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What Is the Military Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)?

2021-10-03

As a servicemember, your retirement pension is one of the most important benefits you receive for your years of service. But what happens upon your death? 

Will the military still provide for your spouse and children? In addition to any life insurance policies you may have, you can also provide for your surviving family members through the military’s Survivor Benefit Plan.

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What is the Survivor Benefit Plan?

The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) is a financial protection program offered by the Department of Defense to provide surviving spouses and eligible dependents with lost military or retirement pay upon the death of an enrolled servicemember or military retiree. Also known as a “survivor annuity plan,” the SBP military program pays the named beneficiary a lifetime benefit of up to 55% of the servicemember’s military pension.

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Servicemembers have several basic options when choosing their program and beneficiaries, and the price varies. Choosing not to enroll in SBP requires your spouse to agree and to provide a notarized signature acknowledging their concurrence. If you do not submit an election, or if your election is invalid due to incomplete paperwork, coverage automatically starts at an amount equal to the spouse-only option.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Survivor Benefit Plan?

SBP Advantages:

  • Leaves your selected beneficiary with a guaranteed lifetime income of up to 55% of your elected amount of coverage.
  • Premiums are pre-tax and typically automatically deducted from your gross pay, which decreases your taxable income.
  • Benefits are protected against inflation and increase each December with a cost-of-living adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index.
  • Rates will not increase or be cancelled or revoked based on age or illness.
  • Rates are not impacted by Social Security benefits.

SBP Disadvantages:

  • Coverage is provided at no cost during active service, but costs up to 10% of your gross pension pay after retirement.
  • Your beneficiary generally must live long enough to receive seven months of payments for every five years you paid into the program, in order for your investment to break even. (e.g., if you paid in for 20 years, your beneficiary must receive 28 months of payments before they have received everything you invested into the program.
  • Once enrolled, it’s difficult to change or cancel the plan.

How much does the Survivor Benefit Plan cost? 

During active duty, SBP is provided at no cost. After retirement, retired servicemembers typically pay up to a pre-tax 6.5% of their gross retirement pay. Coverage costs also vary based on the amount of pay selected. Full coverage is 6.5% of your full gross pay. Reduced coverage means your beneficiary will receive payments based on a smaller percentage of your gross pay. The cost is still 6.5% of whatever that percentage of your gross pay may be, rather than 100% of your gross pay. The minimum amount varies by retiree. 

Who can serve as my beneficiary? 

The SBP provides several options when it comes to choosing your beneficiary:

  1. Spouse only is the most popular option.

  2. Spouse and children provides coverage for your spouse, plus an equal distribution among your dependent children. An eligible child must be the servicemember’s legal, unmarried dependent who is either under 18, or under 22 and enrolled in an accredited college or university. Disabled or incapacitated children are also eligible. Adding children to the program increases the cost, although that cost will vary based on the ages of the retiree, spouse, and youngest child.

  3. Former spouse is another option, especially if the servicemember has been court ordered to provide coverage for a former spouse.

  4. Children only is a possible option if you’re married, but you must get a signed agreement from your spouse. You can also select your dependent children if you are not married.

  5. Natural Interest Person (NIP) is an option for those with no other eligible dependents. An example might be a sibling, or a child who is older than the eligibility age. The pay is the same 55%, but the cost is higher at 10% versus 6.5%. However, NIP coverage can be cancelled at any time.

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Can I cancel or change my SBP coverage?

It depends. Changing or cancelling your SBP coverage is very difficult once you start the program. However, there are a few exceptions:

  • If you do not enroll because you do not have any beneficiaries, you can add a spouse or child if it’s done within one year of your wedding date or child’s date of birth.
  • If you already have beneficiaries at the time of enrollment but elect out of the option, you cannot change that decision later on.
  • You can cancel or terminate your SBP election between the 25th and 36th month of your retirement. Your spouse must provide written concurrence.
  • You can withdraw from SBP due to a qualifying disability. This is because your spouse will most likely qualify for VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits. Again, your beneficiary must provide written consent.
  • If you choose a Natural Interest Person as your beneficiary, you can terminate at any time.
  • If you get divorced, you may be able to cancel SBP benefits depending on the court-ordered divorce decree.
  • If your covered spouse dies, the coverage will be cancelled or suspended, or the benefit will transfer fully to eligible children if they were already listed as beneficiaries. If coverage is suspended, you can elect to continue coverage in the event of remarriage if you notify DFAS within one year of the remarriage. 

Learn More About the SBP Military Benefit

For more information about the Military Survivor Benefit Plan and how AAFMAA can help, call 888-961-4573 to speak with one of our Member Benefits Representatives or email MemberBenefits@aafmaa.com today.