentiments. “War and death are the great equalizers,” he says. “I suggest that, above all, Memorial Day reminds us that few families or individuals have remained untouched by either in the causes of profound conflicts.
Among much else, our clients' war stories likely shed great light about their values and choices. “I can only think of my own family's stories that take me through our country's history back to the Revolutionary War, the death of an uncle in World War II and others who survived D-Day, Pearl Harbor, ditched into the shark-infested Pacific and my father's experience with China's revolution,” Wagner says. “Memorial Day is, perhaps, the holiday that most speaks to our common bonds as citizens. It reminds us of our common debt to those others who gave time and even life to enable our world to be.”