Time is running out for your opportunity to enroll in the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). Now is the time to review your family’s financial needs and determine if you want to opt into the SBP benefit — you only have until the end of this year to enroll or withdraw. SBP Open Season ends January 1, 2024. To enroll, however, you must provide your Letter of Intent no later than November 1, 2023.
It’s important to note that open enrollment does not happen on a regular basis. In fact, the last open enrollment for SBP was in 2005. The current enrollment period could be the last time this opportunity is available for many years. As you think about your opportunity to participate, you should do so with the understanding that this is considered a “once in a generation” event.
Also, to be covered by the SBP, you must have enrolled in this benefit when you retired. However, if you did not elect to participate at that time, this is your chance to do so now. Due to changes in military survivor benefits, Congress authorized this particular SBP open enrollment period in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023. Likewise, this open enrollment allows you to withdraw from the program if you no longer want to participate, but it is a final decision.
Now is the time to consider your financial situation and your loved ones’ future. Participating in the SBP is one way to help keep them protected.
What Is the Survivor Benefit Plan?
The Survivor Benefit Plan is a Department of Defense (DOD) program that provides up to 55% of a servicemember's retired pay to an eligible beneficiary (a spouse, former spouse, dependent child up to age 18 or age 22 if a student, or a child who is disabled) upon the member’s death. This is a COLA-protected (i.e., receives cost of living adjustments) guaranteed monthly income for the beneficiary.
SBP automatically covers those who die while they are Active Duty. However, upon their retirement following 20 years of qualifying service, servicemembers can elect SBP coverage and a monthly premium is collected from their retired pay.
4 Things You Need to Consider
Enrolling in the Survivor Benefit Plan is one of the important decisions you will make at the time of your retirement. Your life circumstances may have changed, so open season is a good time to review your financial plan and assess your family’s needs.
1. Your personal situation.
Each family is unique and has its own considerations. You should determine how much income is required by your surviving family members to maintain their current lifestyle and how much other income they have from employment, retirement plans, pensions, etc.
2. Your overall financial picture.
Bear in mind that you will not be paid up until you have made 360 monthly premiums (thirty years) and you are past age 70 . If you enroll in SBP during open season, you are required to backpay the premiums from the date of your retirement. In other words, if you retired a year ago, you would need to pay 12 months of premiums to make your account current. Also important to note: If you decide to leave the program, it is a final decision, you don’t get a refund of the premiums you’ve already paid, but you do get to stop paying them going forward.
3. Your marriage situation.
Typically, your spouse is the beneficiary, so you may consider adding the SBP to your financial plan. When you experience a qualifying life event, such as marriage, death of your spouse or remarriage you can enroll a new dependent or leave the option open in the event of the death of your dependent.
4. Your children’s ages and situation.
Depending on how old they are, your kids may or may not be eligible to receive the benefit. If your children are past the age of 18 (or 22 if they are full-time students), they cannot be added as your beneficiaries to the SBP. However, if you have a child who is disabled, and became so before the age of 18, they can receive this benefit for their lifetime.
There’s more you should know for your children’s sake. Eligible members can add children or spouse IF you previously did not make an election because you did not have children or a spouse. If you previously declined or disenrolled, you are not eligible. If you elected to cover a child who is a disabled, dependent adult, you can change that anytime to a special needs trust beneficiary. If you previously elected spouse only coverage, but did not elect to cover the disabled child at the time, then you cannot add the child now — because you could have then, and you already declined to do so.
To learn more about the SBP, check out the Department of Defense’s website for an overview and more helpful information especially the page dedicated to the 2023 Open Season. If you want to know how much you will be paying, you can access several easy-to-use SBP calculators at DOD’s Office of the Actuary website. You can also speak to an SBP counselor, who should be available for each branch of the military. You may also call us at 888-961-4573 to discuss your options with one of our Member Benefits Representatives or email [email protected] today.