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Financial readiness slipping in career military families

May 6, 2021

FORT WORTH, Texas – Career military families are trailing their civilian counterparts in basic money knowledge, underscoring long-term financial readiness issues facing service members and their spouses, according to the First Command Financial Behaviors Index®.

Results of the 10th annual financial readiness test and survey commissioned by First Command Financial Services, Inc., in partnership with First Command Educational Foundation, reveal that middle-class military families (commissioned officers and senior NCOs in pay grades E-5 and above with household incomes of at least $50,000) earned an average grade of 57. That’s down from 71 last year and the lowest in the history of the test. In contrast, general population test takers with similar household incomes earned an average grade of 69, which is statistically unchanged from 2020.

Sixteen percent of military test takers correctly answered seven or more questions in the nine-question quiz, which is designed to measure basic money knowledge associated with financial readiness. That compares to 44 percent of civilian respondents. Perfect scores were earned by less than one percent of military respondents and eight percent of the general population.

The military/general population gap is particularly noteworthy as military test takers are significantly more likely than their civilian counterparts to say they’ve completed a financial literacy or education program (56 percent versus 31 percent). Notably, the benefits of these programs are not fully reflected in test scores. Among those who completed a financial education program, perfect scores were earned by less than one percent of the military compared to 23 percent of the general population.

“This year’s drop in military test scores is part of a long-term trend of service member families trailing the general population in basic money knowledge,” said First Command President/CEO Mark Steffe. “Military test takers scored less than the general population in eight of the past 10 years. The gap is particularly notable as military families are significantly more likely than general population families to say they have completed a financial literacy or education program. These results underscore the critical need to expand our efforts to improve the financial readiness of military families.”

First Command stresses that financial readiness solutions must address the needs of military spouses as well as service members. Test results reveal that military spouses generally score about the same as service members, but they play an outsized role in family financial readiness. They often:

    • Take the lead role in managing household budgets and savings,
    • Face unique challenges in finding and maintaining meaningful employment because of frequent moves,
    • Carry the burden of knowing that they will face these responsibilities alone in the event of a combat death, and 
    • Play a critical role in navigating the financial complexities of the family’s transition to civilian life.

First Command seeks to improve financial readiness of service members and military spouses through face-to-face coaching. 

“Our financial advisors have a deep knowledge of personal finance and military pay and benefits, but coaching is where they bring the greatest value to military families,” Steffe said. “They help families change their financial behaviors so they can save more and feel greater confidence in their financial future. This is one of the key reasons we waive financial planning fees for active-duty military families. One-on-one coaching helps families bridge the gap in their own financial knowledge so they feel more confident while pursuing long-term financial security.”

In addition to face-to-face coaching, First Command is committed to supporting training and education to the military through charitable gifts and hands-on assistance. Those efforts include providing ongoing support to First Command Educational Foundation, a separate 501(c)(3) charity that offers in-person and online financial readiness tools for service members across the globe as well as increased scholarship opportunities for service members and their families.

Bill Johnson, CEO of First Command Educational Foundation, said “Last year we educated nearly 5,000 service members through virtual and in person presentations but we need to do better. Our number one priority is to educate those who serve our country. We are continuing to look at new programs and presentations that will help empower our service members and their families to make their best financial decisions.”

About the First Command Financial Behaviors Index®

Compiled by Sentient Decision Science, Inc., the First Command Financial Behaviors Index® assesses trends among the American public’s financial behaviors, attitudes and intentions through a monthly survey of approximately 530 U.S. consumers aged 25 to 70 with annual household incomes of at least $50,000. Results are reported quarterly. The margin of error is +/- 4.3 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence. For more details on our research, please email

About Sentient Decision Science, Inc.

Sentient Decision Science was commissioned by First Command to compile the Financial Behaviors Index®. SDS is a behavioral science and consumer psychology consulting firm with special vertical expertise within the financial services industry. SDS specializes in advanced research methods and statistical analysis of behavioral and attitudinal data.

About First Command

First Command Financial Services and its subsidiaries, including First Command Brokerage Services and First Command Bank, coach our Nation’s military families in their pursuit of financial security. Since 1958, First Command Financial Advisors have been shaping positive financial behaviors through face-to-face coaching with hundreds of thousands of client families.

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