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military financial readiness survey

Updated for 2020, this Survey Reveals Important Changes to the Financial Health of Active Duty Service Members and Military Spouses or Partners as well as Military Veterans

Building on its 2019 survey, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) has again commissioned The Harris Poll to survey active duty military servicemembers, their spouses or partners, and (new this year) veterans about their financial literacy, standing, and practices. The 2020 Military Financial Readiness Survey, sponsored by Wells Fargo, examines a range of topics and reveals unique insights about the similarities and differences between active duty servicemembers, spouses/partners of active duty servicemembers, and veterans. Comparing results to the 2019 survey reveals important trends and helps identify key challenges and impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of the NFCC and Wells Fargo from August 19 to September 18, 2020 among 506 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”), 254 U.S. adults ages 18 and older who are spouses/partners of servicemembers, and 516 U.S. military veterans. The Military Financial Readiness Survey press release, key findings, and data sheet are available for download below.

Headlines and Key Findings

Survey results indicate that active duty servicemembers have been turning to payday loans at a significantly increased rate, and spouses have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19.

Click here to Download the 2020 Military Financial Readiness Survey Resources

Active duty servicemembers are more than twice as likely to have taken out a cash advance or payday loan this year than in 2019.

Over three-quarters of active duty servicemembers (78 percent) have taken out a loan in the past year, representing a marginal increase from 2019 (75 percent). However, the type of loan has changed dramatically. This year, 31 percent of active duty servicemembers have taken out a cash advance or payday loan, compared to only 13 percent in 2019. This represents an even more dramatic shift since 2014, when just six percent of active duty servicemembers reported taking out such loans. The COVID-19 pandemic may be a contributing factor to increased payday loan usage, as 52 percent reported difficulty finding adequate loan options during the pandemic.

Military spouses face tough circumstances, and many worry about loss of income and job security.

Of the active duty servicemembers who are married or living with a partner, 88 percent say they are the primary income earner. This is up from 80% in 2019. There has also been a directional increase in the percent of spouses who are the primary income earner, which may indicate an increase in dual-earner households. Fifty-one percent of active duty servicemembers and 38 percent of spouses report using the gig economy to earn extra income during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifty-one percent of spouses say they are very worried about the potential loss of income and job security resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Complications with Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves during the pandemic may have contributed to military spouses’ employment challenges. While nearly three in five servicemembers (59 percent) said they were completely or very financially prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five spouses (20 percent) said they were not at all financially prepared. More than half (57 percent) of married or partnered servicemembers say the way they and their spouses or partners manage their finances often leads to conflict, up from 51 percent in 2019. Despite these challenges, spouses are more likely to give themselves an A or B grade on their knowledge of personal finance than in 2019 (67% vs. 54%).

There are many positive trends related to saving and budgeting.

More than half of active duty servicemembers say they keep a budget (56 percent), which exceeds their civilian counterparts (47 percent of the general population). Slightly more servicemembers (65 percent) and spouses or partners (75 percent) report paying their bills on time than in 2019 (63 percent and 68 percent, respectively). Eighty-eight percent of servicemembers report that they have some savings, which exceeds their civilian counterparts (70 percent of the general population). Ninety-three percent of service members report saving for retirement. Sixty-six percent of active duty servicemembers, grade themselves an A/B on their knowledge of personal finance in 2020. This is up slightly from 62 percent in 2019, but down from 70 percent in 2014.

Many remain concerned about their financial well-being, especially credit, and few would turn to military or nonprofit resources for help.

Fifty-four percent of servicemembers say that “just getting by financially,” describes them completely or very well. This is up from 43 percent in 2019. Active duty servicemembers (86 percent) are significantly more likely than the general population (69%) to have worries about personal finances. Active duty servicemembers are most worried about their credit (18 percent). This concern about credit has been on a steady increase since 2014 (10 percent in 2014; 15 percent in 2019; 18 percent in 2020). Many active duty servicemembers are “more worried” than 12 months ago about each of the following: saving for future goals (43 percent), covering unexpected expenses or emergencies (42 percent), meeting basic household needs (38 percent), meeting debts (38 percent), and how their finances will affect their future in the military (34 percent). Thirty-three percent of active duty servicemembers with personal debt are very confident they can pay off their loans according to schedule, down from 41 percent in 2019. Twenty-seven percent do not feel confident that they can pay off their debt on schedule. Seventy percent of servicemembers agree that they could benefit from advice and answers to everyday financial questions from a professional. If facing a problem related to debt, only 19 percent of servicemembers say they would turn to the military, down from 29 percent in 2019. Only eight percent of active duty servicemembers say they are most likely to turn to a non-profit counseling organization for help.

Many veterans are confident in their ability to meet financial commitments, though concerns remain.

85 percent of veterans say they pay their bills on time.

Only 19 percent feel like finances control their lives often or always, compared to 46 percent of active duty servicemembers.

Over half (55%) of veterans with personal debt are very confident they can pay off their loans according to schedule.

Only 22 percent of veterans reported any financial impacts from COVID-19, compared to 78 percent of active duty servicemembers.

Veterans are more likely to use traditional financial services (credit cards and checking accounts). In the past six months, 74 percent have used checking/savings accounts and 70 percent have used credit cards.

43 percent of veterans have worries about their personal finances. Their biggest financial worry is saving enough (17 percent).

Less than half of veterans keep a budget (42 percent).

About half of veterans (49%) wish they had more information about financial resources specifically for veterans, and a similar amount (50%) feel there are not enough financial resources available specifically for veterans.