Lackluster figures trickling in indicate Blended Retirement System not off to a popular start

Matt Saintsing
January 08, 2019 - 12:44 pm

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Service members had the chance to opt-into a retirement pathway that guarantees they’ll see some retirement, even if they decide not to put in the full year 20 years, at least. 

Not many did.

Just over 33 percent—or one in three—of active duty service members chose to take part of the new Blended Retirement System, by the Dec. 31 deadline, about half of those in the reserve component did the same. 

Pentagon officials made a concerted effort to let them know about the full range of options for them to dictate their retirement, and the resources available. That final push seemed to have paid off as the opt-ins spiked by 13 percent in the last two weeks of 2018.  More than 45,100 people enrolled themselves during that time. 

Preliminary numbers from Defense officials point to about 24 percent (397,260 troops total) of the entire force chose to opt-in. That figure, however, does not count the more than 147,000 who shipped off in 2018 and were automatically enrolled in the BRS. 

When it comes to which branch leads the way into the BRS, the Marine Corps rose above, with nearly 60 percent of active duty Marines deciding to give it a shot. The Corps is considerably smaller than their counterparts in other services. 

One reason for the high enrollment rate, is the Corps required Marines to place their decision on a list, even if they decided not to opt-in. Marines who stuck with the legacy system—expecting to complete at least 20 years of service—still had to register their decision. 

The same isn’t true for soldiers, airmen, and sailors who only had to take additional action if they decided the BRS was for them after all. 

Bringing up the rear is the Army, who had the lowest number of opt-ins with just over 25 percent of soldiers deciding to throw their knot in with the BRS. 

The BRS was available to all service members with fewer than 12 years of service, as of Dec. 31, 2017. Those with more than 12 years would automatically stay with the legacy system, while troops entering the military in 2018 and beyond will automatically take part in BRS. 

But was it the right choice for them? According to the DoD, the vast majority of service members—more than 80 percent—in the legacy system don’t stay in long enough to qualify for military retirement. 

Officials had to revamp what Congress viewed as an antiquated retirement system in 2015, and after a spirited debate, a blended pension and investment system was settled on for the troops.  

With BRS, service members who put in a full 20-year career can expect a retirement pension, albeit 20 percent less than the old system. But where the legacy system lacks, BRS makes up for it in those using the new system will get an automatic contribution of 1 percent of their basic pay to the Thrift Savings Plan—a retirement account that lets service members pick their investments. 

It also comes with a DoD match of up to 5 percent. 

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