An overview of financial health among active military and spouses in the U.S.
For the first time since 2014, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) has surveyed members of the military about their knowledge as it relates to financial literacy, as well as how they put that knowledge into practice when it comes to retirement, savings, credit card debt, student loan debt and more.
Sponsored by Wells Fargo, the 2019 Military Financial Readiness Survey takes a unique look at the similarities and differences between active servicemembers and their spouses/partners.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of NFCC and Wells Fargo from March 20 to April 16, 2019 among 531 U.S. adults ages 18 and older who are currently active, enlisted members of the U.S. military, excluding reserve members and those in the National Guard (i.e., “servicemembers”) and 439 U.S. adults ages 18 and older who are spouses/partners of servicemembers.
The Military Financial Readiness Survey press release, key findings, and data sheet are available for download near the bottom of the page.
Headlines and Key Findings
The findings of this year’s survey are a clear indication that military households are turning to the private sector for supplemental income.
About half of active service members and their spouses have turned to the gig economy for additional income.
While majorities of both service members and spouses/partners of service members say military life makes it challenging to get and hold private sector employment (74% vs. 61%), about half say they have in fact had to get a job or second job for additional income (54% vs. 46%)—and about the same percentage say they’ve been able to use the gig economy to do so (54% and 48%).
Active service members today are twice as likely not to be able to pay all their bills on time than they were in 2014.
Roughly a third of service members (34% vs. 16% in 2014) say they do not pay all their bills on time and about 1 in 10 (11% vs. 3% in 2014) say they currently have debts in collection.
About 3 in 10 (29%) spouses/partners of service members say they do not pay their bills on time.
Servicemembers and spouses/partners are more likely than the general U.S. population to be behind on bill payments.
Retirement Readiness, Savings and Budgeting
Both active service members and military spouses/partners are more likely than the average American to be saving for retirement.
- Nearly 9 in 10 (89%) service members are saving for retirement compared to just 75% of service member spouses/partners compared to just 65% of the general population.
Active service members and their spouse/partner counterparts are more likely than the average American to have some savings excluding retirement.
- Nearly 9 in 10 (87%) service members and 75% of service member spouses/partners say they have some savings.
More than half of active service members and spouses/partners of service members don’t keep a budget.
- More than half of active service members and spouse/partners say they do not keep a budget when managing their money (54% and 51%, respectively), although about 2 in 5 (37% and 43%) say they have some idea of what they spend.
- Spouses/partners of active service members are more likely than the average American to keep a budget (49% vs. 42%)
Careers and Homeownership on Hold
About 3 in 4 (72%) spouses/partners of active service members feel like they have had to put at least one life decision “on hold” due to their spouse’s/partner’s military service.
- Beyond vacation/travel (33%), about 1 in 4 say buying a house (25%), moving (24%), having a career (24%), and 20% say going back to school.
Declining Confidence in Personal Financial Knowledge – Fewer Recognize Any Benefit from Professional Financial Advice
While active service members are more likely than the average American in the general population to grade themselves an A/B on their knowledge of their personal finances (62% vs. 55%), the percentage of those in this category is down significantly from 70% in 2014
Despite this fact, active service members are less likely to say they could benefit from advice from professionals than in 2014.
While about 3 in 4 agree that they could still benefit from advice and answers to everyday financial questions from a professional, the proportion who disagree with this statement has noticeably increased compared to last year.
Optimism for a Brighter Financial Future
Fifty-seven percent of spouses/partners believe their financial situation will get better in next 5 years; 36% say it will at least stay the same.
Where to Turn for Financial Guidance
Among those who would turn somewhere for help with their finances, nearly 1 in 4 (24%) active military spouses/partners would turn to their bank.
- Among active service member spouses/partner who would seek help, nearly 2 in 4 (39%) would turn to family and 1 in 4 (24%) would turn to their bank.
- Among active service members who would seek help, about 3 in 10 (31%) say would turn to the military, followed by family (28%).
- About 1 in 10 (8% for both) are most likely to turn to a nonprofit counseling organization.
The NFCC is a network of community-based nonprofits serving all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Canada. Click to learn more about how these agencies provide a variety of free and affordable services to all active duty members of the military, veterans and their families who need financial guidance.
Download the 2019 Military Financial Readiness Survey Resources Below
Read Press Release
View data from our last military survey 2014 NFCC Military Survey