Tips for budgeting for the holidays - We Are The Mighty
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.

Articles

15 of the most expensive projects abandoned by the US military

The US military is unquestionably the world’s strongest force with the world’s largest defense budget.


But throughout the 2000s, the Pentagon spent $51.2 billion on 15 major programs “without any fielded systems to show for it,” according to a new Center for Strategic and International Studies report.

The abandoned projects are largely due to a lack of funding attributed to the Budget Control Act and sequestration.

Sequestration, which is indiscriminate budget cuts across the board that affect every portion of the military equally, is the greatest threat to the US military currently, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Business Insider.

Below are a series of the military’s modernization projects that were canceled partially due to a lack of funds.

Future Combat Systems

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
U.S. Army

A prototype of the Non-Line-of-Sight-Cannon, a component of the Future Combat Systems.

Branch: Army

Sunk Costs: $18.1 billion

Follow-On: The project was ultimately superseded by the Ground Combat Vehicle Program. This program was also ultimately canceled.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

RAH-66 Comanche Armed Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopter

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
U.S. Army

Branch: Army

Sunk Costs: $7.9 billion

Follow-On: The helicopter was superseded by the later canceled Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter project.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

An artist’s concept drawing of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System.

Branch: Air Force and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Sunk-Costs: $5.8 billion

Follow-On: The program was replaced by the now canceled Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). The DWSS is slated to be restarted as the Weather Satellite Follow-On.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Airborne Laser

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
US Missile Defense Agency

The Airborne Laser in flight with the mirror unstowed.

Branch: Air Force

Sunk Costs: $5.2 billion

Follow-On: The project was canceled without an identified replacement.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

VH-71 Presidential Helicopter

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
Sikorsky

A conceptual drawing of the VH-71 helicopter.

Branch: Marine Corps

Sunk Costs: $3.7 billion

Follow-On: The project was restarted as the VH-92A Presidential Helicopter.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
U.S. Marine Corps

Branch: Marine Corps

Sunk Costs: $3.3 billion

Follow-On: The project was ultimately superseded by the Amphibious Combat Vehicle program.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

XM2001 Crusader Self-Propelled Howitzer

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
U.S. Army

Branch: Army

Sunk Costs: $2.2 billion

Follow-On: The project was superseded by the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System, which was also then canceled.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

E-10 Multi-sensor Command and Control Aircraft

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
U.S. Air Force

An E-8, which was intended to be replaced by the E-10.

Branch: Air Force

Sunk Costs: $1.9 billion

Follow-On: The program was superseded by the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System Replacement Program.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Space Based Infrared Systems — Low

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
U.S. Air Force

An artist’s rendition of the Space-Based Infrared System — Low

Branch: Air Force

Sunk Costs: $1.5 billion

Follow-On: The program was superseded by the Space Tracking and Surveillance System.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Advanced SEAL Delivery System

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
U.S. Navy Photo

An SDV is docked into place by Navy SEALs.

Branch: Navy

Sunk Costs: $0.6 billion

Follow-On: The project was superseded by the later canceled Joint Multi-Mission Submersible.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
U.S. Army

Branch: Army

Sunk Costs: $0.5 billion

Follow-On: The project was deferred following the Army’s decision to field a mix of drones and AH-64Es instead.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Aerial Common Sensor

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
U.S. Navy

The Aerial Common Sensor was replaced with the P-8 (pictured).

Branch: Army/Navy

Sunk Costs: $0.4 billion

Follow-On: The project deferred in favor of the Navy’s P-8 program and upgrades to Army aircraft.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

CG(X) Next Generation Cruiser

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
U.S. Navy

Pictured above are two DDG 51 destroyers, which were purchased instead of the CG(X).

Branch: Navy

Sunk Costs: $0.2 billion

Follow-On: The project was deferred, and the Navy purchased additional DDG 51 destroyers instead.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

CSAR-X Combat Rescue Helicopter

The HH60 Pave Hawk, which was produced as part of the Critical Rescue Helicopter program.

Branch: Air Force

Sunk Costs: $0.2 billion

Follow-On: The project was ultimately restarted as the Combat Rescue Helicopter.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Next Generation Bomber

Tips for budgeting for the holidays
Nothrop Grumman

Concept art for the Long Range Strike-Bomber that replaced the Next Generation Bomber project.

Branch: Army

Sunk Costs: $18.1 billion

Follow-On: The project was restarted as the Long Range Strike-Bomber.

Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

MIGHTY MONEY

Finance Friday: 4 reasons why talking to a lender should be your first move

The idea of relocating immediately sparks a desire to jump online and start looking at houses. It is a natural curiosity to start visualizing where home will be. One late night jump down the rabbit hole of internet home searching will have you falling in love with the stainless steel kitchens, shiny polished floors, and before you know it, you’ll be itching to book a realtor and make this possibility a reality! What I’m about to tell you goes against everything in your gut, but I promise it makes sense to press pause.


Four reasons you NEED to talk to a lender first:

    Time is valuable

    Any realtor that values their time and takes their jobs seriously is going to ask you if you are pre-approved. A realtor will want to make sure they get you in front of homes that are within your budget and not waste time researching and showing homes that are outside of this range. A realtor also wants to make sure you’re in a financial position where homeownership is the right choice for you.
    Tips for budgeting for the holidays

    Be ready to jump on your dream home

    You want to have a solid pre-approval once you begin browsing homes. Some markets are more competitive than others. Especially here, you want to be financially ready to jump in with that solid pre-approval (and not a pre-qualification) to have your offer taken seriously.

    Solid financing=increased offer acceptance rate

    If you start a pre-approval before home shopping, you are better positioned for a quicker closing time, which makes for happier agents and sellers. Bonus points when your lender calls the listing agent when you make an offer to tell them that you have a full-document pre-approval, which is a reassuring sign that financing is not going to fall through.

    Tips for budgeting for the holidays

    Expectation management

    Once you start looking at homes online, if your price range drops, nothing will meet the same expectations that you had when you started imagining moving into those larger, fancier homes. To set the right expectations up front, it’s best to have an honest conversation with a lender about short term and long term financial goals.

    Once you start home shopping, there is a lot coming your way between contracts, inspections, addendums, moving boxes, and more. Taking the time to understand various procedures and costs ahead of finding your dream home will leave you less stressed and more confident in your choice. Having the right lender to be your partner in the process is key!

    MIGHTY MONEY

    Finance Friday: How to benefit from historically low mortgage rates

    You might be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about the 10 Year treasury at an all-time low and the federal reserve cutting interest rates. Or, far more likely, you’re just not a numbers and data nerd like me with a vested interest in all things finance. Luckily, if you’re a prospect or existing homeowner, one thing is certain, and that’s a win for you in this economic time. Breaking this further down into how it applies to your earned VA Home Loan benefit, there are two subsections that need to be explored: purchase and refinances.


    Tips for budgeting for the holidays

    live.staticflickr.com

    New home purchases

    What these amazing low rates mean for you is more purchasing power. For example, a 0,000 30-year home loan at 4.5% is a whopping 1 MORE every single month than it would be at 3.5% (,000 over the full lifespan of the loan). An alternate way to look at this is that you can purchase a 0,000 at the 3.5% rate for the same monthly cost as a 0,000 loan at 4.5%. That’s an increase in ,000 upfront purchasing power for the SAME MONTHLY COST. If that doesn’t scream raining money to you, I don’t know what can.

    Refinances

    If you already have a VA home loan and just had some sort of feelings about missing out on this amazing opportunity, the good news is you can still capitalize on this opportunity through a VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL, also known as a streamline refi). Just like anything else, there are myths floating around out there, and you know I’m going to break through them.

    You do not have to be currently living in the home you wish to refinance. If you have a home that was once your primary residence, which is the only kind of loan the VA writes, then you qualify for a VA IRRRL (but NOT a cash out refi and NOT switching from conventional to VA when it’s not owner-occupied). It really is that simple. Easy peasy!

    If you’re looking at a transition but living in the home right now, you are NOT obligated to extend your plans to live in the home for any certain period of time. Just like any VA loan, there are absolutely no minimum residency requirements.

    Tips for budgeting for the holidays

    live.staticflickr.com

    A refinance is exponentially easier than a purchase transaction. No appraisal or inspection is required for a streamline refi. You DO need to be able to prove an ability to repay, so employment verification is required. Lower documentation requirements all around make for an easier process, however. Bank statements, pay stubs, proof of homeowners insurance and a current mortgage statement are what you can expect your lender to ask for.

    Expectation management is important. Expect a slower closing turn time than your traditional 30-day purchase loans. It is not a sign of incompetence on the lender’s behalf, it is simply a prioritization. When compared to a purchase contract that is tied to multiple parties for timelines to move, the urgency for a refi comes secondary. No one’s earnest money deposit and moving schedule is driving the need, and there is a lot more skin in the game on a purchase deal. Expect to see a 45-day rate lock on your refi and know that it’s nothing personal.

    Articles

    Pentagon considers lifetime access to Exchange system for vets

    While Congress might have tinkered with the benefits many former servicemembers will receive when they leave the military beginning in 2018, the dizzying array of calculations, percentages, and investment tools now a part of a veteran’s future nest egg may come with a silver lining.


    Potentially tax-free shopping for life.

    The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act included significant changes to the military retirement system, including a reduction in retirement pay and matching contributions to a military Thrift Savings Plan. The so-called “blended retirement system” is similar to the kind of portable 401(k) that many civilian workers already have.

    Tips for budgeting for the holidays
    This could be you in twenty years.

    But in a separate deal, the Pentagon is set to approve a change to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service that would allow former honorably discharged servicemembers to shop at AAFES online for life.

    For those not in the know, the Exchange is a department store-like retail outlet that also operates food courts, gas stations, liquor stores, and military clothing stores on U.S. military installations worldwide. While items do not have to be sold at cost (as they do at the commissary – the military grocery stores which are also on bases) if they are sold at the Exchange, they are sold tax-free.

    This could mean tax-free commercial electronics for all!

    Tips for budgeting for the holidays
    Time to relive those dorm room days.

    The deal would not include access to the military commissary system.

    Opening the Exchange service to all veterans would mean 20 million new customers and hundreds of millions in revenue for Morale, Welfare, Recreation services, which is where the dividends from Exchange services are reinvested, Military.com reports.

    Access to the Exchange is currently restricted to military members who are active duty, guard, or reserve, retired or disabled military members, authorized family, and Medal of Honor recipients.

    While the Pentagon says the proposal from Executive Resale Board is still under review, if approved, the new benefit would go into effect on November 11, 2017.

    Articles

    DoD extends online military exchange shopping privileges to veterans

    The Department of Defense announced a policy change that will extend limited online military exchange shopping privileges to all honorably discharged veterans of the military.


    The veterans online shopping benefit will be effective this Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

    Also read: The VA is set to lower copays for prescriptions

    While shopping privileges exclude the purchase of uniforms, alcohol and tobacco products, it includes the Exchange Services’ dynamic online retail environment known so well to service members and their families. This policy change follows careful analysis, coordination and strong public support.

    “We are excited to provide these benefits to honorably discharged veterans to recognize their service and welcome them home to their military family,” said Peter Levine, performing the duties for the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

    “In addition, this initiative represents a low-risk, low-cost opportunity to help fund Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs in support of service members’ and their families’ quality of life. And it’s just the right thing to do,” Levine added.

    The online benefit will also strengthen the exchanges’ online businesses to better serve current patrons. Inclusion of honorably discharged veterans would conservatively double the exchanges’ online presence, thereby improving the experience for all patrons through improved vendor terms, more competitive merchandise assortments, and improved efficiencies, according to DoD officials.

    “As a nation, we are grateful for the contributions of our service members. Offering this lifetime online benefit is one small, tangible way the nation can say, ‘Thank you’ to those who served with honor,” Levine said.

    NOW WATCH: Pentagon considers lifetime access to Exchange system for vets

    MIGHTY MONEY

    What are allowances and why do you get them?

    Next to base pay, allowances are the most important part in the breakdown of your paycheck. They are funds paid to the service member to provide for specific needs that are not directly provided for by the military – for example, clothing and housing — and they are generally not considered taxable income.


    Tips for budgeting for the holidays

    BAS:

    Basic allowance for subsistence, or BAS, is intended to partly compensate the service member for the cost of food. These allowances are not intended to compensate the service member for the cost of feeding dependents.

    Who: All service members, though service members utilizing the chow hall, deployed, or attending schools/training may not receive BAS as it is directly applied to chow halls or MREs (meals ready to eat).

    How much: Officers rate $246.24 per month, enlisted personnel rate $357.55 per month.

    BAH:

    Basic allowance for housing, or BAH, like BAS, is intended to compensate the service member for the cost of housing.

    Who: Service members who do not reside in military quarters or on-installation housing.

    How much: BAH differs by duty station and rank. Additionally, there are several different types of BAH that impact the exact amount the service member receives.

    BAH with dependents will be higher than BAH without dependents.

    Partial BAH is paid to service members who live in government quarters without dependents.

    BAH reserve component/transit (BAH RC/T) is for service members who fall within certain parameters that wouldn’t generally receive BAH (i.e. a reservist activated for less than 30 days or a service member stationed somewhere with no previous BAH rate set up, generally overseas).

    BAH-differential (BAH-Diff) is authorized for service members who pay child support but don’t necessarily have a dependent living with them (this amount is determined by subtracting the amount of BAH without dependents from that of BAH with dependents).

    BAH can be determined here.

    Clothing:

    There are several types of clothing allowances: initial, cash clothing replacement, extra clothing, and military clothing maintenance.

    Initial:

    Who: Officers and enlisted alike rate an initial clothing allowance.

    How much: The allowance is directly applied to the bill when uniforms are issued.

    Cash clothing replacement:

    Who: Enlisted personnel yearly in the anniversary month of the service member’s enlistment.

    How much: Varies by rank.

    Extra clothing:

    Who: Any service member in a situation where additional uniforms or specific civilian attire is necessary in order to perform duties (i.e. detachment commanders at an embassy require suits).

    How much: For civilian attire, this amount ranges from $287.45 to $862.35 and depends on whether it’s the initial payment, and for how long the service member is going to be in the position.

    Military clothing maintenance:

    Who: All service members during and after 3 years of active duty.

    How much: Varies.

    Dislocation:

    Dislocation Allowance, or DLA, is intended to partly reimburse service members for the cost of relocating due to orders or evacuation.

    Who: All service members regardless of whether the member has dependents; except for National Guard members and reserve members who are reporting to or leaving active duty unless the member is activated for longer than 20 weeks at one location and is authorized to receive PCS allowances and have family members accompanying.

    How much: Varies depending on rank and dependent status.

    FSA:

    Family separation allowance, or FSA, is paid to service members who have dependents and are given unaccompanied orders for more than 30 continuous days.

    Who: All service members.

    How much: $250 per month.

    FSSA:

    Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance, or FSSA, is program designed to help military families contending with issues or demands that cannot be met by current military allowances.

    Who: All service members who meet the criteria.

    How much: Varies.

    MIGHTY MONEY

    Small nonprofits that make a big difference: The Military Health Project

    Tips for budgeting for the holidays
    Jacob Angel speaks to guests at the Veterans Day Reception in San Francisco on Nov 11, 2016.


    Today there are over 40,000 nonprofits that focus on military and veteran issues, according to Charity Watch.

    Most of those registered as nonprofits are chapters of larger organizations, but some of them are single chapter projects that focus on specific needs within the veteran community.

    Here at We Are the Mighty, we wanted to explore some of those advocacy groups you might not have heard of in a bit more depth.

    The Military Health Project & Foundation is based in San Francisco and is run by Jacob Angel. Founded in April 2013, the nonprofit was originally designed to address mental health issues through pushing national legislation.

    Angel tells us it took the nonprofit eight months to realize where it was failing.

    “We were making the same mistake that the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense were making,” he says. “We were treating mental and physical health care as two separate areas of care.”

    The nonprofit re-aligned itself to better connect mental health and physical health, and in March 2014 it went to work garnering support for the Excellence in Mental Health Act, a bill that Angel says eventually became law after a long battle.

    “Thus far, the program is going very well,” Angel says. The law, according to Angel, makes counseling and other mental health service available to everyone “regardless of socioeconomic status or insurance coverage.”

    In March 2015, The Military Health Project & Foundation announced the creation of the Military Support Fund, a dedicated financial resource to address coverage gaps for military and veteran families.

    Angel tells that since its creation, the Military Support Fund has assisted 40 families in securing funding for specialized medical services and equipment.

    Chief Petty Officer Carla Burkholder’s son was the recipient of a $2,500 grant for specialized medical equipment from The Military Health Project & Foundation.

    “It feels like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she wrote.

    The organization is focused on addressing both physical and mental health needs through direct assistance and legislation.

    “We are now a hybrid organization,” Angel says.

    The Military Health Project is the advocacy wing where the nonprofit helps to create policy that addresses the ever-changing needs of the military and veteran community through legislation.

    The Military Health Foundation works to provide for military and veteran families in the interim.

    “They should not have to wait for treatments that they require and frankly deserve.”

    MIGHTY MONEY

    Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

    Retired Army Sergeant, Alicia Hanf, served six years before transitioning to civilian life. Bridging the gap seemed easy. Hanf began her civilian career working for a marketing agency in Baltimore. Soon, she was at the top of her game. Then, one day, in an instant, her whole life trajectory changed.

    She received a call from her brother. “Mom’s dead,” was all he said.

    Hear Alicia’s full story on Victory Capital’s website

    In that moment, numb to the world and short of breath, she could hear her drill sergeant’s voice.

    “Do you know what your last known point is?”

    Last known point is a component of situational awareness. It is the ability to re-orient yourself with your surroundings and find the last recognizable place in your environment. Finding your last known point helps you plot your way back from being lost.

    According to Hanf, “From there, you find your way.” For her, last known point is the veteran’s edge in navigating the business world.

    When Hanf was transitioning out of the military, she was mentored by a group of women. They helped her with her resume. They aided her in her job search. Their coaching helped her successfully cross over into civilian life.

    Hanf says she could not have gotten as far as she is today were it not for the veterans and business organizations that helped create opportunities for her.

    “When I think of opportunity, I think of all the things my mom gave up for us to have a good life. For me, opportunity is endless, it’s abundant. It’s always available to us,” Hanf says optimistically. She adds that such opportunities are available to all transitioning service members.

    Whether it is help starting a new business, growing an existing one, or connecting with networking groups, Hanf advises veterans to seek out and take advantage of the many resources available to them.

    For entrepreneurs feeling lost and looking for a last known point, there are numerous resources available.

    Here are just a few to start that journey:

    1) Resources available to all small business owners

    • The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has over 100 centers providing training and counseling services in a variety of topics to help Americans start, build, and grow their businesses.
    • Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) provide free business consulting and low-cost training. Topics include business plan writing, capital formation, and marketing, among others.

    2) Resources available to women business owners

    • The SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership sponsors a Women-Owned Small Businesses Federal Contracting Program to provide access to federal contracting opportunities.
    • International Association of Women (IAW) provides networking events, professional development opportunities, career and business development services, and promotional opportunities for women in all stages of business.

    3) Resources available to Veteran business owners

    • The SBA’s Veteran Business Outreach Centers provide business training, counseling and mentoring to veterans in their local communities.
    • Veteran Entrepreneur Portal is a part of the VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. It provides business education, financing opportunities, information, and links to government programs created specifically for veterans.

    For more information and useful financial tools visit Victory Capital.

    This article originally appeared on Victory Capital. Follow @VCMtweets on Twitter.

    MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

    Recent changes with the 2020 NDAA and how they impact you

    The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an annual piece of legislation which gives authority and funding to the United States Military. While it is a detailed body of work that doesn’t make for light reading, it should be read. This legislation is filled with items that impact the military family directly.


    It addresses military pay

    The 2020 NDAA provided a 3.1% pay raise to military service members. This pay raise was the biggest one to be received in the last decade and was reflected in the first paycheck received by service members of 2020. The bill also extended specific bonuses and special pay. One of the big take-aways of this bill is the focus on supporting not just the member, but the military family as a whole.

    Military spouse education and employment

    Within the bill there are increases in support of professional licensure for spouses. With the new 2020 bill, spouses are currently eligible for up to 00 in reimbursement for licensure costs accumulated when moving. This is twice the amount that was authorized in last year’s bill. It also addresses license portability by giving authorization to the Council on State Governments to research ways to create reciprocity across state lines.

    The bill also extended opportunities for spouses for education. The My Career Advancement Account program is an example of this, as it is a valuable resource for military spouses. It offers up to 00 in assistance for licensure, certification, or an associate’s degree in a field that is portable. The eligibility for this is limited to E-1 through E5, W-1 through W-2, and O-1 spouses. The initial pilot program had it available to all spouses but rising costs and enrollment forces restrictions in who can utilize this benefit. In this bill language, Coast Guard spouses were also included even though they fall under the Department of Homeland Security.

    Military housing reforms

    One of the key elements of this bill is that it addresses the issues within military privatized housing. The bill created new accountability for these companies by enforcing quality assurance measures. It also increased the number of required inspections. This bill provides an additional 1.8 million dollars to make sure that each housing office has the vital personnel it needs to ensure military families are taken care of.

    One of the tools that will be utilized going forward is a way to assess and evaluate for risks within military housing. This includes things like mold and lead. It also allows for the BAH to be withheld from the private housing entity until issues or disputes are solved. Another key piece is that it forces transparency by requiring these entities to disclose repairs or issues prior to lease signing. There will also now be a required Tenant Bill of Rights and minimal livable standards established.

    Military family needs

    The NDAA also authorized million for the STARE BASE program, which is a DOD youth program. It is an American military educational program for grades K-12 that teaches science and math in hands on ways. It was created to tackle the low rates of readiness in these subjects by implementing a program that makes math and science fun and interactive. To learn more about this program and to see if it’s located in your area, click here.

    One of the chief concerns outlined in the 2018 Blue Star Families survey was that 72% of military families cannot find reliable childcare. An amendment was included in the NDAA for 2020 that creates more coordinator positions on bases to assist with childcare and extends childcare hours for families.

    Another key piece to this legislation is that it created the ability of military service members to sue under administrative claims for medical malpractice by a military provider. Although there was existing legislation for under the Federal Tor Claims Act, the United States itself was immune. After countless hearings within congress over a decade, this amendment passed within the NDAA. If a service member sustains injury or death they can file a claim and receive up to 0,000 as long as they file it within two years.

    Surviving spouses receive relief

    Finally, one of the biggest parts of the 2020 NDAA is the elimination of what is known as the “widows’ tax” in phases. For multiple decades surviving families have not received their full benefits as they deserve, even though they paid into the benefit programs. This is a piece of legislation that has been debated and fought over for almost twenty years. Finally, change is coming and it will be finalized by 2023.

    If you’d like to look through the 2020 NDAA, you can find it here. Fair warning, it is 1119 pages long. However, a pro tip is to utilize the search ability within the document to enter terms that you want to specifically read about. This will bring you exactly where you need to go. Happy reading!

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

    Articles

    Navy extends hardship duty pay for one year

    The Department of Defense has approved the Navy’s request for an extension to hardship duty pay for deployed sailors. Though the Navy requested the extra money for two years, the current funding expires in September, 2017, and does not include new money for Marines.


    According to the Navy, an “extended deployment” consists of 221 consecutive days in an “operational environment” (aka: deployment), and the sailor assigned to those areas will earn $16.50 per day, “not to exceed $495 per month.” That amount is not dependent on rank or time in service. (Photo from U.S. Navy)

    “The Navy is in high demand and is present where and when it matters,” said Vice Adm. Robert Burke, Chief of Naval Personnel. “Hardship Duty Pay – Tempo is designed to compensate sailors for the important roles they continue to play in keeping our nation safe during extended deployments around the globe.”

    A Marine Corps financial office source said the reason the authorization was only approved for a year has more to do with politics than logistics.

    During an election year, it is difficult to get additional funding for programs, he said.

    “There are going to be budget cuts across the whole of the federal government in order for any progress on the national debt to be made,” the Marine financial office source said. “The next administration’s defense and fiscal policies will ultimately determine the fate of [Hardship Duty Pay- Tempo].”

    A Navy spokesman said the service has paid out nearly $16 million over two years to about 24,000 sailors from 1,129 commands or units.

    “This is something that the Navy wants for our sailors as we believe it positively affects sailors’ morale,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the Chief of Naval Personnel. “It’s one small way to help them during long and difficult deployments away from home.”

    Tips for budgeting for the holidays
    (Photo from U.S. Navy)

    The Marine officer, however, was hopeful that “since it was reauthorized after its first go or ‘trial run,’ I think we can conclude that it was determined to be a success by our legislators in Congress and by the Department of the Navy’s upper echelon decision makers. Thus, I’m optimistic that it will continue in the future.”

    Right now the reauthorization only applies to the Navy and does not include the Marine Corps. The same financial officer noted that though the extension of Hardship Duty Pay- Tempo does not apply to Leathernecks, he is hopeful that the Corps will issue its own extension.

    The Marine finance officer didn’t believe that the lack of guidance for Hardship Duty Pay for the Corps would be a morale hit.

    “If it turns out that Marines are not given HDP-T, I’m sure there will be a small level of frustration at first,” he said. “But Marines have always and will continue to put the needs of their country first, and are honored to do so. I have no doubt that what little frustration does occur will dissipate quickly.”

    Articles

    6 things to know about the VA home loan

    The Veterans Affairs home loan can be incredibly confusing, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information found on the VA website. So we have broken it down into six basic questions for you: who, what, when, where, why, and how?


    *As always, when making decisions that impact your personal finances, make sure you’re sitting down with a financial advisor. Most banks have financial advisors on staff who are always willing to work with customers.

    Tips for budgeting for the holidays
    Veterans Affairs employs assessors and appraisers to ensure that each home purchased by service members is priced correctly.(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric Glassey, 4th Inf. Div. PAO)

    1. Who:

    Lendee eligibility is determined by service status:

    Active duty personnel must have served a minimum of 90 continuous days to be eligible

    Reserve or guard members must:

    • have six years of service in the selected reserve or National Guard, and
    • be discharged honorably, or
    • have been placed on the retired list, or
    • have been transferred to Standby Reserve or to an element of Ready Reserve (other than the Selected Reserve after service characterized as honorable), or
    • still be servicing in the Selected Reserve

    Spouses can be eligible as well.

    2. What:

    The VA home loan program is a benefit for eligible service members and veterans to help them in the process of becoming homeowners by guaranteeing them the ability to acquire a loan through a private lender.

    Utilizing the VA home loan, lendees do not make a down payment and are not required to pay monthly mortgage insurance, though they are required to pay a funding fee. This fee varies by lender, depends on the loan amount, and can change depending on the type of loan, your service situation, whether you are a first time or return lendee, and whether you opt to make a down payment.

    The fee may be financed through the loan or paid for out of pocket, but must be paid by the close of the sale.

    The fee for returning lendees and for National Guard and members of the reserve pay a slightly higher fee.

    The fee may also be waived if you are:

    • a veteran receiving compensation for a service related disability, or
    • a veteran who would be eligible to receive compensation for a service related disability but does not because you are receiving retirement or active duty pay, or
    • are the surviving spouse of a veteran who died in service or from a service related disability.

    3. When:

    Lendees may utilize the loan program during or after honorable active duty service, or after six years of select reserve or National Guard service.

    4. Where:

    Eligible lendees may use the VA home loan in any of the 50 states or United States territories

    5. Why:

    Veterans Affairs helps service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses to purchase a home. The VA home loan itself does not come from the VA, but rather through participating lenders, i.e. banks and mortgage companies. With VA guaranteeing the lendee a certain amount for the loan, lenders are able to provide more favorable terms.

    6. How:

    Eligible lendees should talk to their lending institution as each institution has its own requirements for how to acquire the loan.

    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.


    Tips for budgeting for the holidays

    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.

    Tips for budgeting for the holidays

    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.

    Tips for budgeting for the holidays

    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.

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