Vets Checklist: Planning for Civilian Life

Personal Finances

After you go back to civilian life, you may be living on a tight budget for a while. If you don’t plan carefully and watch what you spend, you could get into financial trouble.

The earlier you look at your finances, the more time you have to create a workable plan. Here are some things to think about:

  • Your family budgets and spending plans
  • Your record keeping
  • Your health care and life insurance costs
  • Your credit
  • Your debts
  • Your taxes
  • Your investments

Create an estimated civilian budget. It should include things like rent or a mortgage payment, taxes, health insurance, and medical fees. And don’t forget to budget for saving some money each month, and paying off any debts that you owe.

Also make sure to think about the things that are free or low-cost for service members. While medical care, housing, childcare, life insurance, and gym memberships may cost you little while in the military, they’ll cost a lot when you’re a civilian. And you might have to pay state taxes too, depending on your state.

If you can, build up a transition savings fund before you separate from the service. It’s good to have enough money to cover living costs for three to 12 months. That way, you’ll be able to deal with unexpected costs or gaps in your income while you look for a job. How much money you need to save depends on whether you are single, married, or have children, and what kind of income you expect to have as a civilian.

If you expect to get disability payments, it might be several months or more before you get your first payment. You may need to rely on your transition savings until your disability payments start.

Check your credit

Get free copies of your credit report from the top three credit reporting agencies — Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax — by ordering them at; it’s the only website that is part of the legally mandated free credit report program. Beware of other sites that claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores,” or “free credit monitoring” — in some cases, the “free” product can cost you money.

Each credit reporting company gets its information from different sources, so the reports can vary from company to company. You can request reports from all three credit companies at once, or you can order from one company, review the report and clean up any errors or problems, then order from the next company, and the next. Remember that you can only get one free report from each company every 12 months.

Review a credit report carefully and make a note of any accounts you have a question about. Cancel any open accounts that are inactive or that you no longer need. Call the companies directly and ask them to close your account and send you a written confirmation that the account has been closed. Learn more about free credit reports.

Helpful resources

The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offer helpful tips about money, credit, and debt.

Learn more