Guest Post – How to Collect Important Documents When You’re Separating/Retiring

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By CAPT(r) Nathan Almond, MC, USN

For personnel separating or retiring that wish to obtain documents from their service, below are some recommendations.

1. Get a copy of your Official Military Personnel File.
To get a copy of your military files such as fitness reports, SGLI elections, and other files from your career (besides your orders) go to BOL
Login with CAC
Click on ‘Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) – My Record’
Click on the ‘yes’ button
Click ‘download OMPF’ button
Wait for ‘save as’ folder to pop up as the zip file is downloaded and save as a zip file
That’s it! Now you have your OMPF files.

2. To get copies of all of your orders (besides IA ones), in NSIPS click ‘Employee Self Service’,  then ‘Electronic Service Record’, then ‘view’, then ‘orders history’. You can then click on ‘select all’ and then ‘Print Selected Orders and Transfer Information Sheets’ to get a pdf of all your orders written in your career.

3. If you deployed IA, get a copy of your IA orders for future reference. In BOL click on
Navy-Marine Corps Mobilization Processing System (NMCMPS) – View IA/ADSW orders
Click the ‘show orders’ button, then click on the orders you want. You may have to click on the ‘popup blocker’ in the address bar and then again on the link that was blocked in order to get the file, depending on your computer settings, but you don’t have to change the settings, just click on the ‘popup blocker’ in the address bar in Chrome and then the website that comes up and your file will download.

4. Also I found helpful to get a history of my career assignments. In NSIPS click on ‘view professional history’, then ‘history of assignments’, then ‘print form’ to get a pdf list of your assignments. Again, you may have to click on the ‘popup blocker’ in the address bar in Chrome followed by the address that was trying to download the file, but you should be able to obtain the pdf list.

5. I think getting the current pdf of your ODC, OSR, PSR is also helpful but CAPT Schofer has already outlined how to do that in the Promo Prep document.

No, a SECDEF Memo Did Not Change the Time-in-Grade Retirement Requirements

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There has been a SECDEF memo flying around the interwebs that is being misinterpreted. People think it might let them retire at the 2-year mark as an O5 or O6, but there has been no change to current policy (which requires 3 years). Here is the response from PERS:

“Some of you have been fielding queries about the attached memo so wanted to address this for everyone.  The memo does delegate authority to the Service Secretaries to reduce time in grade requirements.  However, this delegation does not equate to Service policy.  We are still awaiting on how the Navy will implement any changes in time in grade requirements. 

So for now, please inform any folks inquiring about it that no formal Navy policy has been promulgated based on the new authority.  And current policy stands.”

I did not attach the memo because this guy is not in the habit of posting SECDEF memos on a public blog.

Save Some for Your Future Self

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Jonathan Clements was a longtime personal finance columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and he offers great advice at the best price you can get (free) on his blog Humble Dollar. Here is one piece of advice from his site:

SAVE SOME FOR YOUR FUTURE SELF. Looking to lose weight? At restaurants, transfer half your serving to a second plate and ask the waiter to box it up. If the food will make good leftovers, it’s easy to do, because you know you’ll have a treat tomorrow. Want to save more? Think about it the same way—and set aside some of today’s spending money for tomorrow.”

If you are wondering how much to save for your future self, here are a few ways to figure that out.

To start, you have to figure out your gross (pre-tax) income. Include every dollar you get, even the non-taxable allowances. If you’re not sure exactly, take your best guess.

The Minimum

In my opinion, the absolute bare minimum you need to save for retirement is 10% of your gross income. You can include all of your employee contributions in this, like the DoD match in the Blended Retirement System. This doesn’t have to all be your money.

That said, 10% is the minimum. You’ll likely work into your 60s unless you stay in long enough to have a pension.

The Most Common Recommendation

Most commonly people recommend you save 12-15% of your gross income for retirement. If you read this article from Vanguard about how much to save, you’ll see:

If retirement is decades away, setting a specific goal amount is probably unnecessary. For now, focus on:

1. Immediately saving at least enough to get the full match offered by your employer plan, if you have one. This is free money—don’t let it pass you by.

2. Working your way up to 12%–15% of your pay, including any employer match. For example, you could increase your savings rate 1% every year until you reach your target rate. This should get you in the ballpark of what you’ll need.

The Early Retirement Recommendation

If you want to achieve financial independence or have the option of retiring early, you probably need to save more than 15%. Mr. Money Mustache’s amazing post about the shockingly simple match of early retirement has this table that shows you how long you’ll need to work based on your savings rate:

The Bottom Line

Start with your gross pay. You need to save a minimum of 10% of that, but you should try to save at least 15%. If you want to achieve financial independence and have the option to retire early or go to part-time work, you need to save more than 15%. I’d recommend 20% or more. I’ve done 30% my whole career.

If you want out help saving for retirement, start here where we discuss it in more depth.

The Basics of Saving for Retirement

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Here is a review of the basic principles of investing for retirement:

  • Start saving as early as possible because to get rich slowly you need to take advantage of compound interest. Albert Einstein (might have) said, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it…he who doesn’t pays it.” Compound interest is earning an investment return not just on your initial investment or principle, but also on your previous return. In other words, if you invest $1,000 and earn a 10% return yearly, after the first year you’ll have $1,100.  The second year you’ll earn 10% on your initial $1,000, but also on the $100 you earned during the first year, leaving you with $110 of earnings during the second year instead of $100 like the first year. Over a long period of time, this phenomenon greatly increases the amount of money you can accumulate with your investments. Because of this, time spent in the market is much more important than trying to time the market by buying and selling at the right times. The long-term return of the stock market is approximately 9.5% per year. Adjusting for 3% inflation, $1 invested grows to: (Ref: Bogle)
    • $1.88 in 10 years
    • $3.52 in 20 years
    • $6.61 in 30 years
    • $12.42 in 40 years
    • $23.31 in 50 years
  • If you find it difficult to save, set up an automatic investment plan so that the money is automatically removed from your pay and you never get a chance to spend it.
  • Investment costs and taxes matter in the long run and will never end; therefore both must be minimized as much as possible. You can minimize both by investing in low-cost stock and bond index funds and maximizing your contributions to tax-preferred retirement accounts.
  • Long-term investment in the stock market is the surest way to make your investment grow over time and beat inflation. By owning stocks you own businesses, and the long-term return of these businesses is what will increase your investments and net worth. Trading stocks is not the goal…owning them is.
  • As you progress toward retirement, you will decrease your investment risk by decreasing the amount you invest in stocks and increasing the amount you invest in bonds.
  • The optimal allocation of investments depends on your age, financial situation, risk tolerance, and how soon you will need to utilize the investment. If you are young, you have longer to ride out the inevitable market swings. The more financially secure you are, the better you can deal with the swings as well. Your asset allocation should also reflect the amount of risk tolerance you have. My opinion is that early in your career you should take as much risk as you can tolerate. If you can’t sleep at night because you are worried about your investments, it is time to dial down the risk, but you should take as much risk as you can up to that point. More risk yields a higher return over the long-term.
  • You should utilize dollar cost averaging to decrease your investment risk. Dollar cost averaging is when you purchase the same dollar amount of investments periodically over a long period of time. It provides time diversification, ensuring that you don’t buy all of your investment during a time of temporarily inflated prices. In volatile markets that are going up and down, it will actually increase your investment return because it ensures that you purchase less shares when the investment is expensive, and more when it is cheaper.
  • The market will go down, and when it does you need to resist the temptation to sell investments or stop investing. The best time to buy an investment is when it is cheap and you can get the best deal. When the market recovers, which it will, you will reap the rewards. Focus on the long-term and just keep investing.
  • Every time you get a raise, bonus, or income tax refund, use it to increase the amount you invest for retirement. You should save at least 15% of your gross or pre-tax income for retirement, but if you want to be rich or retire early you’ll need to save 20-30%.
  • How much money will you need to retire? Most retirement planners state that you’ll need approximately 70% of your pre-retirement income to maintain your current standard of living once you retire. This number, though, is heavily dependent on what you consider to be a “good retirement” and what type of a lifestyle you intend to lead. For example, since I save 30% of my gross income for retirement, I’m already living on only 70%, so I highly doubt I’ll need that much when I retire. If you are frugal and pay off your mortgage, you may find that you need as low as 25% of your pre-retirement income to retire comfortably. You won’t be staying in the Ritz Carlton, but there’s nothing wrong with the Hampton Inn.
  • There is a lot of uncertainty in life, but the 4% rule is a nice rule of thumb to use when assessing how much money you’ll need to accumulate before you can retire. The 4% rules says that you can take 4% from your retirement savings annually, adjust for inflation each year, and never run out of money. The devil is in the details, but use the 4% rule and assume that you can get approximately $40,000 per year of retirement income from every $1 million you have saved.
  • Saving for retirement is your top savings priority, even over funding the college education of your children. You can borrow money to pay for college, but you can’t borrow money to retire.
  • You must maximize your contributions to tax-preferred retirement accounts, such as 401(k), 403(b), Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs), or Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) every year. The tax benefits of these plans are staggering over the long-term: (Ref: Malkiel and Ellis)
    • If you invest $5,000 per year over 45 years and earn an 8% return with no taxes paid until withdrawal during retirement, you will have a final portfolio value of over $2 million. If you pay 28% taxes at withdrawal, you’d have almost $1.5 million.
    • The same savings without the benefit of tax deferral will top out at about $750,000.
  • If you work as an independent contractor you have more options than a physician who works as an employee, so hire an experienced tax or health care attorney, accountant, or fee-only financial planner to set up the best options for retirement investments if you are uncomfortable doing this on your own. It is probably going to be easy, though, and you just need to open of a solo/individual 401k with an investment company.
  • NEVER use retirement savings for anything other than retirement unless it is absolutely unavoidable. Again…you can’t borrow money for retirement.


Bogle, John C. The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.

Malkiel, Burton and Charles Ellis. The Elements of Investing: Easy Lessons for Every Investor. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2013.

Throwback Thursday Classic Post – A Simple and Military Specific Summary of How to Save for Retirement

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I’m a huge fam of Jim Lange. He’s a noted expert in financial management, saving for retirement, and estate planning. He’s written a number of books, some of which you can get for free on this page. If I ever move back to Pennsylvania, I’ll probably have him do my estate planning so that I don’t have to worry about anything in retirement.

He sends out a monthly newsletter that I get via snail mail, and it usually has a useful article in it. If you want it, you can get it here.

A previous edition had a section called “Jim’s Point-by-Point Summary of the Whole Retirement & Estate Planning Process.” It was simple but extremely useful. Below in bold are each of the points he lists for people who are still working, which is most of my readership. Let’s take each bolded point and militarize it for you so it is specific to those of us in the military.

Contribute at least the amount to your retirement plan that your employer is willing to match or partially match.

For those under the legacy retirement plan, this is not an option. For those under the new Blended Retirement System (BRS), you need to contribute 5% of your basic pay to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) to get the pull 5% DoD match:

BRS Matching

You also need to make sure you contribute 5% every month and don’t fill the TSP too early. If you max it out in October, you won’t get a match in November or December.

If you can afford to, contribute the maximum allowed to your retirement plan even if your employer does not match.

This is $19,500 in 2021. You can do an extra $6,500 if you are 50 or over. You can even do more if you are in a combat zone.

Once you have maximized contributions to your plan at work, contribute the maximum you can to an IRA, even if you cannot take a tax deduction on it.

If you are able to fill your TSP account, next you’ll need to open an IRA at an investment firm. Vanguard is the obvious choice due to their across the board low investment fees and unique non-profit structure, but you can do this anywhere (Schwab, Fidelity, etc.).

If you make too much to contribute to a Roth IRA, you just use the back door Roth IRA option.

Consider your personal tax bracket when trying to decide if you should contribute to a Roth or a traditional IRA/retirement plan.

With a traditional plan, you take a tax deduction now and pay taxes later when you take the money out. With a Roth plan you pay the taxes now and the withdrawals are completely tax free.

The general principle is that if you are in a lower tax bracket now than when you are retired, you do the Roth. If you are in a higher tax bracket now, you use the traditional.

No one really knows what the future holds, though, making this decision tough. Here are some resources for you to check out when making this decision:

Traditional and Roth TSP Contributions

Roth vs. Traditional IRAs: A Comparison

Do not take loans against your retirement plan. Allow the tax-deferred or tax-free status of the account to maximize the growth of your money.

While the TSP allows loans, I refuse to link to any information about it. Once you put money away for retirement, you don’t borrow from it unless it is an ABSOLUTE EMERGENCY.


The Bottom Line

Here are the point-by-point summary of steps Jim Lange suggests you take if you are saving for retirement:

  • Contribute at least the amount to your retirement plan that your employer is willing to match or partially match, which is 5% of basic pay in the BRS.
  • If you can afford to, contribute the maximum allowed to your retirement plan even if your employer does not match, which is $19,500 in the TSP ($26,000 if you’re 50+).
  • Once you have maximized contributions to your plan at work, contribute the maximum you can to an IRA, even if you cannot take a tax deduction on it. Use a back door Roth IRA if you need to.
  • Consider your personal tax bracket when trying to decide if you should contribute to a Roth or a traditional IRA/retirement plan.
  • Do not take loans against your retirement plan. Allow the tax-deferred or tax-free status of the account to maximize the growth of your money.

3 Things Every Young Medical Student and Physician Needs to Know

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I gave this talk at a national meeting in 2017, but here is a written summary of the three things every young medical student and physician needs to know.

1. You can’t control the investment markets, so focus on the two things you can control – investment costs and your asset allocation.

No one, and I mean no one, knows what is going to happen in the investment markets.  Study after study have shown that the overwhelming majority of people who try to beat the markets fail.  Because of this, you should forget about trying to predict the markets, and focus on things you can control – investment costs and your asset allocation.

All investments have costs, and the impact of these costs on your investment return compounds over time, taking a larger and larger bite out of your investment returns.  If you invest $100K for 25 years and earn 6% per year, without costs you’d have $430K.  With just a 2% annual cost you wind up with only $260K.  That 2% annual cost consumed $170K, almost 40% of your potential investment! (Source:

In addition, because they have to overcome higher costs, investments with higher costs lag the performance of similar investments with lower costs.  If you look at stock and bond mutual funds in the highest and lowest cost quartiles, you’ll see what I mean:

Type of FundHighest Quartile of CostLowest Quartile of Cost
Average yearly return from 2004-2014. (Source:

If you want to take one step that will guarantee that your costs are among the lowest in the industry no matter what you invest it, you should invest with Vanguard.  Vanguard is actually owned by its own investors (you), and they leverage this corporate structure to provide the lowest investment costs across the board.  With over $5 trillion (yes, trillion) under management, you can’t go wrong by just investing in Vanguard.

If you can’t invest with Vanguard, perhaps because your retirement plan doesn’t offer Vanguard investments, then you need to get into the weeds on your investment costs.  While there are many different potential investment costs, the easiest one to look at is the expense ratio of your potential investments.  According to, the expense ratio is “the annual fee that all funds or ETFs charge their shareholders.  It expresses the percentage of assets deducted each fiscal year for fund expenses, including 12b-1 fees, management fees, administrative fees, operating costs, and all other asset-based costs incurred by the fund.”

Wow.  That was a mouthful.  Bottom line…high expense ratio bad, low expense ratio good.  You should be able to find your investments’ expense ratios on your investment website or

In addition to investment costs, the other things that you can control is your asset allocation.  While there are many asset classes you can invest in, the two most basic are stocks and bonds.  Here are some of the returns for stocks and bonds from 1926-2013 in commonly utilized portfolios:

Annual Return50% Stocks & 50% Bonds60% Stocks & 40% Bonds80% Stocks & 20% Bonds100% Stocks & 0% Bonds

As you can see, the higher your allocation to stocks over bonds, the more risk you are taking and the bumpier the ride.  Along the way, though, you have historically been rewarded for this bumpy ride with a higher average annual return.  Just like the extra 2% cost that was previously discussed compounds to make a huge difference, so will a small difference in your returns.  In other words, the more risk you can take, the more money you will probably end up with.

The application of these principles is that you should take as much risk as you can.  In other words, you should invest as much of your portfolio in stocks as you can while still sleeping at night and not lying awake worrying about the stock market’s ups and downs.  There will be another market downturn, and when that occurs you need to keep buying stocks because they are on sale, not sell out because you can’t handle seeing your net worth and portfolio value decrease.

Invest as high a percentage of stocks as you can without making the critical mistake of selling stocks during the next market downturn.  For me, that has been 100% stocks for the majority of my career, but for some people they’ll panic even at a much lower percentage of stocks.  If a 50% stock and 50% bond portfolio is the only one that will keep you from selling during the next market downturn, then that is the right portfolio for you.

If you have been investing for long enough, look at your actual behavior during the 2007-2008 or early 2020 market downturn and what your asset allocation was at the time.  In 2007-2008, mine was 100% stocks and I kept on buying.  Your allocation and actions will tell you a lot about your own risk tolerance.

In summary, you can’t control the market, so focus on controlling investment costs and your asset allocation. 

2. Your savings rate is the most important factor determining your eventual net worth, and it should be at least 20-30% of your gross income.

The most common recommendation you’ll find or hear when it comes to saving for retirement is to save 15% of your gross or pre-tax income for retirement.  There is nothing wrong with this recommendation, but built into it is the standard mentality of working until age 65 and then retiring.  If you want the freedom to retire early, work as much or as little as you want, and achieve financial freedom/independence, then you will need to save much more than 15%.  I’ve saved 30% over most of my adult life, and that’s why I’m writing about personal finance.

If you want to take a look at various saving rates and how they impact your financial life, you’ll want to read the blog post “The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement” at  There you will find a chart that shows you how many years you will have to work until you can retire based on your savings rate.  If you go with the standard 15% savings rate, you’ll have to work 43 years before you can retire.  If you go with my 30% rate, you’ll work 28 years.  If you manage to save 50%, you can retire in 17 years!  The more you save, the earlier you reach financial independence and can work as much or as little as you want. And having a military pension will reduce this even further.

The other standard advice you’ll hear and read is that you’ll spend approximately 80% of your pre-retirement income during retirement.  For a physician with a typical high income, that can be a lot of money!  You have to realize that 80% is probably high for a physician because after you retire you’ll have greatly reduced expenses.  This is because:

  • You’ll be in a lower tax bracket.
  • You’re no longer saving for retirement.
  • You no longer need life or disability insurance.
  • You’ve hopefully paid off your mortgage.
  • Your kids are out of the house (if you had any).
  • You have no more job-related expenses.
  • You can give less to charity if you need to.

In the end, you can probably live off of 25-50% of your pre-retirement income, not the standard 80%.  This fact can multiply the effect of a higher than normal savings rate.

3. You are your own financial worst enemy.

Unfortunately for us, we engage in self-defeating behaviors all the time, including:

  • Assuming too much debt.
  • Living above our means in order to keep up with the doctor lifestyle.
  • Purchasing too large and expensive a house.
  • Purchasing too expensive a car.
  • Not maxing out our tax-advantaged retirement account contributions.

Luckily there are some simple rules that, if followed, can keep young physicians and medical students out of trouble.  First, realize that anytime you assume debt you are simply borrowing from your future self for current gain.  Sometimes that is a good idea, like when you borrow to pay for medical school, but pausing before you assume debt to purchase something can help you out greatly.  Getting down to brass tacks, no one really cares what medical school you went to, so you should probably go to the cheapest one you can get into.  In addition, no one really cares how large your house is or what kind of car you drive.  You think they care, but they really don’t.  Don’t try to impress other people.

If you have student debt, you need to get smart about ways to refinance it or get it forgiven with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.  Thanks to the Navy and your tax dollars, I never had student debt, so I’m not going to pretend to be the expert on it.  If you have student debt, go to and learn about options to refinance or get your loans forgiven.

When it comes to houses and cars, if you can’t afford the house you are purchasing on a 15-year fixed mortgage then you are probably buying too expensive of a house.  Rent until you can put down a larger down payment or look at less expensive houses.

When it comes to cars, you should realize that you can buy a very reasonable used car that is 5-10 years old, plenty nice, and very reliable for much less than a new car will cost.  You should make it your goal to pay cash for cars.  If you can’t pay cash, then you should purchase a cheaper car.  Low or no interest loans are tempting because people think they are getting “free money,” but using “free money” to pay for a depreciating asset (one that declines in value) is not a smart financial move.  Your goal should be only to borrow money for appreciating assets (ones that increase in value), like businesses or real estate.

Finally, make sure you maximize your tax advantaged retirement contributions every year.  It is one of the few legal ways to hide money from the IRS, and the compound growth year after year is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

In summary, here are the three things every young physician or medical student needs to know:

1. You can’t control the investment markets, so focus on the two things you can control – investment costs and your asset allocation.

2. Your savings rate is the most important factor determining your eventual net worth, and it should be at least 20-30% of your gross income.

3. You are your own financial worst enemy.

Somebody out there is going to take this advice to heart and get rich.  Is it going to be you?