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The Military’s New Retirement Option

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Some in the military, however, are asking questions about the B.R.S.

“A lot of the older generation look at it as an erosion of benefits,” said Ryan Guina, a former member of the Air Force whose website and podcast “The Military Wallet” focuses on personal finance and benefits for military members. “When they see the 50 percent guaranteed pension drop to 40 percent, they see that as a threat to military benefits in general. And I can understand that point of view.”

However, Mr. Guina added, the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan — the 401(k) part of the new retirement package — will provide benefits to far more members of the military than the old plan. “It would have been a good benefit for me,” said Mr. Guina, who left the Air Force in 2014 after six and a half years of service and received nothing. “Had I been under the B.R.S., I would have had six and a half years of matching contributions.”

While there is a 5 percent maximum contribution level in the B.R.S., there is also a 1 percent automatic minimum contribution — a hedge against that 18-year-old who enlisted for duty, country and adventure, not to stow away their pay in a long-term savings account.

“That 1 percent is to protect young Marines who don’t invest in their future, because they think their future is limitless,” said Mr. Bass, who helped interpret the new B.R.S. for recruits before he retired from the Corps.

To ensure that members of the military understood the new system, and to provide a transition from the old one, the Defense Department instituted a one-year opt-in period that ended on Dec. 31, 2018. Those already in uniform that calendar year were given the option to stick with the old plan or sign up for the B.R.S.

Online calculators and tutorials as well as one-on-one financial counseling were also available. According to the Defense Department, more than 400,000 service members chose to opt in. In addition, 150,000 new service members were automatically enrolled.

While Mr. Digges agrees that for those who are not committed to making the military a career, the B.R.S. is a sensible plan, he is concerned about the larger issue of defined contribution plans.

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