It’s Down To The Deadline, The BRS Opt-In

It’s Down To The Deadline, The BRS Opt-In

Heads up! This is a sponsored post for USAA’s BRS Blitz campaign. Although I’m being compensated for this post, it still contains my personal thoughts and opinions on the BRS opt-in.

“To BRS opt-in or not BRS opt-in, that is the question.” Will you sign up for the Blended Retirement System (BRS) or will you choose to stay right where you’re at—in the Legacy Retirement System? What say you?

I say, to each their own! When it comes down to deciding whether to change your retirement system, it’s an individualized decision. Each Servicemember is going to have their own set of goals, finances, circumstances, and feelings that will play into their choice. So basing your opt-in decision on what your battle buddy is doing, is 100% not the way to go.

You (yes, YOU) and you alone have to research the BRS to weigh the pros and cons based on your situation and then make the call.

This is a big decision about your financial future and that guy in your squad or squadron isn’t going to be there when you’re 80 to help pay your bills. Again, you have to make the call. And that best way to do that is to get the facts. Not to pile on but… you have to make your decision by December 31, 2018. No pressure, right?

I’m going to go over some of the basics of the BRS here and the tools you can use to help make an educated decision. Plus I’m going to share other resources where you can get more information about the BRS Opt-in.

But before I jump into that, I want you to keep one more thing in mind. Making a financial decision doesn’t always come down to just the numbers. Yes, they’re important but you have to factor in your quality of life as well. A good financial decision comes down to balancing the quantitative with the qualitative. It would be amazing if the money and quality of life always lined up perfectly but they often don’t. But a decision has to be made.

What if you were offered a job making $30k a month but that job would require you to work 100 hours per week and barely see your family? Yes, you’d be making a ton of money but you’d be all alone. For some people, making a ton of money would be the choice they make. But for others, giving up their family for the sake of money wouldn’t even be a choice to consider. That’s why I say to each their own when it comes to this decision and any financial decision. Do your homework and combine that with the knowledge of your life and goals, then make the decision that works best for you and your family!

What’s the BRS?

Let’s start with the basics, what the heck is the BRS? It’s a new retirement system for members of the military that began on January 1, 2018. It’s called the Blended Retirement System because it combines parts of the older Legacy Retirement System with parts from civilian 401(k) plans. The BRS is a blend of a defined benefit plan, better known to many as a pension plan and a defined contribution plan, a.k.a the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) or a 401(k).

Eligibility for the BRS

Servicemembers that are eligible for the BRS opt-in are active-duty who have less than 12 years of service or National Guard or Reserve members with fewer than 4,320 points as of December 31, 2017. If you’re eligible, you were notified by the Department of Defense (DoD).

The Legacy System

To make the best opt-in decision for you and your family, you need to have a full understanding of both retirement systems first. The Legacy system is made up of two basic parts:

  • Pension – After 20 years of service, you’re eligible to retire from work and continue to receive monthly payments as if you’re still working. That’s a pension. The Legacy pension is calculated as years of service* x highest 36 months of basic pay x 2.5%. Using that calculation you receive 50% of your highest 36 months of basic pay. *If you’re in the Reserve component you calculate your years of service by dividing your points by 360.
  • TSP – You have the choice to contribute a percentage of your pay to the TSP to save for your own retirement. But the DoD will not match your contributions in the Legacy system.


The new BRS has four components to consider and compare when making your plan.

  • Pension – In the BRS, after 20 years of service, you’re eligible to retire from work and continue to receive monthly payments as if you’re still working. To be clear, the BRS still has a pension. The only difference in the BRS is the monthly pension amount will be reduced. The BRS pension is calculated as years of service* x highest 36 months of basic pay x 2%. In the BRS, your pension would only be 40% of your basic pay. *If you’re in the Reserve component you calculate your years of service by dividing your points by 360.
  • Defined Contribution or TSP – Under the BRS, you can now receive matching contributions from the DoD into your TSP account. They’ll match up to 5% of your basic pay. There’s an automatic 1% contribution after 60 days of service and up to an additional 4% matching contribution based on the amount you contribute to your TSP. For example, if you put in 5%, the DoD will put in a 1% automatic contribution plus a 4% matching contribution for a total of 5%. That means 5% from you + 5% from the DoD = 10% total.
  • Continuation Pay – This is a one-time cash payout when you’re between 8-12 years of service to encourage additional military service. Active duty may receive a minimum of 2.5 or up to a maximum of 13 times their monthly basic pay. For Reserve members, it’s .5 to 6 times their monthly pay.
  • Lum Sum Payout – There aren’t many cases where I would recommend doing this but I’ll mention it because it’s part of the BRS, a lump sum payout. A lump sum payout is part of your retirement pay up front. You’ll have the option to take 25% or 50% of the discount present value of your future retirement pay. Of course, nothing is free. To use the benefit, you’ll have to agree to reduce monthly retirement pay until you reach the age of 67 (or your social security retirement age). The lump sum payout will be far less than you would receive if you received regular monthly payments over the course of your retirement.

Factors To Consider

Going back to one of my first points, this is an individual decision. No one knows your life and family situation better than you. If you’re married, please talk it over with your spouse beforehand. Here are some things to consider when mulling it over.

  • Do you plan to stay in for 20 years?
  • Can you meet all the requirements to stay in for 20 years?
  • Does serving 20 years fit in with your family goals?
  • Will make the contributions into your TSP?
  • Will you take loans from your TSP?
  • How much will you contribute to the TSP?
  • How will you allocate your TSP?

BRS Tools

There are two tools you can use to help make your choice:

  •  DoD’s BRS Comparision Calculator  – This calculator can be used to compare aspects of the BRS with the Legacy system to help you decide which retirement system would be better suited for you.
  •  USAA’s BRS Comparision Tool – Here USAA is providing their comparison tool to help you make your decision. And it’s not just for members. Anyone can use it!

There’s also a wealth of information about the BRS to include infographics and videos at the DoD’s BRS site here. And here is another graphic to help make your decision. 

How to Opt-in

Air Force, Army, and Navy can opt-in for the BRS through MyPay. Marines will need to opt-in through Marine Online. But read this, your BRS opt-in decision is irrevocable. You cannot undo the decision once it is done.

Summing It Up

The deadline to opt-in the BRS is fast approaching. If you haven’t already done so, take the time to do the research and reading. Use the info and tools I’ve listed here to start making a decision. After consideration, you may decide to stay in the Legacy system. Or you may choose to opt-in to the BRS. Either way, your future self with thank you for taking the time now to weigh the facts and make a decision about your financial future.