WASHINGTON -- With the launch of the new Blended Retirement System, service members may wonder how to compare their retirement benefits with the existing legacy system. To help with this, the Defense Department has launched a comparison calculator for eligible service members to analyze their estimated retirement benefits under both the legacy system and the Blended Retirement System (BRS).

The tool walks members through five screens, allowing users to adjust 12 data fields and compare benefit scenarios under both systems, according to Air Force Maj. Michael Odle, the Defense Department's assistant director of military compensation policy.

The calculator is aimed at helping eligible members make the best decision about whether to remain in the current retirement plan, known as the High-3 System, or opt into the Blended Retirement System, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2018, he said.

Eligible service members have until Dec. 31, 2018, to enroll in the new system. Military members who enter service on or after Jan. 1, 2018, will automatically be enrolled in the BRS.

The tool is meant to provide flexibility so that members can compare estimated benefits under a variety of situations, said Steve Galing, the lead analyst in the Defense Military Personnel Policy Analytical Directorate.

Service members are advised to consult with a financial professional, he said. "This is a personal decision," he added. "There are a lot of various resources available to our members, but ultimately it is up to the member."

DOD-ENDORSED CALCULATOR

The calculator is a comprehensive tool designed to take into account the unique financial situations of all who serve -- active duty, National Guard members and reservists, Odle said. It is designed to be used in conjunction with the mandatory BRS opt-in course.

This comparison calculator is the only comparison tool endorsed by DOD, he added.

The opt-in BRS course is available with a common access card (CAC) through Joint Knowledge Online, or through a service's learning management system.

Additionally, an optional training course for the calculator will be available in the next few weeks, Odle said.

EXPLORING OPTIONS UNDER CALCULATOR

If users hover over underlined text in the calculator, an information box will pop up that will highlight further information on that particular topic, Odle explained. More information is available through the links in the "more info" section under each page of the calculator.

After a user inputs all the information in the 12 data fields, the calculator will generate a results page. Service members are encouraged to go through the process several times to see how their projected benefits change under various situations, Odle said.

The comparison calculator does not take into account optional Thrift Savings Plan service member contributions under the legacy retirement plan, and it does not account for optional monthly automatic Treasury Direct Government Savings Bonds purchased under the legacy plan, he explained.

All currently-serving members are grandfathered under their legacy retirement plans. Active component service members with fewer than 12 years of service as of Dec. 31, 2017, and reservists in a pay status with fewer than 4,320 retirement points as of Dec. 31, 2017, are covered under the existing system, but are eligible to opt into the Blended Retirement System.