Couple hugging each other and smiling while standing in front of a house with an America flag hanging out front. Man is dressed in military uniform.

Tips for Transitioning or Retiring from the Military

By: FINRA Investor Education Foundation Staff

Military service can leave you believing that change is the only constant in life. Take a look at a photo of yourself entering boot camp and compare it with the one your service took of you at graduation. You already changed—a lot. But you need to get ready for a big one. 

Transitions get a lot of attention in the military community, because they help drive advancements, relocations and deployments. Whether you are separating after one hitch or retiring following a long and successful career, your transition from the military should have your full attention, too. Your service thinks it’s important enough to order your participation in a Transition Assistance Program, Transition-GPS or a similar program. Few organizations devote that level of support to departing employees. Take full advantage of the many resources offered by your service during your transition period.

Your transition from the military will usher in many changes in your life. You will likely need to find a job. You may relocate. Your tax bill will probably increase, as once tax-free allowances for housing and subsistence will disappear. You will assume responsibility for many things that you may have previously taken for granted, such as where you live and how you feed yourself and your family. You must find medical and dental care providers. You may need to purchase life insurance, especially if you have dependents and your new employer doesn’t offer coverage. You will need to save for your eventual retirement from the workforce and other financial goals. You need to decide what to do with your Thrift Savings Plan.

Like many successes in life, preparation is key. Here are some tips to ease your transition:

  • Start early. Begin to plan two years out. Allow yourself enough time to process what will change in your life. Do plenty of reading. There are lots of good books, articles and websites devoted to transitioning from the military. Check out a few at your installation’s transition center. 
  • Be humble. Accept that you have much to learn. While you mastered your rate or Military Occupation Specialty, internalized your service’s core principles and embraced the military lifestyle, it’s different on the “outside.” You’ve likely never been an adult civilian. There will be as much to learn about what success feels like after your military service as there was to learn while serving.
  • Hug your spouse. If you’ve been in the service a while, the odds are that your spouse has transitioned several times already. She or he has probably been unemployed; started and stopped several jobs; relocated to a new town, state or country; set up and packed up more than a few households; and experienced much of what you will soon face. You are on this journey together, so be sure to share your hopes, dreams and fears. You may be surprised to learn that you aren’t the only one going through this transition. It’s better together.
  • Engage with others. Everyone who joined the military and lived to tell the tale went through their own transition. Most handled the changes successfully, and reaped dividends from their service experience throughout their lives. American Legion and VFW halls and your base transition center are often full of veterans willing to hear to your story and share their wisdom. Listen and learn.
  • Embrace the experience. Be proud of your military time. Not everyone had the opportunity to serve, or wanted to. Whether you deployed to a war zone or handed out basketballs at the base gym, you served a cause greater than yourself. You completed something you set out to accomplish, and that’s a solid foundation to build a life upon. Congratulations—you did it! 

The larger point is that you will always be in transition. Whether it’s a new job, relationship, location or change in status, we are always in transition. No run, ride, drive or flight is the same. But the sum of our journeys makes up the voyage of our lifetime.

For more information about transitioning from the military, visit

"Like many successes in life, preparation is key." Here are tips to ease your military transition > @FINRAFoundation

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