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By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, AFC®

During the virtual 2021 AFCPE Symposium, there were a number of sessions designed for practitioners who provide financial education and counseling programs for service members and their families.

Below are ten key take-aways for professional practice by Personal Financial Managers (PFMs):

  • Blended Retirement System (BRS)- Many service members do not fully understand the power of the BRS match and are “leaving money on the table.” Showing them the awesome power of compound interest with financial calculators like those from the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) website is key to teaching them to save .
  • TSP Investing– Some longer-serving members who started contributing to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) before L (a.k.a., lifecycle or target date) funds became the default have too much money in the low-yield G (government securities) fund. Inertia is powerful and many have not changed their asset allocation.
  • “Barracks Lawyers” – This term (and “sea lawyer” for the Navy) refers to service members who assume a role of authority about military regulations and practices and try to influence others. Sometimes, information that they provide is incomplete or incorrect. PFMs need to be alert to their misinformation and correct it.
  • Misunderstandings and Misinformation – Some service members are operating under false assumptions. One example that was mentioned is thinking that “Roth” is a type of TSP fund instead of an account that is funded with after-tax dollars. Another was thinking that “They can take your TSP money away from you.”
  • Attracting Audiences – Symposium attendees mentioned class titles that grab attention (e.g., “How to Become a 401(k) Millionaire”), swag for in-person classes, games, and visual aids. Consistency is also very important. For example, a monthly briefing or a weekly blog post or podcast on the same day each week.
  • Each One, Teach Two – One PFM tells service members that he reaches to share what they learned with at least two other people. In essence, his clients become trained “barracks lawyers” and help PFMs expand their outreach. This fosters financial literacy because service members are likely to listen to their peers.
  • Break Information Down – Personal finance information is “dense” and complex and needs to be taught in small chunks. One PFM noted that, before he discusses ways to budget money, he introduces the concept of budgeting (in general) by discussing how service members budget their time.
  • Research to Practice – There are four questions that financial practitioners (including PFMs) want answered from personal finance research studies: 1. What did the researcher find out?, 2. So what (do the findings mean)?, 3. Now what (comes next)?, and 4. How can the findings help real people improve their lives?
  • Creating Client Resistance – There are four things that practitioners should never do: 1. Interrupt a client, 2. Threaten clients about the dangers of not changing, 3. Tell clients why they are doing what they do, and 4. Give clients direct advice with the words like “you should.” Much better language is “What made you feel like you need to change?” and “Tell me about a time before that you tacked a big problem in your life.”
  • PCS Moving Issues – Issues discussed in a member meet-up included slow reimbursement of moving expenses by DFAS, taxes taken out for a previous state when service members move to a new state, pet moving expenses, long delays for VA loan appraisals, lack of child care in certain locations, high housing costs, and a change in standard of living when service members more from a low-cost area to high-cost area. Participants noted that military relief services may be able to help with pet transportation costs.

For additional information about 2021 AFCPE Symposium content, and to access recordings of Symposium presentations, visit

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