ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family - We Are The Mighty
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ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family

How to use your Veteran Benefits to Help Achieve Financial Independence

Can you, as a veteran, hack military benefits to financial freedom?  Yes.  The average American household spends $5,000/month.  Let’s imagine that this represents you.  If you succeed in stacking your benefits as monthly passive income to outweigh $5K/month, then you win in hacking your way to financial freedom.

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family

You can win freedom by increasing money flowing in or reducing the money flowing out.  I prefer to focus on income, to think offensively, vs. the defensive approach of aggressive saving and living frugally.  Your expenses can shrink to the floor, but your income has no ceiling.  And as we say in the military, the defense sets up the offense.  The offense remains decisive.

As a veteran, there exist at least four significant sources of passive income that you should hack:  retirement, VADC, SSDI, and VR&E.  You also have at least two state-level benefits on which to give serious thought:  zero property tax, and free college for your dependents.

For illustration, let’s say that you’re an Army Captain (O-3E) retiring at 20 years in 2020.  Let’s also say that you fall under the High-3 pension, with two dependent children, and have a good chance at VA 100.  And yes, presume $5,000/month in expenses.  Sneak peek.  That means $3,700/month (pension), $3,300/month (VA 100), $2,800/month (SSDI), and maybe $1,500/month (VR&E housing stipend).  That adds up to $11,300/month, best-case scenario.

Veteran Retirement and Pension


Retirement qualifies you for a pension.  There exist four pension types:  Final Pay, High-3, CSB/REDUX, and BRS.  The math goes as follows, monthly pension = (retired base pay) x (multiplier) x (years of service).  At present, you can’t choose.  It’s a moot issue.  You have what you have, and that got determined by when you entered.  In our example, the High-3 applies to you.  It calculates as follows, $3,700 = (approx. $7,400) x (2.5%) x (20 years).

There exist five types of retirement:

  • Regular.  Completed 20 years of active service.  You can begin active duty as early as age 17 and retire at 37.  Some do.
  • Reserve.  Reservist with 20 years of service who has reached age 60.  Sometimes called a non-regular retirement.  Ready Reserve recalled to active duty or in response to a national emergency, shall have the age 60 requirement reduced by 3 months for each cumulative period of 90 days (3 months) so performed in any fiscal year after 28 Jan. 2008.
  • TERA.  Temporary Early Retirement Authority.  At least 15, but less than 20 years of active service between 2012 and 2025.  Program expected to end 31 Dec. 2025.  Future use of TERA will require approval by Congress.  Specific eligibility criteria for TERA depends on the service branch.  The Army has in place a limited use of TERA, enough to conclude that it’s not an option.
  • TDRL.  Temporary Disability Retirement List.  Temporary disability rating, placed on retirement rolls by member’s branch of service (max of 5 years) before returning to duty, separating, or proceeding onto PDRL.  Results from a med board.  This results in a military pension.  This retirement check comes from the DOD and not the VA.
  • PDRL.  Permanent Disability Retirement List.  Placed on the retirement rolls by member’s branch of service.

All of the above will result in a pension.  The math will differ for each.  We’ll continue with our High-3 and regular retirement example.  But I’m guessing that you’ll want an idea of how to retire as soon as possible, and with the highest return you can get.  Keep reading.

Regular, reserve, and TERA allow with reasonable certainty for Concurrent Retirement Disability Pay (CRDP).  That means both the pension plus VADC.  CRDP requires retirement under the first three, as well as a ≥50% VA disability rating.  In our example, that means $3,700/month plus $3,300/month (VA 100), or $7,000/month so far and well over the average in household expenses.

Otherwise, the only way to get both, concurrently, is through Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC).  The criteria:

  • Entitled to or receiving retired military pay
  • Rated at least 10% by VA and combat-related
  • Have waived VA pay from retired pay (the VA waiver or offset) (it’s a bit complicated)
  • Can present documentation for the event resulting in the condition

Notice that CRSC can occur before 15 or 20 years, and pay the pension plus VADC.  The math will adjust accordingly.  To keep this article from getting too long, I won’t go over it here.  Know that less time in service or a lower disability rating means a smaller compensation amount.  Also note that yes, with CRSC, you can stack both the pension and VADC, and well before 15 or 20 years.  Such a case would most likely look like TDRL/PDRL plus CRSC.

By the way, combat-related need not refer to actual combat.  Combat-related may mean training that simulates war, e.g., exercises or field training.  It could mean hazardous duty, such as dive, flight, parachute.  Or come from an instrumentality, such as combat vehicles or weapons.  In 2011, as a Second Lieutenant (O-1E) at Fort Lee, a Private negligently discharged her rifle during a range and almost shot my foot.  If she had shot my foot, that would’ve counted as combat-related.

VA Disability Compensation (VADC)


Here’s the big one.  A high enough VADC rating can lead to SSDI, VR&E, zero property tax, free college for dependent children, student loan forgiveness, and more.  The goal here is not to be disabled but to obtain disability compensation.  And winning compensation is probably much easier than you think.  There’s no lying or cheating required or encouraged – only diligence.  We’ll go over ways to give your claim the best chance possible.

Keep this framework in mind:  How much is it?  How long will it take?  Claims, conditions, criteria, and appeals?  Anything quirky?  Where can I get help?

How much is it?  The amount will depend on the VA’s final composite rating and the number of dependents.  The higher the composite and the more dependents, the higher the amount.  In our example, a 100% VADC (or VA 100) with two dependent children would pay $3,300/month, non-taxable.

The final or composite score consists of adding up the ratings of each separate disability.  Two disabilities, each rated at 50, do not add up to 100.  The VA uses a unique table.  If you search Google for a VA disability calculator, try punching in 10 different disabilities.  With 10 disabilities, you’ll need to score the following individual ratings at the least for VA 100:  70, 40, 40, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10.  Notice that using lay math, these individual ratings add to 220.  The rule of thumb is to shoot for 250+ points to reach VA 100.

How long will it take?  Six months to a year or more.  Anecdotal evidence from my friends who’ve reached VA 100 tell me about two years.  You can begin your claim at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits/login, six months from separating or retiring, or upon referral to a medical board.  Fill out the VA Form 21-526EZ.  If you’ve been referred to a medical evaluation board (MEB), your claim will happen as part of the IDES (Integrated Disability Evaluations System) process.

Claims.   Two types, standard and a Fully Developed Claim (FDC).  File an FDC.  The standard claim relies on the VA to obtain your medical information.  The FDC lets you take charge.  It means more work for you, but you don’t want to leave this up to the VA.

When filing your FDC, look for a form to attach to it called a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ).  DBQ refers to a category of standardized forms for specific disabilities.  The VA has created over 70 DBQs, one per disability.  For example, if you intend to file a claim for scars or disfigurement, the DBQ for that is Form 21-0960F-1 (scars/disfigurement).  Check if the disability you intend to claim already comes with a corresponding DBQ.  If not, no worries.  Continue mission.

Conditions.  Two types, primary and secondary.  Primary disabilities refer to those which military service caused or aggravated (made worse).  Notice the part about the military having made worse the condition.  Even if pre-existing, it suffices VADC that military service has exacerbated it.  Primary conditions represent the category that most of us know, and on which we spend most of our efforts trying to win.

There also exist secondary disabilities.  Whereas primary refers to a direct service-connected condition, secondary refers to indirect.  Secondary connects to primary.  These seem easier to win.  Whether they are, know that they represent one more way to increase odds of VA 100.  Some of the more common reasons connecting secondary to primary include behavioral health, illness, medication side effects, and overcompensation.  Also, note that the connecting primary may suffice at a non-compensable rating of 0%.

Yes, 0%.  0% compensation for a primary condition still means service connection, although non-compensable.  You may still use it to achieve compensation for a secondary.  One more time, realize that a 0% rating on a primary can still service-connect to a 100% rating on a secondary.  Makes sense?  It doesn’t matter.  One more way to stack the odds and the benefits in your favor.

Criteria.  For the VA rater to decide, you must connect at least three records:

  • What · your present impairment limits your earning capacity
  • When · you experienced an illness/injury while serving active duty
  • Nexus · that illness/injury caused/aggravated the present impairment (service connection)

Something happened on active duty.  That something, or set of somethings, produced or made worse your present medical condition.  You indeed have a medical condition that limits your earning capacity.  Get straight to the point.  Give the rater these records and nothing more.  If you lack one of these records or clog his inbox, it makes work difficult for him and unlikely for you to win.

The medical nexus letter will look like a memo for the record (MFR).  It should contain four parts:

  • Records review.  The medical professional writing the letter must state that he has looked at your relevant medical records.
  • Medical opinion.  The opinion, which must at minimum say, at least as likely as not (the 50% probability evidence standard).  Equipoise.
  • Medical research.  Reason and evidence to support the opinion.
  • Credentials.  The examiner states his relevant credentials.  An eye doctor probably knows more about feet than a VA rater.  But when it comes to your foot problem, the VA doesn’t want your eye doctor’s opinion.

For each disability you claim, you should also fill out a VA Form 21-4138 (statement in support of a claim).  Tell your story.  Say what the condition is.  Identify what it resulted from, the symptoms, and the severity of those symptoms.  Describe the degree to which it has limited your life.

If the claim requires lay evidence, ask someone relevant to your case to fill out a VA Form 21-4138.  When filled out as lay evidence, it now becomes a buddy letter.  In his letter, he should state how well he knew you during the qualifying incident, and then what he observed about you.

Along the way, the VA may ask you to undergo a C&P (compensation and pension) exam.  It’s a medical review with a VA doctor.  It could be a few questions or a comprehensive physical exam.  Be honest, of course, but do not be on your best day either.  The C&P examiner aims to disqualify you.  Furthermore, carry with you the attitude that you gave military life your best effort.  If he sniffs you out as lazy or looking to milk the system, he’ll decide accordingly.

Even if he does decide against you, you may still get a second opinion from an approved examiner of your choice.  Notice the word equipoise above.  Given a 50% probability, such as when the C&P says no, but your doctor says yes, the benefit of the doubt goes to you.

Appeals.  Yes, you can appeal.  Search for VA Form 20-0998 (your rights to seek further review of our decision).  It outlines four review options:  supplemental claim, higher-level review (HLR), appeal to the board, and a U.S. District Court complaint.  File a supplemental claim given new and relevant evidence.  File an HLR when you have no new evidence.  These first two, especially HLR, appear to result in more success than the last two and happen much quicker.  The last two take years.  The VA Form 20-0998 gives instructions on how to file for review.  More ways to win.  Keep at it.

Quirky things.  We’ll discuss SMC (special monthly compensation) another time.  Know that there exist four types of VA 100:  temporary, schedular, TDIU, and P&T.  Temporary means you’re incapacitated or suffering a severe condition.  If schedular, you reached about 250 lay points.  TDIU pays the equivalent of VA 100 if the member rates at least VA 60 or 70 and cannot obtain substantially gainful employment.  Permanent and Total (P&T) provides the least likely chance of reduction later.  You want P&T.  If you’ve reached VA 100 the other ways, you may write to your local VA Regional Office to request P&T.

Recap.  Stack the odds in your favor.  Use FDCs and DBQs.  File for both primary and secondary disabilities, and claim as many as reasonable.  Shoot for 250+ lay points.  Add buddy letters.  Present the rater with what he needs, and nothing more.  Realize TDIU could shortcut to VA 100.  And use supplemental claims and HLRs.

Get help.  Check out www.VAClaimsInsider.com.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)


Yes, the SSA computers talk to the VA computers.  But eligibility with one doesn’t automatically translate into the other.  Check out www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors.

VADC covers a veteran for loss of earning capacity because of a service-connected medical condition.  SSDI compensates the applicant for the loss of the ability to do substantially gainful work because of a medical condition.  For SSDI, the condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least a year or to result in death.

How much is it?  For our notional Captain (O-3E) with 20 years of work credits, that’s $2,000/month plus $400/month each for two dependent children, or $2,800/month.

How long will it take?  Expect about six months to get a response from the SSA, and a mandatory five-month wait if approved.  Oh, and the five-month wait comes with no back pay.

Claims, conditions, and criteria.  First, you need to meet the non-medical requirements:  sufficient work credits, below retirement age, residency, and not working or earning too much.  As a veteran, you likely already meet all of those.  Then, the SSA asks five questions when evaluating SSDI:

  • Do you work too much or make too much money?
  • Is your medical condition severe?  Will it last at least 12 months?
  • Does the condition meet or exceed a listing?  A listing is a condition found on the SSA’s Listing of Impairments.  It outlines the SSA’s established set of medical conditions determined severe enough to prevent one from performing any gainful activity.
  • Can the applicant perform past relevant work?
  • Can the applicant retrain for new work?

Income, condition, listing, past work, and retraining.  To award SSDI, the applicant must reasonably answer, respectively:  no, yes, yes if so, no, no.  But the gist of it is that the condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least a year or to result in death.

Appeals.  Yes, you can.  Your denial letter should explain.  You typically receive only 60 days from the date of the denial letter to appeal.  If you miss the deadline, you may have to start from the beginning.  Recommend that you seek help by this point.

Quirks.  Instead of applying online or in person, call the SSA at (800) 772-1213.  One book on Social Security puts the burden back onto the SSA when it comes to form-filling and the nuisances of interpreting the forms.  The SSA would know best anyway on how to fill out its own forms.  If you don’t finish it all in one day, the SSA will schedule another phone call to work around your schedule.

You can get SSDI while still serving on active duty.  In what scenario?  Assignment to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU).  Not easy, but not impossible.

Get help.  Check out Side by Side Solutions, LLC, https://www.facebook.com/sbssolutions, founded by Lisa Hiering, mother of a disabled Marine.

Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E)


VR&E intends to help a veteran fix his vocational impairment or employment handicap, resulting from a service-connected disability.  It consists of five tracks.  I’ll just cut to the chase.

How much is it?  Track 4 (employment through long-term services) can work just like the Post-9/11 GI Bill and pay a monthly housing stipend, or subsistence within the VR&E language.  Think of it as BAH.  It depends on the school and on attendance, but we could reasonably estimate around $1,500/month.

There’s also a Track 3 (self-employment) that could pay up to $100K towards business startup costs.  Yes, up to $100K, to you.  You can ride Track 4 up through a doctorate and then get $100K through Track 3 to start your practice.

How long will it take?  Expect about a month to get a meeting with a Voc. Rehab. Counselor (VRC), then another two months to get a decision.

Claims, conditions, criteria.  Fill out a VA Form 28-1900 at www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits/login.  The VA will also ask you to fill out an Individualized Employment Assistance Plan (IEAP), in which you outline exactly what it’ll take to help you.  You’ll need at least a VA 20 rating, or VA 10 for a serious employment handicap.

There’s a 1,200-page manual called the M28R that the VRC uses to do his job. If you’re wondering what questions he’s trying to answer, then check out Part IV, Section B, Chapter 2 (evaluation and planning determinations).

Appeals.  Can you?  Yes.

Quirks.  The C in VRC may stand for counselor, but you should treat him like the C&P examiner.  Think of him more as an interviewer.

Get help.  Check out attorney Benjamin Krause at www.DisabledVeterans.org.

Zero Property Tax · State-Level


Some states, like Texas or Florida, provide zero property tax for disabled veterans.  Also called a homestead exemption.  Typically for VA 100.  Rules vary by state.  For a quick list of states that offer this, check out https://hadit.com/disabled-veterans-property-tax-exemptions-state/.

For a summary of all benefits by state, check out https://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil.  It’s an Army website that summarizes veteran benefits applicable to all service members.

Free College for Dependents · State-Level


Florida and Texas also offer free college tuition in-state up through a BA/BS for the dependents of a disabled veteran.  Typically for VA 100, but a lower rating might suffice.  Varies by state.  Check out https://www.affordablecollegesonline.org/college-resource-center/scholarships-for-veterans-and-dependents/.

Although not direct cash, that’s still a BA/BS degree that would’ve cost $40K at a public four-year college (in-state student), $90K public four-year (out-of-state), or about $180K private.

Bonus · Four More Financial Freedom Hacks!

House Hack · VA Home Loan Guaranty


Use the VA home loan guaranty to get zero down on a residential property.  This hack lets you obtain up to a four-plex.  You could reside in one unit and rent out the other three.  In the unit you live, you could further hack that with roommates or Airbnb.  Eventually, you could refinance to then re-use the VA home loan guaranty and obtain yet another multi-family.

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family

Credit Card Hack · SCRA (Title 50 USC Chapter 50)


Credit cards typically come with a low introductory rate (anywhere from 0% APR to a little more) before becoming about 20%+ APR.  However, if you serve on active duty or if the military called you onto active duty, among other benefits, the SCRA provides a cap at 6% APR and a waiver of service and renewal fees.

By the way, Chase gives me 0% APR as part of its SCRA benefit.  If your side hustle consists of e-commerce, use this credit card hack to boost your margins from arbitraging goods.  How often do the credit card companies check?  About once a year, otherwise, they use your anticipated (hint, self-reported) end date.  Self-reporting applies to those with indefinite contracts.  If this is you, I’m sure you can see how you could self-report an end date far into the future.

Student Loan Hack

 https://DisabilityDischarge.com


On 21 Aug. 2019, President Trump signed a memo to cancel student loan debt for disabled veterans.  To qualify, you’ll need to have either reached VA 100 or have been approved for SSDI.  See https://disabilitydischarge.com for details.

Time Hack · Army Career Skills Program

 www.DODSkillBridge.com


The Army’s Career Skills Program (CSP) allows a Soldier to spend the last six months of active duty interning with a school or employer.  While on CSP, the Soldier still gets paid as if on active duty but instead reports elsewhere.  I’ve seen this flow as smoothly as a one-page form signed by an OIC.  Are you separating or retiring?  Do you have a friend who also happens to have her own business?  It’s like shaving six months off your contract.

This article originally appeared on Active Duty Passive Income. Follow them on Facebook.

MIGHTY CULTURE

11 valuable tax tips and benefits for military families

The holidays are over, and we are now in the year 2020. It’s a good time to start working on our 2019 taxes, because April 15 will be here before we know it. Taxes are overwhelming and complex, but there are numerous tax benefits for military families, so it is important to understand the basics.


ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family

Income

Servicemembers receive different types of pay and allowances. It is important to know which are considered as income and which are not. For servicemembers, income typically includes basic pay, special pay, bonus pay, and incentive pay.

Exclusions

Items normally excluded from income include combat pay, living allowances, moving allowances, travel allowances, and family allowances, such as family separation pay.

Combat pay exclusions are a substantial benefit to servicemembers and spouses. Combat pay is that compensation for active military service for any month while serving in a designated combat zone. This may also include a reenlistment bonus if the voluntary reenlistment occurs in a month while the servicemember is serving in the combat zone. Note that for commissioned officers, there is a limit to the amount of combat pay you may exclude.

The most common living allowances are Basic Allowance for Housing and Basic Allowance for Subsistence. Moving allowances are those reasonable, unreimbursed expenses beyond what the military pays for a permanent change of station.

Sale of Homes

Servicemembers and spouses often decide to purchase homes when moving to new duty stations. Often, we then turnaround and sell the homes a few years later before moving again.

What happens if you make a profit from the sale of this home? If you are fortunate enough to profit, you may qualify to exclude up to 0,000 of the gain from your income, or up to 0,000 if you file a joint return with your spouse. This is referred to as the Sale of Primary Home Capital Gain exclusion. Normally, this exclusion requires that you owned the home for at least two years and lived in it for at least two of the last five years. There is an exception, however, for servicemembers. If you were required to move as the result of a permanent change of station before meeting these requirements, you still may qualify for a reduced exclusion.

Claim for Tax Forgiveness

If a servicemember dies while on active duty, there are circumstances where the taxes owed will be forgiven by the IRS. Contact your closest Legal Assistance Office immediately for assistance using the website provided later in the article.

Extensions

If April 15 is quickly approaching and you are running out of time, remember, there are several different extension requests that military families may make. If the servicemember is in a combat zone, an automatic extension covers the time period the servicemember is in the combat zone plus 180 days after the last day in the combat zone.

Avoid Tax Scams

In November 2019, I wrote an article on common scams during the holidays. Unfortunately, scams are not limited to the holidays. There are numerous tax scams that have stolen personal information and millions of dollars. Scammers use the mail, telephone and email to initiate contact. Please remember that the IRS never initiates contact by email, text messages or on social media pages to request personal or financial information. The IRS initiates most contact through the regular U. S. Postal Service mail. Finally, the IRS never uses threats or bullying to demand payments.

If you have any questions, contact the IRS with a telephone number you find on its website (www.irs.gov) and verify what you received is legitimate before doing anything. To protect yourself, only use an IRS telephone number from its website. Do not use a telephone number you received that you suspect may be part of a tax scam from an email, text message or social media page.

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family

Signing Tax Returns

Normally, both the servicemember and spouse must sign jointly filed tax returns. If one spouse will be absent during tax season, it is advisable to have an IRS special power of attorney, IRS Form 2848 (Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative). You may access this form on the IRS website.

Military Tax Centers

Annually, many Legal Assistance Offices worldwide help servicemembers and spouses file their federal and state income tax returns starting in early February. Last year, for example, Army Legal Assistance personnel and volunteers prepared and filed over one hundred thousand Federal and over sixty-four thousand State income tax returns saving servicemembers and their families more than million in tax preparation and filing fees.

If you don’t live near a military installation, visit the Department of Defense Military One Source website at https://www.militaryonesource.mil for additional information on accessing free online tax assistance.

Legal Assistance Offices

If you have specific tax questions or receive correspondence from the IRS, contact the closest legal assistance office to schedule an appointment. Use the Armed Forces Legal Assistance website (https://legalassistance.law.af.mil) that I provided in the October 2019 blog to locate your nearest legal assistance office. The quicker you address your issues, the better likelihood that you will successfully resolve them.

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family

Valuable Tax Tip for 2020

Finally, here is a valuable tip for next year’s taxes. Does it seem like every year you are scrambling to find tax documents and receipts from throughout the tax year? Relieve this stress by getting a folder and writing “Tax Year 2020” on the front of it. Keep it in an easy-to-find place, and every time you receive a document or receipt that may impact your taxes place it in the folder. That way, at the end of this year, you will have most of the supporting documents you need already together.

Future Blogs

Be on the lookout for future blogs that will continue to discuss specific legal issues often encountered by servicemembers and military spouses. As always, this blog series will help to protect your family and you!

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY MONEY

Finance Friday: 4 things to look for in finding the right lender

When you’ve made the decision to start shopping for a home loan, it is important to make sure you find a lender who will be your partner in the home buying process. It is encouraged to shop around; you won’t be penalized because the credit bureaus expect it. This is a lot of money you’re about to invest! The most frequently asked question from home loan shoppers is, “What is your interest rate?” but it is absolutely essential to understand that there is so much more to a home loan than just a rate.


Dealmakers and breakers beyond the stated interest rate:

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family

media.defense.gov

Are there fees or points baked into the loan?

You want to make an apples-to-apples comparison, and that goes far beyond rate. Take a look in “Section A” of the lender estimate to look out for things such as origination fees, processing fees, underwriting fees, and points. All of these fees impact your bottom line, and even if the interest rate is better, it could still be the worse deal for you. Mortgage math can be complicated; you want a lender that will not charge these fees and break down your estimate line by line. Your lender should empower you to make an informed decision, rather than boxing you in a loan product that wasn’t necessarily the “right choice” for you.

Is your lender accessible?

When you’re out shopping for a home on your evening and weekend time, you want someone who is available to answer financing questions on the particular property. A good lender will work real-time with your Realtor to send over updated approval letters specific to the home, to include accurate property tax information (which is important because I’ve seen many cases where a lower-priced house costs more monthly because of taxes or HOA). You want a lender who will answer your frantic calls on the weekend when you have a burning question that just can’t wait. You want a lender who will answer a text when you have something pop up. You want a partner in the process that values you as a person, not just another file.

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family

Can you close on time?

Look at your lender’s track record of closing turn time. Some lenders will advertise interest rates with a lock period of 45+ days. That is an indicator of how long it is going to take them to get the job done. Most mortgages need to close within 30 days or less, and the last thing you want is to jeopardize the contract on your home or the sweet rate you’ve locked in.

Does your lender educate you?

You want a trusted guide that takes the time to answer all of the questions you ask, and the ones you didn’t. A mortgage loan is full of information you don’t know that you don’t know. You want someone who takes the time to explain #allofthethings and makes you feel well informed and empowered throughout the entire process, start to finish.

Bottom line is you want to feel like you’re working with a lender that is your advocate and partner throughout the entire home purchase experience. It is important to have a relationship you can trust with the most important of all investments – your home.

MIGHTY MONEY

4 insanely expensive versions of childhood games

If you ever passed the time in your childhood by desperately trying to get four plastic tokens to line up before your opponent did, you just might be thrilled by the new home décor collection by designer Edie Parker.

The collection, available on Moda Operandi, sells fancy, elevated versions of several classic, childhood games — perhaps the most noteworthy being Connect Four.

Officially called “Four in a Row,” the upscale version by Parker is handmade of acrylic and costs $1,495. You’re probably more familiar with the one that looks like this:



ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family
The Connect Four you probably recognize is collapsible and made of plastic.
(Amazon photo)

The whimsical collection also features a colorful $2,495 Tic Tac Toe board with golden letters, a $2,295 domino set, a $1,295 box to hold playing cards, and a $1,395 glow-in-the-dark puzzle box decorated with obsidian sand.


ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family
Designer Edie Parker made a $1,495 version of Connect Four.u200b
(Moda Operandi photo)

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family
This fancy Tic Tac Toe board can be yours for just $2,495.
(Moda Operandi photo)

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family
Who doesn’t need a bedazzled $1,295 card box?
(Moda Operandi photo)

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family
u200b
(Moda Operandi photo)

In addition to the games, the home décor line offers several brightly-colored vanity trays ranging from $750 to $850 and coaster sets.

If you’re lucky enough to have a budget that allows you to spend hundreds of dollars on fancy board games, you’d better act quickly — the collection will only be available until June 29, 2018, according to the website.

But if you don’t have a spare $1,500 lying around, you can always indulge your nostalgia with the classic Hasbro version of Connect Four that sells on Amazon for $8.77.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

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Are there any military spouse retirement benefits?

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Mrs. Hyun Crites, wife of Chief Master Sgt. James Crites, 9th Operations Group superintendent (right), is presented the Military Spouse Medal during her husband’s retirement ceremony. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Bobby Cummings


Military retirement often marks the end of a long road.

As a military spouse, you’ve put in months of waiting on your service member to come home from long trainings or deployment, all while holding down your home and taking care of your family. You’ve battled career challenges for yourself, planning disasters, cross-country moves and everything Murphy’s Law could throw at you.

But other than the long-sought break from the challenges of military life, what’s in military retirement for you? Although your service member is who put on the uniform every day, military retirement isn’t without perks for military spouses or ways that you can still benefit from the community.

And while all of the benefits available to you are by virtue of your spouse’s service, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take full advantage of them.

Military spouse retirement benefits

Health and dental care. After military retirement, you are eligible to continue using Tricare, the military’s health care system. If you are near a base, you may even still be able to be seen in the military treatment facility or hospital if that is your wish. You can also sign-up for a dental plan for military retirees.

Commissary and shopping privileges. Now that you’re not a part of the active-duty military anymore, you might find that your living expenses go up. But as the spouse of a military retiree, you still have access to the military commissary and exchange systems. Although just how much you save at those stores over civilian markets is an often-debated topic, everyone agrees there is some benefit to shopping at them.

Military lodging and recreation. As a military retiree, you still have access to the military lodging and recreation systems. Although there are some rules restricting who can stay in military lodges overseas, most allow military retirees. Maybe now is the time to take that girls’ or guys’ vacation you’ve been dreaming about for the last 10 years.

GI Bill and education benefits. If your service member transferred the Post-9/11 GI Bill to you while he or she was still on active duty, you can use it to go back to school. Through it, you will receive a monthly housing allowance, an annual books stipend and, depending on where you are going to school, all of your tuition costs and fees covered. The GI Bill must be transferred while the service member is on active duty for this to be available.

If you don’t have the GI Bill and your service member has died, you might be eligible for Survivor and Dependents Educational Assistance.

Survivor Benefit Plan. If your service member chooses to set up the Survivor Benefit Plan, an insurance policy, at the time of his retirement, you will have access to that money after he or she dies. That plan can be complicated and confusing, so go here for the full explanation.

VA benefits after your service member’s death. Although a service member’s pension checks end with his or her death, you may have access to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, and the Veteran’s Death Pension.

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House vets panel subpoenas details on VA art purchases

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The VA campus in Palo Alto, CA | VA photo


The Republican majority on the House Veterans Affairs Committee pushed through a voice vote Wednesday to subpoena documents from the Department of Veterans Affairs on millions spent for artworks at VA facilities and huge cost overruns at a Denver-area hospital.

Also read: VA awards $300 million in grants to help end veteran homelessness

“It’s unfortunate that the VA’s continuing lack of transparency has led us to this decision” to move for the subpoenas, said Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican and the committee chairman.

“I am confident we are not receiving the whole picture from the department” on spending for art and ornamental furnishings, including $6.4 million at Palo Alto, California, facilities.

The committee also wants specifics on the costs for a new Aurora, Colorado, facility that ballooned to $1.7 billion, nearly three times the original estimate.

Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat and the ranking committee member, argued that the VA was already working to provide answers and warned that the subpoenas could expose whistleblowers. “Now you will be outing employees who were honest with investigators” on the artworks and the spending on the Aurora facility, Takano said.

In June, Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said, “We got a lot of things wrong” with construction of the Aurora facility, but releasing an internal VA investigation would be counterproductive.

“You end up chilling the whole investigative process,” Gibson said in a news conference at the construction site.

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House Veterans Affairs chairman Rep. Jeff Miller

The subpoenas ask for all information on VA art and ornamental furniture purchases since 2010. The VA’s response in the inquiry thus far has been “wholly incomplete,” Miller charged.

“We will not accept VA trying to pull the wool over the eyes of this committee and the American people for poor decision-making and waste of funds made on the part of the department,” Miller said.

“VA claims to have spent approximately $4.7 million on art nationwide from January 2010 to July 2016, yet the committee has already substantiated over $6.4 million spent during this period in the Palo Alto health care system alone,” he said.

Miller again singled out artworks at the Palo Alto Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, described by the VA as one of five facilities nationwide designed to provide intensive rehabilitative care to veterans and service members with severe injuries to more than one organ system. Miller made similar complaints about Palo Alto nearly a year ago in a House floor speech.

Miller took issue with “Harbor,” a huge rock sculpture in a pool that its designers said was intended to evoke “a sense of transformation, rebuilding and self-investigation.”

When installation was included, it cost nearly $1 million “to put the rock up,” Miller told the committee.

Miller also complained about an artwork called “Horizon” on the walls of the Palo Alto facility’s parking garage.

“Horizon” spells out in Morse code the “With malice toward none …” quote from President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Second Inaugural address and a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, which says in part, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”

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This coding boot camp is a great way to get started with a tech career

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(Photo provided by Paul Dillon)


Coding boot camps are programs that teach programming skills. Typically, these boot camps are short (12 weeks to 7 months), often intense (sometimes requiring 90 hours/week), and usually designed to teach beginners enough so that they can become professional junior software developers.

And, the demand for their graduates is robust and growing. According to Dave Molina, a former U.S. Army captain, and the founder and executive director of Operation Code, a non-profit online, open source coding program for active duty military, veterans, and their families, “There are over 200,000 computing jobs open annually in the U.S., with 30,000 of those jobs filled by computer science graduates; however, that number is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2020. Meanwhile, we have 250,000 U.S. military personnel that exit the service annually, many of whom possess the discipline and aptitude to fill those jobs, if they had some training in computer coding skills.”

These are generally good paying jobs. Rod Levy, the founder and executive director of Code Platoon, a non-profit coding camp in Chicago for veterans, states that “starting salaries for graduates coming right out of the boot camp are about $65,000, rising to about $100,000 after five years of experience. Placement rates for graduates are high.”

So, why are coding boot camps a good option for veterans?

Levy lists several reasons: “As we know, veterans often struggle ‘translating’ their military experience to a civilian audience. Coding boot camps solve this problem by giving veterans job-ready skills that are well understood in the job marketplace”, he said.

“Even more important”, Levy added, “successful software developers typically need to work well in teams, demonstrate grit and resilience, and have to be able to systematically problem-solve. These characteristics are often found in veterans.”

Molina supports this view. He said, “Military veterans have the right set of skills to become programmers. Technical expertise, emotional resilience, psychological persistence, and teamwork—these are the qualities found in our best and brightest and they are the qualities of the best programmers.”

There are coding boot camps to serve about every veteran’s needs. These various coding boot camps are distinguished by the following characteristics:

  • Level of intensity. “Immersive” is around 60 – 80 hours a week; “full-time” can be 30 to 70 hours a week; “part-time” is typically 10 to 30 hours week.
  • In-person or remote. In-person means you spend the majority of the training on-site, with instructors and fellow students on premises. Remote means you do the training on your computer at home regardless of location.
  • Technology stack. Most coding boot camps teach web development or mobile development. Web development means you learn to write applications for the web—some focus on the Ruby on Rails, Python, Node.js or .NET. Mobile development means developing native apps, for example on iPhones or Androids. The most popular technology stacks being taught are Ruby on Rails, Python/Django, Full Stack Javascript, C#/.Net, and Java.
  • Internships/Job Placement. This one is obvious. Coding boot camps that offer internships and/or have high job placement rates for entry-level software developers should be given serious consideration.
  • Population focus. A few coding boot camps serve specific populations and look to tailor their programs to those populations, as well as creating a “safe” space where members of those populations may feel more comfortable. There are coding boot camps just for women, minorities and veterans, to name a few. Obviously, veterans should choose a boot camp that caters to their specific needs, when possible, and leverage their New GI Bill wherever possible.

Given all of these various aspects of coding boot camps, what should a veteran look for in choosing a coding boot camp? At a minimum, veterans should consider the following items when selecting a boot camp:

  • Different boot camps are meant to serve different interests. Remote online boot camps, like Thinkful.com, are much more convenient than in-person boot camps, such as Code Platoon, where you have to move to Chicago for a few months. The trade-off for that convenience is that it may be very hard to stay motivated, understand the material thoroughly and ask your peers and instructors questions. In-person boot camps, on the other hand, offer the immediate feedback and support that can be missing in remote programs, although they may not be located near when the veteran lives or works. Consequently, they may be much more expensive to attend.

A representative list of code schools and scholarship information can be found on the Operation Code website at the following link: https://www.operationcode.org/code_schools

  • If your goal is to learn skills for a new career in programming, look for a program that will put you through at least roughly 1,000 hours of coding/instruction, at an absolute minimum. Whether this is in an immersive 12-week program at 80 hours a week, or a year-long program at 20 hours a week is up to you; but 1,000 hours of focused, directed learning in programming is the bare minimum needed to become a competent programmer.
  • The choice of technology stack is often a source of much discussion, with trade-offs discussed around the number of jobs versus the learning curve needed for various languages. In the end, there are many jobs in each of the languages/stacks that are being taught. Always look for a coding boot camp where the programming stack is in substantial demand, with many jobs available immediately upon graduation.

Cost is an important consideration that the veteran needs to keep in mind in selecting the right code camp to meet their needs. Most coding schools offer scholarships to veterans to help to defray the costs. At Code Platoon, for instance, the tuition is $13,000 for the full program. However, all veterans accepted into the program receive a scholarship of $10,500, bringing the total cost of the program to the veteran to $2,500. Travel expenses to and from Chicago, and living expenses while attending the program in Chicago, are extra.

There is no charge for Operation Code programs and services for active duty military, National Guard and reserve troops, veterans, and their spouses. Information on conference scholarships can be found on the Operation Code website: https://operationcode.org/scholarships.

What about using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend one of these coding camps? Currently, 5 code schools across the country accept the New GI Bill: Sabio (Los Angeles), Code Fellows (Seattle), Galvanize, RefactorU and SkillDistillery (Colorado).

Most coding schools, however, are not eligible to receive GI Bill funds. Code Platoon hopes to be eligible for GI Bill funding within a year. Each state has its own authorizing agency that approves programs for participation in the New GI Bill, with two years of school operating experience generally required. More information on this subject can be found on the Operation Code website at https://operationcode.org/code_schools.

Internships, mentoring partners, and job placement are all important considerations for the veteran in selecting a coding camp. Code Platoon, for instance, pairs its students with two industry partners, who work with the student during the entire program.

Operation Code offers its military veteran members ongoing software mentorship through its Software Mentor Protege Program, where its members get help with their code, pairing online in a peer-to-peer learning environment with professional software developers for lifelong learning and understanding in an inclusive and nurturing environment.

And, most coding schools help their graduates with job placement assistance, upon completion of their programs.

It is obvious that veterans need to consider a lot of things before applying to a coding camp.

The different types of programs, whether on-site or online, need to be determined. The reputation of the coding camp, the success of its graduates, costs, potential use of the GI Bill, scholarships, internships, mentoring and job placement assistance all need to be carefully researched.

But, one thing is perfectly clear about obtaining the skills necessary to be a successful computer programmer. It offers the opportunity to have a lasting career in a growing, well-compensated field that’s going to change the world.

And, what could be better than that for veterans and their families?

Watch this introduction to Code Platoon:

And now watch this introduction to Operation Code:
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Paul Dillon is the head of Dillon Consulting Services, LLC, a firm that specializes in serving the veteran community with offices in Durham and Chicago. For more visit his website here.
Articles

This military spouse grew her own business despite 2 PCS moves

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family
Lakesha Cole was named the 2014 AFI Military Spouse of the Year in a ceremony in Washington, DC in May, 2014


In many ways, Lakesha Cole is the typical military spouse. A mother and wife, Cole has spent the last five years like many other military spouses: focused on a passion while juggling her family responsibilities.

But it’s the way she’s done it that sets her apart. Recently, Cole and her husband, Gunnery Sgt. Deonte Cole, and their children completed a Permanent Change of Station from Okinawa, Japan, to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

And along with their kids and personal effects, the Coles also took their successful business inside the Okinawa Exchange with them.

This was the second time Cole packed up her company, She Swank Too, and hauled it overseas. Two years after debuting their company aboard Camp Pendleton, California, the Cole’s took on a PCS to Okinawa, embarking on a mission to open the first brick and mortar She Swank Too there.

Cole spoke with We Are the Mighty about her experience just trying to get a meeting with the retail manager in Okinawa.

“He was reluctant to do business with me,” she recalled, after waiting for six months to secure a meeting with the manager. He argued that military spouses didn’t believe “the rules apply to them,” citing spouses who formerly ran businesses in the retail space with poor business practices.

Cole says she presented her business plan, complete with financial reports, customer data and testimonials, and samples, to the manager. They agreed to a 30 day trial run of a brick and mortar She Swank Too. Three years later, the store accompanied the Coles on their PCS.

When asked what steps an entrepreneur should take during a PCS, Cole was quick to answer, “Stay active and… communicate with your customers.” Customer interaction is one of the focal points of the company. “We tapped into the hearts and homes of our customers,” Cole said.

The motivation behind the company was simple. “We debuted our first children’s collection … to introduce entrepreneurship to our daughter,” Cole recalled.

Cole’s husband is equally involved in the business. “The least recognized role in a business is … that person’s spouse,” Cole said. Cole’s husband is not only an active participant in the company, but a financial investor as well.

Cole isn’t just a business owner. In addition to She Swank Too, Cole is a military spouse retail coach, the founder, CEO and owner of Milspousepreneur, and an active advocate for military affiliated entrepreneurship in hopes of reversing high milspouse unemployment.

“My focus remains in using this business as a vehicle to give back,” Cole said

MIGHTY MONEY

6 things you should know about the GI Bill

1. Be strategic about your degree

Choose a degree that leads to a career and a school that can help build a career network. I know it looks tempting to get the BAH, and take random classes. Don’t take that temptation. If you have to, go to a community college for two years to get a taste for school, and then choose a direction.


Read More: GI Bill gets huge boost with this new law

2. Research schools

Choose a school that lets you go to school year-round. If you can take 6 classes per semester, do it. If four is better for your school-life balance, do that. Remember, it may be more economical to take more classes. If your school charges the same for 12 credits as 18, take 18 credits. It might be hard, but you will be pushing through more effectively. Again though, you want to succeed, so only take a course load that helps you succeed.

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family
Life hack: bend your young, naïve classmates to your war-hardened will.

3. Plan it out

Plan your classes down to the day. Look at the schedule for each semester. The GI Bill is prorated down to the day. If you have even one-day left, you will qualify for the entire semester including BAH. By planning this, you’ll be able to get more from your GI Bill. Also, the BAH is lower for an online program, but if the degree gives you something of benefit, it might be worth it to take a lower BAH rate. Focus on the long-term plan.

4. Choose a school based on the professors and the network they offer you

This is not GI Bill specific, but your professors and fellow-students will be your network in the future. Look at alumni. Look at the research by your professors. Look at who works for the school in a consulting or a part-time capacity. These relationships are super important towards shaping your future. Utilize them.

Read More: 4 schools the GI Bill pays for other than traditional college

5. Don’t be afraid to change direction and re-plan everything

I did this in my first semester of undergrad. I had a plan that wasn’t smart. My professors pushed me toward a degree that would get me to my goals. That being said, my last semester of Graduate School, I changed my mind on what I wanted to do with my life. It happens. I am creating my own peacebuilding business instead of going to work for the UN. I have all the skills for this from my two degrees, and it fits my interests better.

ADPI H.E.L.P.S: Six Secret Hacks to Financial Freedom for Your Family
You’re never too old to mess with the bell curve.

6. Be active in planning, preparing, and choosing all aspects of your degree path

This is part of planning your schedule, but it’s also about taking classes that will help you in your career. Don’t take a math class that you don’t need. Don’t take gym just to take it. Take classes that teach you things that you will use. If you do this, you’ll get more than your money’s worth from the GI-Bill.

This is how I’ve used the GI-Bill with purpose, and how I think you can do the same.

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How a Navy pilot-turned-Superbowl winner made it on Wall Street

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Phil McConkey is not your average Wall Streeter.


His father worked three jobs to put him through private school. He served in the US Navy as a nuclear weapons transshipment pilot, before winning a National Football League Superbowl title with the New York Giants.

He is now president at Academy Securities, a broker-dealer founded in 2009 that employs veterans and service-disabled veterans in areas like investment banking and trading.

McConkey sat down with Skiddy von Stade, CEO of finance career services company OneWire, to talk about his background, and Academy Securities.

During that conversation, he laid out why experience with the military is valuable for those who want to break into the cutthroat financial services industry.

Military culture is honesty, integrity, loyalty, teamwork and by the way, service. We’re in a service industry. Who knows more about those qualities than military veterans? When those qualities and experiences come into helping our clients, it really resonates.

He added:

We’re a small company, growing. We’d like to be a bulge-bracket investment bank broker-dealer at some point. We don’t have the resources that the big banks have, but we’re nimble, we’re quick, and we have differentiated types of value that we add. We got nine senior-level retired generals and admirals, people who have fingers on the pulse of geopolitical macro world we live in. And that’s a value to customers if they’re in capital markets. If they’re managing money.

Watch the full interview with Phil McConkey here.

MIGHTY MONEY

Market takes a dive on news of Trump victory

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The DOW took a hit after Trump was declared the President-Elect, a slump that was felt around the world.


The stock market took a massive dive just before and moments after Donald Trump was declared the President-Elect around 0230 today.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that there was a moment of panic felt around the world as countries like Australia, Mexico, and Japan had market slumps in response to voting results showing Trump’s gradual climb.

Fortune reported that the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped almost 650 points during after hour trading; SP 500 was down 4 percent, the Nikkei was down 5 percent, and the Mexican peso had plummeted almost 12 percent. The drop in the Mexican peso was the largest the currency has seen in over 20 years.

The Economist reports that “vague and erratic” statements from Trump in regards to trade and foreign policy have the rest of the world worried.

This might motivate some service members and veterans to pull their funds out of Thrift Savings Plans, 401(k)s, and other investment tools. Before they do that, take note that the dive was temporary and seems to be recovering. According to The Guardian, U.S. yields (interest rates) on U.S. debt is on the rise.

That bounce, according to The Guardian, is due in part to Trump’s acceptance speech.

Alex Edwards of UKForex wrote “[Trump’s] appeasing tone has definitely helped” the market response.

Jeremy Cook of World First writes “It’s because he sounded more presidential.”

That said, Paul Krugman from the New York Times writes “If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.”

So how does this impact your investment and retirement dollars?

Most experts would say don’t panic just yet. Right now, it’s still unclear how exactly Trump’s election will impact the U.S. and global economies in the long run. It would be premature to pull funds out of the TSP and other market investments, but should you decide to do that, consult a financial advisor.

Articles

What is Career Incentive Pay and why do you need it?

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The Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) departs Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for sea trials following a maintenance availability.


Career Incentive Pay is another part of the U.S. military’s Special and Incentive pay system and is intended to help the Services address their manning needs by motivating service members to volunteer for specific jobs that otherwise pay them significantly more in the civilian sector.

Each career incentive pay amount is in addition to base pay and other entitlements.

Title 37 U.S. Code, chapter 5, subchapter 1 outlines several types of S&I pay, and sections 301a, 301c, 304, 305a and 320 address incentive pays that are career specific.

Section 301a

1. Aviation Career Incentive

Who: Military pilots

How much: $125 to $840 per month, dependent on number of years serving as an aviator. This lasts the duration of the pilot’s aviation career.

Section 301c

2. Submarine Duty Incentive (SUBPAY)

Who: Navy personnel aboard submarines.

How much: The Secretary of the Navy has the ability to set SUBPAY up to $1,000 per month, but it is currently between $75 and $835 per month.

Section 304

3. Diving Duty

Who: Service member divers.

How much: $340 for enlisted personnel and $240 for officers per month.

Section 305a

4. Career Sea

Who: Naval officers who’ve been assigned duties above and beyond what might be typical for an officer in the same rank and which are critical to operations.

How much: $50 – $150 per month, dependent on rank. There is a limit on payments made to O-3s to O-6s, and only a certain percentage of personnel in each rank can qualify for the pay.

Section 320

5. Career Enlisted Flyer

Who: Enlisted personnel on flight crews for the Air Force and Navy.

How much: $150 – $400 depending on years in the aviation field.

For more information on hazardous duty incentive pay and other S&I pays, check out Military Compensation.

MIGHTY MONEY

Tips for budgeting for the holidays

As the holidays get closer, many military families find themselves looking for ways to save money and budget appropriately for the upcoming gift-giving season. Random COVID-19 impulse buys, a downward spiraling economy, job loss, and purchases related to new homeschooling or virtual schooling curriculum are leaving many of us financially stressed in 2020. Check out these holiday budgeting tips that will help you start the new year off on the right financial footing.

Tips on budgeting for the holidays

So how do you try to save and budget for this holiday season when your finances may have taken unexpected hits because of the coronavirus pandemic? Financial expert and military spouse Lacey Langford from The Military Money Expert says there are three things you should evaluate when you start budgeting for the holidays: your current holiday savings, the total amount you want to spend for the holidays, and who is on your list. 

“Knowing how much you have to spend is the jumping-off point for your budget,” Langford said. “Then you can look at [ways to save] between now and Christmas.”

You will also want to examine how much you want to spend for the holidays. You can do this by looking at your current savings account balance. Subtract the amount you want to keep in savings as your emergency and investment amounts to find your total holiday shopping budget. Once you have that number, you can write down the people on your holiday shopping gift list, and assign each person an amount of money you would like to spend on them. “[When you] know who you’re buying for it makes it easy to firm up your spending budget,” says Langford. 

“Save money every month, starting in January. … Set up an automatic $100 transfer from your checking to your savings at the beginning of the month. By the time November rolls around, you’ll have $1,100 to holiday shop with,” Langford suggests. 

But don’t fret — if you aren’t that organized with your holiday budgeting this year, you can still do some things to help you save some cash for the next several weeks: 

  • Don’t procrastinate: Shop sales when you see them. You can even do this throughout the year.
  • Use apps like Qube Money that utilizes the popular envelope system or Tiller that helps you budget throughout the year.
  • Cancel your cable or streaming services.
  • Honey and Rakuten are two websites that offer cash back for purchases made on other sites — even Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Target participate

“Don’t forget to use your military benefits when shopping for the holidays,” Langford said. 

Shop My Exchange, ID.Me Shop, and GovX are all military-specific and provide discounts or lists of companies that give military discounts online. 

The military exchanges also offer a new layaway program as well. Layaway not only helps you pay for what you can manage in a certain timeframe but also allows you to stick to your monthly budget. There are several different options for layaway, from 30 days for clothing and handbags up to 120 days on fine jewelry. A deposit purchase of $25 and 15% of the item’s purchase price, plus service fees are required to put your items on layaway at any military exchange. You can find out more information by visiting the Exchange website

Even if your family is in a good place financially, you should start considering your holiday budget about 6-8 weeks using the funds you have saved away throughout the year. Budgeting is a great way to keep your family on track, make sure your nest eggs continue to thrive, and help your family prepare for the unexpected — like a worldwide pandemic. 

Want more money tips? Download our free 2020 Military Money Guide

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

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