Pump up your savings with Military Saves Month - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MONEY

Pump up your savings with Military Saves Month

As a service member or veteran, the importance of fitness is ingrained into every fiber of your being. From the beginning of your military career during your basic training, to later spending years locating your PT belt before early morning sessions, you know that fitness and gains are everything.

What about your financial fitness? 

How often do you check in with your income, expenditures, savings, retirement, and investments? No one’s testing you on them, no one’s leading you in weekly training sessions, and there is no chance of “busting tape.” So, what sort of battle buddy do you have for accountability when it comes to your money? Who’s staying on top of you to make sure that you’re staying financially fit?

Military Saves Keeps You On Track

We’re not drill sergeants, but we are a small team of veterans and military spouses who apply behavioral economics to motivate the military community to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. One of our team members is even an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®) and the other two have proudly learned from experience (a.k.a. The School of Hard Knocks), so we’ve all been there!

Military Saves is a participant in the Department of Defense Financial Readiness Network. Our research-based program is coordinated by the nonprofit organization, Consumer Federation of America.

We won’t have you sign on the dotted line, (once was enough), but we do encourage you to take the Military Saves Pledge. Once you make a promise to yourself to embark on your financial fitness journey, you’ll join a community of #MilitarySavers, and can look to Military Saves for accountability. We’ll keep you on track with emails, text reminders, free resources, and tips to help you realize your financial goals.

Pump Up Your Money – Military Saves Month

If your money habits could use a boot camp, or your account balances could get stronger, and you’ve decided it’s time for your money to start working for you, then you’re in luck!

military saves month
Financial wellness takes time to build, and we all have to start somewhere!

April is the annual Military Saves Month, a free, virtual event where hundreds of organizations come together to encourage the military community to do a financial wellness check in. 

Over the course of a month, we’ll cover money-related topics from a relatable, down-to-earth, positive perspective. Savers end the month with tools, resources, and clarity on their current financial situation, new savings goals, and a realistic plan to achieve them. 

In addition to this wealth of information, participants have the chance to win $500 during our #ImSavingFor Sweepstakes! It’s like pre-workout for your bank account and is a great way to propel you toward your financial fitness goals!

We also invite our Savers to submit their story of how they turned their finances around, paid off debt, bought a home, saved up six figures, or even retired early. Not only can you get featured on our blog, but we’ll send you $50 if your story is selected!

The truth is, accountability works, and we have the research to back it up. As they say, a goal without a plan is just a wish.

We look forward to having you join us for Military Saves Month in April, and cultivating a savings account that reflects your physical and mental discipline. Visit us at militarysaves.org for more information.

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Military Saves Week kicks off worldwide

Military Saves Week kicked off at U.S. military installations worldwide on Monday.


Every year, America Saves, a non-profit foundation designed to help Americans make smarter financial choices, hosts Military Saves Week, a military oriented campaign observed aboard military installations and sponsored by various financial institutions and other organizations.

Military Saves Week focuses on helping to educate military service members and their families on healthy saving and spending habits as well as assessing their own savings status, reducing their debt, and increasing their wealth.

Military Saves Week offers events and classes across all branches of service at over 100 installations worldwide during the week. Some of the events include luncheons, workshops, youth focused savings discussions, and prizes.

Pump up your savings with Military Saves Month
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — Military Saves Week runs from Feb. 27 to March 3. The Financial Readiness Program is offering financial counseling, classes, and other events to help service members and their families manage their money. (U.S. Army photo by Kristen Wong)

Most of the events will focus on benefits and how best to use them, with nearly every installation hosting at least one event focused on the new Blended Retirement System.

Military Saves Week works alongside the Department of Defense’s Financial Readiness Campaign.

General Dunford wrote in a memo for the chiefs of the military services on Oct. 7, 2015, in preparation for last year’s Military Saves Week:

“Military Saves Week is an opportunity for our military community to come together with federal, state, and local resources, to focus on the financial readiness of military members and their families and help them reduce debt and save their hard-earned money.”

Dunford went on to write, “We are asking our military members to commit to feasible financial goals.”

Participants in Military Saves Week are asked to sign a pledge that reads “I will help myself by saving money, reducing debt, and building wealth over time. I will help my family and my country by encouraging other Americans to Build Wealth, Not Debt.” The pledge goes on to help the participant set goals for savings, with the option to receive text message updates for savings tips and financial advice.

Articles

A Fort Bragg soldier won $2 million and definitely won’t blow it on these 9 things

On Jan. 13, Fort Bragg Army Reserve soldier Johnny Charlestin was celebrating his birthday when he learned that a $3 Powerball ticket he bought was a $2 million winner.


“I didn’t believe it, it was a feeling I’ll never forget,” Charlestin said in a press release from the N.C. Education Lottery. “It’s the best birthday present I’ve ever had.”

Charlestin then decided to leave the public spotlight, which is one of the things experts recommend lottery winners do. Hopefully this means he’s smart enough to invest the money wisely.

But since he’s a Fort Bragg soldier, there’s also a real chance he’ll spend his money this way:

1. Taxes will be taken out

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Photo: flickr/Ken Teegardin, Senior Living Center

30.75 percent, or $615,000 goes right back into government coffers. That leaves the enterprising soldier with $1,385,000.

2. Dip and jerky

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons/OAC

The winner’s first stop will be base shoppette where he’ll pick up the proper amount of dip for millionaire soldiers, as well as a little jerky to much on.

3. New car

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GIF: Giphy

This is an obvious stop, but for some reason, the new millionaire will still take out loans of 20 percent or more. Over the next five years, that b-tchin’ Corvette will cost him as much as a Lambo would’ve if he’d paid cash.

4. Electronics store

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Photo: Wikipedia/Chris McClave

Every new video game console, 10-20 games for each, a huge TV, and surround sound. A few movies will round out the purchase, about 500 of them. Most of the movies are about World War II paratroopers.

5. Adult “book” store

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Photo: flickr/leyla.a

This is for other movies. We will not explain further.

6. House

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Wikipedia/Andrew (Tawker)

Finally, the soldier will find a new place to live. Unfortunately, he’ll only realize after the fact that his surround system doesn’t properly fill the new entertainment room with sound. Since he threw away the receipts, he’ll buy a new one and give the old system to a groupie (he’ll have those now).

7. Energy drinks

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This will take up more money than any non-soldiers would expect.

8. All the booze

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There are roughly infinity liquor stores at the Fort Bragg perimeter, as well as a Class VI store on base. These will become empty.

9. Noise citations

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Photo: Wikipedia/Highway Patrol Images

Once the party starts, Fayettnam police officers will be visiting every 15 minutes or so and writing a ticket. By the end of the night, the lottery money will be almost played out.

By the second week, the former millionaire will be attending finance classes on base and applying for an Army Emergency Relief loan to make his payments for the Corvette.

MIGHTY MONEY

These are the veterans that benefit from a higher minimum wage

Nearly 2 million US veterans would benefit from raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.


Approximately 1.8 million of the 9 million veterans in payroll jobs across the US would get a raise if Congress raised the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute determined in an analysis on the Raise the Wage Act of 2017 in honor of Veterans Day.

Nearly two-thirds of the veterans who would get the raise are age 40 or older, over 60% have some college experience, and nearly 70% work full time, the EPI found.

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Desert Storm veterans. (USAF photo by Ssgt. F. Lee Corkran)

“This means that despite their service to the country, the intensive training that they have received, and the access to additional education provided to veterans through the GI Bill, 1 out of every 5 veterans is still being paid so little that they stand to benefit from raising the minimum wage,” the Economic Policy Institute’s David Cooper and Dan Essrow wrote.

The debate over raising the federal minimum wage has heated up over the past few years. Those against raising it argue that a higher minimum wage could lead businesses to raise their prices or to cut jobs and benefits in an attempt to offset the cost.

Those in favor of raising it, on the other hand, argue that raising the minimum wage above the current $7.25 per hour federal standard would improve living standards, and would enable consumers to spend more. That increased spending would then give a nice, healthy boost to an economy that still shows some slack several years after the Great Recession.

The current federal minimum wage is at $7.25 per hour. Parts of the country have raised their minimum wages above that, including a number of states and major cities like Seattle, Washington and Los Angeles, California.

Also Read: This is how much troops were paid in every major American war

The Raise the Wage Act of 2017 was introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Patty Murray (D-A), and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) back in April, 2017. It would incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, and starting in 2025 it would be “indexed” to median wages so that each year the minimum wage would be adjusted based on the growth in median earnings. It would also increase the subminimum wage for tipped workers (which has been at $2.31 per hour since 1991) and phase out the youth minimum wage and the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities.

The real federal minimum wage peaked back in 1968 at $8.54 in 2014 dollars, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. The chart below from Pew compares the real (adjusted for inflation to 2014 dollars) federal minimum wage to the nominal (non-inflation adjusted) federal minimum wage since 1939.

A study from The Economist in 2015 found that “one would expect America… to pay a minimum wage around $12 an hour” based on how rich the country is and the pattern among other developed economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) .

MIGHTY MONEY

5 times to consider putting your savings in a CD for at least a year

Since interest rates are down compared to last year — and likely to remain unchanged or fall even further in 2020 — it’s a good time to be strategic about where you save money.

A certificate of deposit (CD) can offer good earning potential without any of the risk of a stock market investment or the variable interest rates of a high-yield savings account.

When you open a CD, you agree to lock your money up for a specific period of time — usually anywhere from three months to five years — in exchange for a fixed annual percentage yield (APY). You typically can’t access your cash until the CD’s maturity date without incurring a penalty, which makes it a good place to safely grow money that you need at a certain date and not before then. It can also help curb impulse spending.


Currently, the best CDs are offering between 2% and 2.25% APY for varying minimum deposits and terms between 12 months and five years. Generally, the longer the term length, the higher the rate. Any term shorter than a year probably isn’t worth it right now, since the rates are comparable to the best high-yield savings accounts.

You can’t add money to a CD after the initial funding period (usually between 10 and 14 days), so it’s not the right type of account for actively saving money. But if you already have cash set aside for a future purchase, a CD is worth considering. Here are five times to open a CD for your savings:

Pump up your savings with Military Saves Month

1. You’re waiting to buy a house

Saving for a down payment can take years. But just because you finally reach your savings goal doesn’t mean you have to buy a house right away. Maybe mortgage rates aren’t where you’d like them to be or you just haven’t found a place you love yet. If you’ve decided to wait at least a year to buy a house, a CD can keep your down payment safe and earning a consistent return in the meantime.

Pump up your savings with Military Saves Month

2. You’re planning a home renovation

If there’s a home improvement project on your to-do list next year, but you already have the cash, consider opening a CD to earmark the savings. As long as the renovation isn’t something that needs attention right away (think: a big leak or a damaged roof), then you can lock in a high interest rate now to earn more on your money while you iron out the details of the project — and actually find the time to do it.

Pump up your savings with Military Saves Month

3. You spend a lot during the holidays

The end-of-year holidays seem to get more expensive every year. Make it easier for your future self by setting aside a cash reserve now that you can use next year for shopping, booking travel, and buying gifts. Once your CD matures, you can use the cash to put toward your holiday purchases if the timing is right or replenish the fund you pulled from.

Pump up your savings with Military Saves Month

4. You have big travel plans

If you’re actively saving for a travel fund, a high-yield savings account is the way to go. But, if you’ve already reached your goal, or even part of it, and want to make sure the money stays safe until you’re ready to jet off, try a CD. You won’t be able to dip into the account for impulse spending and you’ll wind up with even more money than you started with thanks to above average interest rates.

Pump up your savings with Military Saves Month

5. You’re preparing for a move

Between packing supplies, movers, and buying new stuff, moving can run up a lengthy tab. But setting up a moving fund? That’s something many of us plan to do, but never quite get around to.

If you know you’ll be moving in the future, whether to a new state or just a new neighborhood, consider setting aside some extra cash in a CD so you can be sure there’s no scrambling for money when the time comes. It doesn’t need to be a ton of cash — some of the best CDs require to open — but you’ll need to add something to start earning a return.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider 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:

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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.

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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 CULTURE

What to do with your TSP after the military

Leaving the military means making a lot of decisions — big decisions — often in a short period of time. One important decision, thankfully, doesn’t have a time limit: What should you do with the balance in your Thrift Savings Plan account?

Several myths and rumors surround the answer to that question, with plenty of salesmen wanting you to believe that you should move your money out of the TSP. Five clear options exist for service members and their TSP account assets after transitioning from the military. Even though there’s no single answer for everyone, three choices are more optimal for most people, and two choices are less right for most people.


The usually-better options include:

  1. Leave the money in your TSP account.
  2. Roll your TSP account balance into an Individual Retirement Arrangement.
  3. Roll your TSP account balance into your new employer’s 401(k) plan.

The rarely-better options include:

  1. Withdraw your TSP account balance in a lump sum.
  2. Transfer your TSP account balance to a qualified annuity.

Leave the balance in your TSP account

Once you have a TSP account, you can leave your money in there until you have to take required minimum distributions. There is no requirement to move it anywhere, at any time. In fact, most military-savvy financial planners recommend that you leave your retirement funds in TSP.

“As an entering argument, we don’t advocate doing anything different with your TSP,” says Sean Gillespie of Redeployment Wealth Strategies. “Just because you can’t contribute to it any more doesn’t mean you have to move it. And with low cost being one of the leading predictors of maximizing your returns, it’s darned difficult to do better than you will with TSP.”

Pros: Leaving your money in the TSP is by far the easiest option, and it’s a good option for many situations. The TSP has very, very low fees. You can move the money elsewhere later. TSP understands tax-free contributions from a Combat Zone Tax Exclusion. You can roll new money from other qualified plans into your TSP account to take advantage of the low costs.

Cons: TSP offers limited distribution options, though they are scheduled to expand this fall. You have limited investment options in TSP. You can’t roll from Traditional TSP to Roth TSP, so if you are trying to move your Traditional money into Roth accounts, it will have to be out of TSP. You can’t take multiple partial withdrawals out of your TSP account.

Roll your TSP balance into an Individual Retirement Arrangement

Pros: You have total control of how you invest your money, and unlimited investment options. You can still roll the money into a 401 (k) in the future. You can convert money that is currently in a Traditional account into a Roth account, but it will be a taxable event. And it’s really nice to put everything in one place!

Cons: IRAs don’t have any loan options, and will probably have higher fees.

Pump up your savings with Military Saves Month

Roll your TSP balance into your new employer’s 401 (k) plan

Pros: Moving your TSP balance will streamline your accounts, and that balance will be available for borrowing with a 401 (k) loan. (But don’t do it!)

Cons: Most 401 (k) plans have higher costs than TSP. You’ll still be limited to the investment options in the new plan. There may be a waiting period to participate in your new employer’s 401 (k). Not all 401 (k) plans have a Roth option.

Forrest Baumhover, a certified financial planner with Lawrence Financial Planning, suggests caution when moving your TSP to a 401(k).

“When you leave military service, don’t be quick to jump out of TSP. It has better and lower-cost investment options than 401 (k) plans.”

Withdraw your TSP account balance in a lump sum

Pros: Cash in hand.

Cons: Withdrawing money from your TSP account may be subject to withdrawal penalties (10%) and taxes (probably in the 20% range). More importantly, you’ll lose all future earnings on that money, and you can’t replace that money into a tax-advantaged account because they have yearly contribution limits.

Transfer your TSP account balance to a qualified annuity

Pros: Predictable, guaranteed income stream for life.

Cons: It is a permanent decision. There may be high fees involved. You may not get anywhere near the full value of your contribution. If it isn’t indexed for inflation, the purchasing power of your monthly benefit will decrease each year.

This is a relatively short overview and can’t possibly cover every possible situation. As with everything, there are exceptions and nuances for many different scenarios. If you are considering moving your TSP to another investment, you may find value in consulting a financial advisor to figure out which choice is right for you and your specific situation.

Lacey Langford, AFC ®, The Military Money Expert ®, suggests several reasons why you might want to consider using a fee-only financial planner vs. the advisor offered through a bank, insurance company or investment company.

“Fee-only allows you to have a clear picture of what you’re paying for and how the advisor is being compensated for the advice and recommendations they’re giving you,” Langford added.

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

MIGHTY MONEY

This meditation company is giving away free downloads to veterans

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Deployed Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coalition partners and civilians go relax as they finish the largest Yoga session to take place in Qatar history July 11, 2015 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.


A meditation company with an iTunes app is offering free downloads to veterans. Meditation Studios has developed 200 meditation tracks that can be downloaded through their app in the iTunes store.

Through a recent partnership with Give Back, the company created the Veterans Collection, a unique series of meditations that are designed to help veterans improve their focus, relieve stress, and encourage better sleep.

In a statement to We Are the Mighty, Meditation Studios said:

Please enjoy these complimentary meditations from Meditation Studio App. For more from this collection, download the app. The guided meditations in the Veterans collection will help to improve focus, relieve stress, encourage better sleep and generally bring more peace of mind. The mind can be a great source of distress when it’s out of control. When we can relax, pause or slow the mind down, it becomes a source of consolation and peace. As we learn to meditate, we learn to recognize emotions, thoughts and sensations without reacting to them. It helps us to respond more thoughtfully, without impulse or overreaction. This can be very comforting, giving veterans more control over the thoughts and emotions that accompany a return from deployment.

The downloads are available through the app, or through SoundCloud. The app, which is $3.99 and has high ratings, features unlimited access to all of the company’s meditations and courses; population and situation specific mediations; step-by-step “courses” with instruction on proper meditation; meditations in various lengths to fit into busy schedules; a section for tracking progress, scheduling meditations, and an in-app calendar.

The meditations offered by Meditation Studios are Self Care and Relax and Energize.

An uncontrolled study published in Military Medicine in June, 2011 found that meditation among Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom combat veterans with moderately severe post traumatic stress “may have helped to alleviate symptoms of PTSD and improve quality of life in veterans of OEF/OIF with combat-related PTSD.”

A similar study by the Army in 2013 determined that meditation could have a positive impact on PTSD, and noted that more research was needed.

The VA notes that meditation, when combined with other treatments, may “improve outcomes” of treatment.

Articles

Here’s when vets should NOT buy franchises

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“Worry about the dollars and the pennies take care of themselves.” — anonymous

It’s worthwhile to keep that adage above in mind when you are being pitched to buy a franchise business.

One of the most costly mistakes veterans can make is paying too much upfront for a franchise that you can’t sell for the same price the next day.  It’s the venture equivalent of buying a used Chevy for the price of new BMW.

I hate it when I receive letters from veterans who “want out” of a franchise they just bought.  They feel snookered, trapped, and annoyed at themselves for not looking at the details before signing on the dotted line.

The best way to avoid buyer’s remorse is to become a smart shopper of franchise opportunities.  Here are five tips to help you assess if you are more likely to make money or lose money in the franchise world.

1. Set higher standards

If your objective is to merely “go into business for yourself” or “own a franchise” then your aspirations are not high enough to be a successful business owner.  After all, you will achieve your goal of business ownership the day you sign the franchise contract!  Then what?

A more purposeful objective is to own a franchise that will make money for you.  When you set high standards for your financial return on your invested time and savings your tire-kicking “due diligence” questions become more precise and purposeful.

2. Understand sales rep motivations

When you start to explore different franchise opportunities, you will come in contact with franchisor representatives and business brokers who have just one purpose—to sell you a franchise as fast as possible.  These individuals are not your trusted friends or unbiased financial advisors.  Certainly don’t sign any franchise agreement without prior review from an experienced corporate attorney who understands franchise valuations and royalty obligations.

3. Add up cost of acquisition

Sneaky franchise brokers are adept at hiding the true investment cost of a franchise purchase.  If you sign up to buy a franchise, your cost of acquisition is more than the down payment.  Include the amount you have to borrow to acquire the franchise plus other savings you may have to apply to the business until it achieves at least cash flow breakeven. (when net sales revenues exceed expenses every month)  This is the total amount you will have at risk in your new business.  How comfortable are you with this amount?  What would happen if you lost it all?

4. Evaluate owner’s compensation

Another trick of franchise sales reps is to present impressive financial projections of average franchise unit performance.  Look closely at these projections.  Do they include a budget allocation for the owner’s salary, healthcare, adequate insurance and other real world expenses associated with running a business?  If there is no allocation for an owner’s salary and benefits and you intend to work full time in the business, beware!

Remember, year-end profits should be your financial return on your invested capital, not your sole source of compensation for working 40 to 70 hours a week to keep the franchise alive!  Of course, the business could fail to generate a profit too which means you as the founder earns nothing for a lot of work.

5. Understand market value

Buy low, then sell high.  If you pay $25,000, $50,000, or $100,000 to buy into a franchise, then you should find evidence that other franchises can be sold at least for that much or more.  Unfortunately, the opposite is often true.

Research the market for this brand of franchise.  What are the average resale purchase prices in your state?  Who buys up franchises when the owner wants out?  Does the corporate office buy back franchises?  What does the franchise agreement call for?  Frequently, one regional franchise operator buys distressed properties at deep discounts.

Given all the risks associated with owning a business and personal obligation to repay debt, you should walk away from any franchise that cannot eventually be sold for at least two times your invested capital.

Unfortunately, I get too many letters from franchise buyers who are desperate to get out of a money-losing franchise.  They realize they overpaid for a franchise usually within a year of purchase.  They didn’t pay attention to the quantitative issues where they could lose hard cash because the sales reps kept their attention on how great it will be to at last be the boss of a money making business.   At the end of the day, they didn’t make any money and didn’t have any fun as a business owner.

Now you know better.

Susan Schreter is a devoted Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program workshop presenter and founder of Start on Purpose, a service organization that empowers business owners anywhere in America to find and manage business funding with confidence.  Connect with her at Susan@StartonPurpose.

MIGHTY MONEY

Pro-tip: Active Duty gets the AmEx Platinum for free

The Platinum Card from American Express has one of the highest annual fees of any consumer credit card — a staggering $550 each year, starting when your first billing statement hits. However, the card is easily worth that annual fee because you get more value than that back. For example, I got more than $2,000 of demonstrable value from the card my first year.

However, if you’re an active duty US military member, AmEx will actually waive the annual fee. As reported by US Navy veteran Richard Kerr for The Points Guy, service members must request the benefit by calling the number on the back of the card — it isn’t applied automatically. AmEx uses an automated program to confirm your service, and refunds the annual fee in the form of a statement credit.


This can be particularly useful for military members who find themselves traveling frequently, either as a part of their service or during leave periods — or for traveling spouses and children, who can be added as authorized users. But the card can be incredibly valuable even for non-service members who have to pay the whole fee. Here are some of the benefits that make that the case.

Airport lounge access

Airport lounges are exclusive areas where you can enjoy seats, an internet connection, food, drinks, and sometimes other amenities. Although lounges were traditionally reserved for first class and business class passengers, many are accessible to any traveler who holds either a lounge membership or certain credit cards — and the Platinum Card from American Express offers access to three different kinds of lounge.

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The first type is AmEx’s own proprietary lounges, located at eight airports in the United States — and in Hong Kong — with three more US locations set to open in 2019. These chic venues offer an oasis in the middle of the main terminal’s chaos, featuring comfortable seating, complimentary cocktails and food created by award-winning mixologists and chefs, respectively, and other amenities. Access to these lounges is limited to holders of the AmEx Platinum or AmEx Centurion cards.

If you’re flying with Delta and carry a Platinum Card, you can also access any Delta Sky Club lounge. With more than 30 locations, Sky Clubs offer snacks, complimentary soft and alcoholic drinks (with more “premium” drinks available for purchase), fast Wi-Fi, and a place to unwind. Some locations also feature showers.

Finally, the Platinum Card comes with a Priority Pass membership. Priority Pass is a network of more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. With the membership provided by your Platinum card, you and two guests can access any location (as long as there’s room) to enjoy free snacks, drinks, newspapers and magazines, showers, and more, all separate from the hustle and bustle of the main terminal. If you have an international version of the card, instead of the US version, be sure to double check the guest policy for your card’s Priority Pass benefit. Priority Pass also offers credits at some airport lounges and restaurants.

Membership Rewards points

The Platinum Card earns Membership Rewards points, which are the currency in AmEx’s loyalty program. Points can be exchanged for statement credits or cash back, used to book travel through the AmEx Travel website, or transferred to any of 17 airline and three hotel transfer partners (transferable points are among the most valuable).

The card earns a whopping 5x points on airfare purchased directly through the airline, as well as flights and prepaid hotels reserved through AmEx Travel. It earns one point for every dollar spent elsewhere.

The Platinum Card comes with a welcome offer of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend ,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening. The value of the points depends on how you use them, but by transferring them to airline frequent flyer programs, it can be possible to use those welcome points to fly round-trip to Europe, or even one-way in first class.

0 airline fee credit

Every calendar year, the Platinum Card offers a 0 credit toward incidental fees on one airline (that you can choose at the beginning of each year). While it doesn’t cover tickets, it applies to a wide variety of charges and fees, such as checked bags, change fees if you need to change your flight, in-flight food and drinks, fees for traveling with a pet, airport lounge day passes (if you don’t already have complimentary access), and sometimes even things like seat assignments and extra legroom upgrade fees.

Up to 0 in Uber credits

In March, 2017, American Express added this as a new perk to the Platinum Card. The credit works within the US, and is worth up to 0 per year, broken into monthly chunks; each month, you’ll get a credit added to your linked Uber account, with an extra for a total of each December.

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(Stock Catalog photo)

If you travel on a regular basis or live anywhere near most cities, this is an easy perk to get value from. You can also put the credits toward UberEats orders.

In addition, your account will be upgraded to Uber VIP status. There aren’t a ton of perks with this, and it’s only available in certain cities, but with Uber VIP, you’ll only be connected to drivers rated 4.8 stars or higher. Uber also says that Uber VIP drivers have “high-quality cars.”

Shopping credit

This is a brand new benefit that AmEx added to the Platinum Card in July 2018. US card members can enroll to get up to 0 in statement credits each year in store or online at Saks Fifth Avenue. The credit is broken into two parts, with up to available every six months.

Although many things at Saks are quite pricey, there are plenty of items in the -100 range — and lower — that you can find by browsing the website. Sneakers that are on sale, things like Converse shoes, t-shirts, sweaters, or more. You can learn more about the benefit here.

Elite status at Starwood, Marriott, and Hilton hotels

Elite status at hotels can be incredibly valuable, often including free perks like daily breakfast, room upgrades, early check-in or late check-out, premium internet, lounge access, free nights, points-earning bonuses, and more. Usually, only the top frequent travelers earn status, but with the Platinum Card, you can earn it before you’ve stayed a single night.

The card comes with gold-level elite status at both Hilton and Starwood hotels. Because Starwood is owned by Marriott, the latter matches your status at Starwood. If you stay at hotels even a few nights a year, these benefits can be extremely valuable — especially considering how expensive hotel breakfasts can be.

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck and Global Entry (which comes with PreCheck) are absolute musts for just about any traveler. Once you enroll, you can use special lanes to breeze through airport security — you won’t have to remove shoes and light coats, and you can leave your laptop in your bag. With Global Entry, you can use a fast lane when you return to the US from abroad, which makes clearing immigration and customs easy and quick. The programs cost -0, and American Express will provide a credit for that fee every four years (memberships are valid for five years).

Other card benefits

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with a few other benefits that help offset the annual fee.

AmEx also Platinum card members access to the AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts program. When you book participating hotels through AmEx Travel (there are nearly 1,000 worldwide), you’ll enjoy valuable perks including room upgrades, free breakfast, late checkout, free Wi-Fi, and a unique amenity at each hotel, like a credit to use at on-property spas or restaurants.

An exclusive concierge service is available to Platinum cardmembers, too. While the services are complimentary, you’re responsible for paying for any services booked or purchases made on your behalf (don’t worry, the concierge will always ask for approval first). The service can come in helpful for things like getting tickets to shows or making reservations at exclusive restaurants.

Bottom line

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with a high annual fee of 0, but the value of the card’s annual benefits more than outweighs the fee. That’s especially true the first year, when you can earn welcome points.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. If you have questions or feedback, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at yourmoney@businessinsider.com.

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This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

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.”

MIGHTY MONEY

There is no one in NFL history more devoted to veterans than Jared Allen

During his 12-year NFL career, Jared Allen was a heavyweight defensive player, making his presence known on multiple teams, especially the Minnesota Vikings. It was as a Viking that Allen went on a trip that touched his heart and soul, touring with USO to visit servicemen and women deployed overseas. He even told the assembled troops as much.

That’s what led to Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors (JAH4WW).


“It has been one of the best experiences of my life – something that I’ll never forget,” Allen said of his time visiting troops. “We, as players, probably get more out of it than you do as soldiers and Marines.” Even though his grandfather and younger brother were Marines, the experience changed Allen, inspiring him to create his own charity to support America’s wounded.

Even after he was traded to Chicago and later Carolina, Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors carried on no matter where Allen was playing. Even though he’s listed as one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings of all time, the uniform he wore on the field wasn’t what defined him. If you ask the man himself, he’ll tell you what he does off the field is what matters most.

“Football is what I do, it’s not who I am. The things that we do today — to impact these lives, to change people’s lives — can last forever,” he told SB Nation. “We have a great responsibility to the community that supports us, and to our veterans who allow us to do what we do.”
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Former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen presents free Super Bowl LII tickets to eleven-year-old Tallon Kiminski, son of Minnesota Air National Guard member, Maj. Jodi Grayson.

(U.S. Air National Guard photos by Capt. Nathan T. Wallin)

When it comes to helping wounded veterans, Jared Allen is a godsend. On its website, the JAH4WW says, “Jared was moved by the commitment, dedication, and sacrifices that our soldiers make every day to protect our freedom. He wanted to say thank you to every soldier in the only way that Jared knows how. By embracing the conflict and making a positive life-changing difference in the lives of those who need it most, Jared and his JAH4WW will help make life for wounded vets just a little bit easier.”

Talk is big, but in practice, Jared Allen is much, much bigger than just words. Since its founding in 2009, his organization has helped raise funds to build or revamp homes for injured veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, raised tens of thousands of dollars from corporations like Wal-Mart and Proctor Gamble to provide everyday household goods for veteran families in need, and on Veterans Day, you can always find the now-retired Allen doing something to help veterans in need.

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NFL player Larry Fitzgerald signs an autograph for troops from the Washington Army National Guard at Camp Ramadi, Iraq, along with Will Witherspoon from the St. Louis Rams, Jared Allen from the Minnesota Vikings, and Danny Clark from the New York Giants in 2009.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Suhr)

“I knew I had to do something to serve our country,” Allen once said of the Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors. “I feel the best way to do that is serve those who serve us.”

If you’re a veteran of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan who is in need of housing or alterations to suit your disability, apply to Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors on the organization’s website. Jared Allen is one guy you definitely want in your corner.

Articles

A brief history of the Thrift Savings Plan, and why you need it

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Airmen 1st Class Diego Rojas-Rodriguez, far left, and Rolando Rodriquez, center left, speak to members of the 341st Comptroller Squadron mobile finance team at Malmstrom Air Force Base.


Where did the thrift savings plan come from and why do you need it?

In the beginning there was work; and then people died. Back in the day, American civilians simply worked until they couldn’t work anymore, and then they either relied on family to care for them, or they passed away. In the mid 1800s, a couple of companies took a look at the military’s retirement system and decided to give it a try.

The Thrift Savings Plan as we know it came into effect long after the civilian version of retirement due to the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986. The TSP is the public sector’s version of the 401(k) that was established under the Revenue Act of 1978.

But the TSP was not the military’s first pension plan. According to Pension Research Council, pensions for the military predate the Constitution, but the U.S. Navy and Army struggled to manage pension funds — so much in fact that the new government had to bail them out at least three separate times.

Despite early issues with managing pension funds, the Army and the Navy continued to offer them as a means to attract and retain men in the services.

Eventually corporate America got on board and started to adopt its own retirement system modeled after the public pension system offered by the American military.

The private pension system was designed to reward line workers (those who worked in factories or on production lines) for years of service to one company. This worked both to the advantage of the individual as many skills were not transferable outside of a specific industry, and to employers because it guaranteed most of their employees would be loyal to them.

There were two problems with the way the pension system was set up: companies had to figure out how much money every year to set aside based on the number of employees they had, and many companies mismanaged that money just as the military had a century prior.

Thus, the 401(k) Individual Retirement Account, or IRA, was born by an act of Congress in 1978. With this system, employers agreed to set a predetermined amount of money aside, and employees agreed to manage it themselves.

As a result of the remodeling of the private pension system, our modern day public pension (the Thrift Savings Plan) was designed nearly a decade after the private pension plan.

So why do you need a TSP? Regular military retirement pay was never intended to fully provide for normal retirement.

The TSP was designed to supplement retirement pay, and while it is optional for military members, it makes money sense to set aside funds throughout your career to supplement the retirement pay that was never intended to fully financially support you.

In short, the TSP makes sense, and you should have one.

For more information on the TSP, you can check out the Thrift Savings Plan website.

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