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Military families earmarking 2021 pay raise for savings and debt

March 16, 2021

FORT WORTH, Texas – Career military families are committing this year’s annual pay raises to bumping up savings and investments and paying down debt.

The latest results of the First Command Financial Behaviors Index® 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) are putting their 3 percent pay raise towards improving household finances. Almost half (46 percent) are adding dollars to their savings and Thrift Savings Plan accounts, and 42 percent are paying down debt. In contrast, 36 percent are using their raise to increase household spending.

This frugal focus aligns with ongoing financial concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Nine out of 10 survey respondents are concerned about the pandemic and roughly half are extremely or very worried about the financial impact. Many of these families have been responding to their COVID-19 concerns by maintaining monthly contributions to savings and retirement accounts.

The savings trend has been particularly notable among those who partner with a financial coach. During the fourth quarter of 2020, military families with a financial advisor contributed more to savings and retirement accounts than their do-it-yourself counterparts. They ended the year with average savings and retirement holdings of $191,158, or about $84,000 more than those without an advisor.

Notably, military families who work with a financial advisor are more prepared for emergency expenses related to the virus. The Index reveals that 62 percent report having three months or more of savings to fall back on to cover monthly household expenses. That compares to 54 percent of military families without an advisor.

“Career service members continue to save more and cut debt in response to ongoing concerns over how the pandemic impacts their family finances,” said First Command President/CEO Mark Steffe. “Many military families are turning to financial advisors for help. Our survey results consistently reveal that military families who work with a financial coach feel more secure with their finances and confident in the future than their do-it-yourself colleagues. By using annual pay raises to shore up their household finances, military families are making smart choices in response to the current uncertainties of COVID-19 while continuing their long-term pursuit of financial security.”

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 Financial Planning 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.

First Command Educational Foundation is a separate 501(c)(3) public charity and is not affiliated with First Command Financial Services, Inc., or any of its affiliated entities.

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