For some military members and their families, the concept of “forever home” is already a well-established sign post on the horizon. As that final date of separation, or retirement draws near, the exit sign beckons, “Forever Home – Straight Ahead!”
But for many, the idea of settling somewhere permanently is a bit nebulous. For the first time in years, maybe even decades – the choice is yours to select home. Here are a few things to consider before dropping those retirement papers.
It may come as a surprise that retired military pay is not tax-free, and is subject to both federal, and possibly state income taxation. Although many states impose no taxes on military retirement earnings, (some do so simply by virtue of having no state income tax), states vary significantly in taxation. Many offer partial exemptions, but others have zero exemptions, as of this writing include: California, Utah, District of Columbia, Vermont, and Virginia.
State taxation can certainly be a sticking point for many, particularly those who grew up in a state that did not levy state income taxes.
However, when considering your forever home – it’s also critical to consider a state’s entire tax burden, including potentially high sales taxes or property tax burdens. For those considering a second career, a state with no income tax may be a smarter choice – but it’s important to do a little research to determine how taxes will take a bite of your total retirement finances.
Should I, or my spouse, embark on a second career? It’s a deeply personal question, and no two familial situations and needs will be the same. Some families may be at a cash-intensive stage, where weddings, graduations, and college tuitions seem to be sucking every dollar from your pocket. Others may crunch the numbers, and realize the need to work a few more years to bolster savings. Some may feel the desire to continue their service, as a federal government civilian.
And some may simply be at a point to finally veer onto a career aligned with a long-held passion, and explore entrepreneurship.
Quality of Life
The best job, in the most ideal tax environment, means nothing if it’s not a fit for your quality of life. As a veteran, I remember attending our installation’s military separation program and our transition counselor baiting us with questions.
“Who would take a two-hundred thousand dollar a year job, no questions asked?”
Idiot that I am, my hand was the first in the air. But, before I could receive my job – I had to “agree” unequivocally to the terms of whatever said job would be.
She then handed me my “job assignment,” and it was as the Head Butcher at a meat-processing plant. Fictional as the job was, she had proven her point. My stomach lurched as I mulled over the possibilities. What if that had actually happened? Animal-lover that I am, with a weak stomach, this would have been a disaster had it been real. Without knowing what the job was, I’d said yes based on dollar signs alone. It was a lesson I wouldn’t soon forget.
How often do we pick a job based on the bottom line, while neglecting what makes our heart, and our lives sing? Quality of life considerations will feel different to each one of us, but it’s the nuanced experiences and desires that make home, well…feel like home.
Climate, seasons, access to the hustle and bustle of a large city – or the desire to soak up the Friday Night Lights in a small town, I think if we really pause a moment, certain possibilities call to us, while others fall to the wayside. Try to give yourself patience, and grace, if your mind feels like it’s swirling in a dozen different directions. Meander through the US travel section at a local bookstore. You might be surprised when a few states pique your interest.
Keeping a Connection to the Military
Understandably, for many – the desire to keep a connection to the military is a no-brainer. It may be access to a military installation, and retiree benefits available, or a military base aligned with a VA Healthcare Center, that also offers in-person access to veteran transition services and benefit counselors.
Often, weighing quality of life considerations together with identifying nearby military installations is the win-win solution for many families trying to pin down where forever home might be hiding.
Just Like the Military – You Can Always Re-locate
We military families have a tendency to be stoic to the point of rigidity. But here’s the secret. Just as the military could move you when mission needs called for it, you now have the freedom to chart your own mission, and change course as many times as you need.
“Home” used to be wherever the military sent us. Now, it can be wherever we want it to be.