The new 'blended' retirement system for military servicemembers will take effect January 1, 2018. Here's what you need to know.

Members of the military will have a big decision to make come January 1, 2018: The new “blended” retirement system for servicemembers will take effect.

The Air Force’s website points out that while all new recruits who join up on or after January 1 will automatically be enrolled in the new part of the retirement system, “[n]early 1.6 million current servicemembers will have the option to remain in the current legacy ‘high-3’ retirement system or to choose the [Uniformed Services Blended Retirement System] when the opt-in period for eligible servicemembers opens Jan. 1.

Opt-in eligible servicemembers from all seven of the uniformed services will have an entire year to make their retirement system election. The open period for the majority of servicemembers is from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2018.”

The new system combines part of the traditional defined benefit retirement pension system with a defined contribution system of automatic and matching government contributions through the Thrift Savings Plan.

The changeover to the new system, says the Air Force, is “one of the most wide-reaching and significant changes to military pay and benefits over the last 70 years.”

Servicemembers will need to visit one of these designated resources to opt into BRS:

Army, Air Force, Navy: MyPay (https://mypay.dfas.mil).

Marine Corps: Marine Online (https://www.mol.usmc.mil).

Coast Guard, NOAA Commissioned Corps: Direct Access (https://portal.direct-access.us).

U.S. Public Health Service personnel should contact the USPHS Compensation Branch.

Servicemembers who believe they are eligible to opt in, but do not see the opt-in option available online, should contact their local personnel/human resources office to verify eligibility, according to officials, who add on the website that the decision to opt in is irrevocable, even if a service member changes his or her mind before the Dec. 31, 2018, deadline.

Eligible servicemembers who take no action will remain in the legacy retirement system.

The website suggests that servicemembers take advantage of all available resources to assist in making an informed decision on the financial implications specific to their retirement situation.

The Defense Department endorses several training and informational tools to support a service member’s decision, including the BRS Opt-In Course, the BRS Comparison Calculator and numerous online BRS resource materials.

Servicemembers can also receive no-cost, personal support from an accredited personal financial manager or counselor available at their installation’s military and family support center or by calling Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647.