Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss - We Are The Mighty
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.

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The Air Force just escalated its war with the airlines

The Air Force has just escalated its response to efforts by the airlines to hire away military pilots. They’re throwing huge retention bonuses to the pilots and boosting flight pay to $1,000 a month.


According to a report by BreakingDefense.com, the flight pay boost will add an additional $1,800 a month to the paychecks of officers. Enlisted men will see their flight pay go from $400 to $600 a month, a 50 percent increase, and taking their pay up $2,400 a year.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
Maj. Kurt Wampole, assisted by Capt. Matt Ward, 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron pilots, taxis a C-130H Hercules back to its parking spot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ben Bloker.)

“We need to retain our experienced pilots and these are some examples of how we’re working to do that,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in an Air Force release. “We can’t afford not to compensate our talented aviators at a time when airlines are hiring unprecedented numbers.”

In addition to announcing the increased flight pay, Secretary Wilson announced the creation of an “Aircrew Crisis Task Force” under Brig. Gen. Michael G. Koscheski. This task force’s formation is a sign that the pilot shortage the Air Force is facing has not improved. The Air Force release noted that at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, the Air Force was short 1,555 pilots overall, including 1,211 fighter pilots.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, assigned to Detachment 1, 138th Fighter Wing, dons his helmet in preparation of a barnstorming performance for reporters, Feb. 1, 2017, in Houston. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Tech. Sgt. Drew A. Egnoske)

The Air Force is looking to bring back 25 retired pilots to fill staff positions through the Voluntary Rated Return to Active Duty program, allowing pilots who are still current to be returned to front-line duties. The staff positions are non-flying, but retired pilots could have sufficient expertise to handle them.

This past June, the Air Force increased its Aviation Bonus cap from $25,000 a year to $35,000. These bonuses are paid to pilots who commit to stay past their service commitment for up to nine years.

The Air Force was also seeking to reduce the number of non-flying assignments for pilots, including headquarters positions and developmental opportunities. The Air Force is also trying to reduce additional units and add more flexibility for Airmen with families and children.

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Military spouse helps pass legislation to benefit military retirees in Arkansas

When Brittany Boccher was approached by retired Major General Kendall Penn and the Arkansas Secretary of State Military and Veterans Liaison Kevin Steele to help get proposed legislation passed to protect the retirement pay of military retirees, Boccher jumped at the opportunity to serve her current community.


Boccher, a mother of two and the spouse of a special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, began the task by hosting the General and the Military and Veteran’s Liaison at one of the Little Rock Spouses’ Club meetings, where the men presented the proposed legislation to the local military spouses.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
Brittany Boccher was invited to attend the signing of legislation into state law on Feb. 7, 2017. The law exempts military retiree pay from state taxes. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Boccher.)

The proposal specifically addressed the taxation of pay for military retirees. While active duty personnel in Arkansas do not pay a state tax, retired veterans’ pay is taxed.

That tax didn’t sit well with Governor Asa Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin, who have seen their state ranked at 48 in attracting and retaining working age military retirees and veterans.

“A lot of them will retire really young in their 40s, 50s, 60s. And what do they do? They have that steady income and start other businesses or they go work a new job,” Griffin said.

Hutchinson agreed, saying, “I believe it will help us to bring more military retirees here, welcome them back to Arkansas.”

Boccher committed to calling or emailing every state senate committee member directly to discuss his or her support for Hutchinson’s proposed tax initiative. Then she set out to round up military families that would benefit the most from the initiative in order to testify before the state house and senate committees.

Boccher, a business owner in Arkansas herself, told We Are the Mighty that her family reflected the target audience the state was hoping to attract with the proposed tax break.

“They were seeking a young family close to retirement to showcase that they would have a second career after the military. We are a 17 year military family, we’re young, and with two small children. We want to stay in Arkansas and we own a business in Arkansas.”

Boccher said her family “checked all the boxes” for what Steele and Penn wanted to present as the ideal family the state was trying to attract.

Penn asked Boccher to testify before the state house and senate committees.

As a result of her hard work and commitment to the legislation, Boccher and her family were invited to the bill signing ceremony earlier this month.

On February 7, Hutchinson released a statement that read, in part, “…beginning in January [Arkansas] will also exempt military retirement pay. This initiative will make Arkansas a more military friendly retirement destination and will encourage veterans to start their second careers or open a business right here in the Natural State.”

For her part, Boccher is proud of what she’s accomplished for veterans while simultaneously running an apparel company, a photography company, and a non-profit organization, the Down Syndrome Advancement Coalition.

Additionally, Boccher is the president of the Little Rock Air Force Base Spouses’ Club and the 2016 and 2017 Little Rock Air Force Base Spouse of the Year.

Boccher had this to say about her work, “The military community is resilient, adaptable, dedicated, independent, supportive, and resourceful, but most of all they can make a difference, their voice can be heard, and they can and will make change happen!”

MIGHTY MONEY

An easy 9-step car buying guide for the military spouse

It’s happened to the best of us. The second our service member boards that plane to deploy, Murphy decides to insert himself into our world.

It’s almost a given: someone gets sick, one of your spouse’s bills doesn’t get paid, or something inevitably breaks down…and often it’s our mode of transportation that ends up busting out on us.


If this happens to you, I PROMISE, you aren’t alone. But if your car breaks down, how are you going to do all of the things? Well, if there’s no getting around having to purchase a vehicle while your service member is away, we have some tips and tricks to help you through the car buying routine WITHOUT breaking your bank in the process. We realize that big purchases are usually done as a team, and these decisions should (when possible) be made together. Obviously, that isn’t always possible, but here are some things you can do if/when you find yourself squaring off with Murphy over your car.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

(Flickr / David Wall)

1. Power of attorney (POA)

If you plan on having your service member’s name on the loan or registration, you’ll want to make sure you have your POA handy. This legal document will allow you to act on behalf of your service member for transactions that would otherwise require their physical presence. NOTE: Depending on the financial institution you use to finance your vehicle, a general POA may not pass muster with their terms, so make sure you call to make sure. Some banks just require a faxed copy of the general POA, while others have a special form of their own or require a “special” or “limited” POA.

2. Research, research, RESEARCH!

What kind of vehicle do you need? How much can your family afford each month? Are their certain dealerships in your area that are known for inappropriate practices? These are just a few of the questions you should be asking yourself before you even think of stepping foot into a car dealership.

There are plenty of websites that will help answer these questions so that you’re better able at making an informed decision. One of the first things you can do is figure out the type of features you need and find a few makes and models to look over. It’s not just about the price…it’s about knowing what it is you’re looking to buy. Kelley Blue Book is a one stop shop that has plenty of research tools to help spin you up on the “must-knows” of car buying.

3. Get financed FIRST

When it comes to financing, it’s best to get pre-approved BEFORE you start your search. You aren’t required to know what kind of vehicle you’re purchasing before being approved for financing because the financial institution is approving you…not a certain vehicle. Make sure you understand the terms of your financing as well. If you end up negotiating, say, 00 off the sticker price of the car when you’re haggling with the dealer, that isn’t going to matter in the long run if your interest rate is out of this world.

4. Don’t rush

Buying a car is a big deal, so take your time and don’t rush the process. You need to make sure the car is everything you need/want, both literally and financially. Make absolutely sure you know exactly what your family can and cannot afford. If you find a car you want but it’s a bit over budget, other websites, like Auto Trader, might be able to find you the same car at a lower price somewhere else.

5. When possible, find the right time to buy

Of course there’s no real way to know when Murphy will strike…if we could plan that, Murphy’s Law wouldn’t even be a thing! But it doesn’t hurt to know that timing is everything in the car buying business.

Yes, There Really IS a Right Time to Buy

Of course there’s no real way to know when Murphy will strike…if we could plan that, Murphy’s Law wouldn’t even be a thing! But it doesn’t hurt to know that timing is everything in the car buying business.

The end of the month is usually a good time to buy because dealers often have a quota that needs to be met each month. Each car on their lot needs to be paid for at the start of each month, so car salesmen are looking to unload as many as possible to meet their quota. But buying a car at the end of the year is even better (though, again, Murphy can rarely be planned for).

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

6. History reports are KEY

If you’re not out to purchase a brand new, right off the assembly-line vehicle, you’ll really want to get your hands on a vehicle’s history report. Don’t just take someone’s word that it’s “good to go” as is.

Most dealerships (if they’re worth a darn) will pay for the cost of a vehicle history report themselves, but you can do this as well. Car Fax is a great resource for consumers, and they provide a report that will tell you just about everything you need to know about the car: hidden issues, who owned it last, where it came from, etc. It does cost money to obtain a history report, but it’s chump change compared to the investment you’re making in a vehicle.

7. Don’t skip the test drive

Once you’ve narrowed down your choice(s), it’s time to take it for a test drive.

Sure, the car’s body looks fantastic, but the only way you’ll know that everything is in working order under the hood is if you take it for a spin. Listen for noises that shouldn’t be there, trouble shifting gears, service lights on the dashboard, etc. Many people will return to test drive in the evening, but if that isn’t feasible (because, you know…who wants to pay for a babysitter ON TOP of having to pay for a new car), a lot of dealerships allow you to take the car home for 24 hours to see how it works out. Either way, do NOT skip the test drive.

Again…Don’t Rush!

If you’re just not sure it’s the right vehicle for you or need a night or so to sleep on it, don’t rush it. Take the time you need to mull it over. This is YOUR money, YOUR time and YOUR choice; don’t let anyone push you around. Speaking of which…

8. Don’t be intimidated

It’s not uncommon to feel intimidated when buying a car…especially if that role isn’t really your jam (i.e. it is SO not MY jam). But there’s a difference in FEELING intimidated and BEING intimidated. If, at ANY point in the negotiation process, you feel uncomfortable, or don’t like how you’re being spoken to, SPEAK UP. You hold all the cards and the ball is in your court. If you don’t feel like you’re being treated fairly, tell the service manager. Or better yet…

9. Don’t be afraid to walk out

If you feel like you’re being pushed into signing a contract, or just aren’t picking up what the dealer is putting down…WALK IT OUT. There are plenty of other places that would love to have your business. Do not feel guilty about keeping your money, and your family’s financial security, safe.

This guide is a great way to get started on your car-buying adventure, but we want to add to it! If you have a strategy or a story about buying a car when you were flying solo, we want to hear it!

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

MIGHTY MONEY

Here’s a 9-step guide to calculating your credit card interest

When it comes to credit cards, understanding your interest rate and how it works can be the difference between staying out of debt with an excellent credit score and falling behind in your payments and dipping to sub-par credit score ratings.

Your interest rate is the amount your credit card charges you to borrow money. If you pay your credit card balance in full and on time, you generally don’t need to worry much about your interest rate, which is expressed as an annual percentage rate (APR).

But if you’re carrying a balance on your credit card, you’ll notice you owe more over time, and that’s because of the interest rate. Credit cards are notorious for being one of the most expensive types of consumer debt, with an average interest rate of about 17%.


While in most cases you probably don’t need to calculate your credit card card interest rate — your statements should clearly reflect how much interest is owed on any unpaid balance and your APR should be clear on your statement and your bank’s website — you may want to get an idea of how much your balance is costing you on a day-to-day basis.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

Here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you when it comes to calculating your own credit card interest rate.

1. Pull up your credit card information

Log on to your financial institution’s website or pull out your latest statement (if you haven’t switched to paperless billing yet, get on that!) to find the pertinent information you’ll need to calculate your credit card interest.

You’ll need to find:

  • your purchase APR
  • the number of days in your billing cycle

2. Get to know the terms

The way your credit card works boils down to a few different terms, two of which include annual percentage rate (APR) and, more generally, your interest rate.

Although APR stands for annual percentage rate, your credit card company uses this percentage number to determine the interest you’ll be charged each month when you don’t pay your credit card off in full and carry a balance.

Keep in mind that your credit card may have different types of APR, like a:

  • purchase APR (usually applied to the overall purchases you make with a card),
  • balance transfer APR (usually applied to any balances transferred from another credit card)
  • introductory APR (usually applied to purchases made during the promotional period after opening a new credit card)

3. Find your purchase APR

In order to calculate the interest you owe on any leftover balances on your credit card, you’ll need to find your purchase APR. If you can’t find this information readily, try calling your bank, or click on your card’s terms and conditions section.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

4. Determine your average daily balance (or balance subject to interest)

This is the aggregate total of what you spent and either paid off and/or were refunded every day throughout your billing cycle, divided by the number of days in your billing cycle.

If you’ve always paid your purchases in full by the due date, you won’t have any interest payments to make and your average daily balance isn’t really a factor. However, if you plan to carry a balance, to calculate your average daily balance when you need to determine interest, log onto your bank account online and track the charges and credits that went through on each individual day, creating a rolling total as you move through the days of your billing cycle.

This will provide you with an aggregate total that you can then divide by the number of days in your billing cycle (which you’ll find in step five).

5. Get the number of days in your billing cycle

Different credit cards have different amounts of time between billing cycles. A typical credit card statement is paid out in 30-day billing cycles.

6. Divide your APR by 365

Since your APR is your annual interest rate, you’ll need to divide your APR by the number of days in the year to get your daily interest rate. So for example, an APR of 13.99% would become: 0.1399/365 = .00038 daily interest.

7. Multiply your daily rate by your average daily balance

Once you know what you’re charged daily for interest, you can multiply that number by your average daily balance to find the daily interest you’ll owe. So for example, if your leftover balance after paying your credit card is id=”listicle-2639175991″,000, you would get: .00038 x id=”listicle-2639175991″,000 = .38.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

8. Multiply your daily interest rate by the number of days in your billing cycle

If you determined that you have a 30-day billing cycle, then the credit card interest you would owe on a balance for the 30-day cycle in this example would be: .38 x 30 days = .50 in interest.

9. Ask about your credit card’s grace period allowance

Some credit cards offer a grace period between when items are purchased and when they absolutely need to be paid off before accruing interest. Check in with your bank to learn if you have a grace period on your accounts and what the exact grace period is in order to better avoid paying interest.

Also read:

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

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Inspector General claims US Army can’t account for trillions of dollars

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss


In a report released earlier this summer, the Department of Defense Inspector General has determined that the Army’s finances are a world-class mess. Reportedly, the service made $2.8 trillion in adjustments to make their books balance just in one quarter of 2015 in spite of the fact that the entire defense budget for that fiscal year was $585 billion.

According to Reuters, the Army’s books are so jumbled that they may be impossible to audit – and the Army is facing a September 30, 2017 deadline to be ready for one. The harsh IG report concluded the Army “materially misstated” its financial statements for 2015.

Making the task of squaring the Army’s books harder is the fact that over 16,000 documents have vanished from the Army’s computer system. The Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), the Pentagon’s primary agency responsible for accounting services, routinely changed numbers without justification at the end of the year, something employees of that agency referred to as the “grand plug.”

“Where is the money going? Nobody knows,” DOD critic and retired analyst Franklin Spinney told Reuters.

The Army has taken issue with the IG report, claiming that the total discrepancies total just under $62.5 billion. An Army spokesman said, “Though there is a high number of adjustments, we believe the financial statement information is more accurate than implied in this report,” that and that the Army “remains committed to asserting audit readiness” and that steps are being taken to root out the problems.

MIGHTY MONEY

Program encourages banking for Veterans

The Veterans Benefits Banking Program (VBBP) is giving Veterans and their families access to greater financial independence, resiliency, and literacy.

VBBP is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Association of Military Banks of America (AMBA). The idea for the program came after a VA analysis revealed a high rate of Veterans were “unbanked,” says Joe Gurney, Senior Advisor of Fiscal Stewardship for the Office of the Under Secretary for Benefits.

“We were seeing an uptick in fraud because hundreds of thousands of Veterans were unbanked, so the Under Secretary actually had me look into this. By unbanked we mean Veterans receiving their VA benefits on a prepaid card or by check. I spent some time doing an analysis about demographics, where they were, who they were, and it turned out there were over 200,000 Veterans who were unbanked,” Gurney said.

Dr. Paul Lawrence, VA Under Secretary for Benefits, charged Gurney with determining courses of action to address the issue. Through his research, he found AMBA — an association of banks operating on military installations. The organizations committed to a joint effort of working with those financial institutions that already “have experience dealing with the unique financial challenges of military members and their families,” retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven Lepper, President and CEO of AMBA, said.

A white paper identified key areas affecting today’s Veterans, such as not being able to get a bank account and incurring high fees when cashing checks or using prepaid cards. The VBBP then created a number of common requirements for participating banks and credit unions to join the program, including:

  • Willing to provide free checking accounts and free access to ATM networks to Veterans who deposit their monthly VA benefits in their account, and
  • Helping any Veteran become qualified to open a banking account.

Another pillar of the program is a goal of simplifying banking choices by helping eligible Veterans select the right bank and services for themselves and their families. The VBBP website also includes links to resources on topics like fraud protection, identity theft, financial education, and a checklist for opening a bank account.

Lepper adds the VBBP is a work in progress and there are already talks for ways to improve the program.

“Veterans have as many needs as there are Veterans. It’s hard to generalize with anyone, whether they’re military or Veterans. We’re always on the lookout to help make Veterans’ management of their financial resources much more effective and safe,” Lepper, who served 35 years in the Air Force, said.

Gurney says the VBA also looks at trends in the unbanked on a constant basis to identify lessons learned and drive future program enhancements.

“AMBA has setup a constant feedback loop to try to give our Veterans the best experience that we can. For example, we discovered that Veterans want financial education. They want information — especially during COVID – that helps them deal with money, particularly borrowing money. As a result of that feedback, we added financial education to the VBBP website and plan to expand it as we continue improving the program,” Gurney said.

Lepper explains that by giving Veterans access to banking options, it also creates a motivation to save.

“The one benefit you don’t think about immediately when you think about opening a bank account versus receiving your benefits on a prepaid card or by paper check is the ability to save money. If you cash a check or withdraw all the money on your prepaid card; you walk around all month with money in your pocket. With checks and prepaid cards, there’s no motivation to save and no mechanism to save, whereas with a bank account, you do have that ability to save money in a safe and cost-effective way.

“What we’re hoping, as a collateral effect of opening up a bank account or credit union account, is that our Veterans will be able to save money and not live month-to-month on their VA benefits,” Lepper said.

Other features of utilizing a bank or credit union account:

  • Get access to reasonable loan amounts with advantageous interest rates, and
  • Credit repair.

Thirty four financial institutions are now part of the VBBP. In addition to ensuring Veterans and their families receive benefits safely and reliably, the participating banks and credit unions offer another advantage: accessibility.

A key component of the program is to meet Veterans where they are, whether that be in a large metropolitan area, rural town, or online. By working with financial institutions that have diverse geographical and digital footprints, Veterans can receive streamlined access to information and communication that caters to their needs. Another goal was to create a robust program that is easy to navigate. The VBBP website https://veteransbenefitsbanking.org/ contains a directory that lists participating banks and credit unions, along with direct links to more specific information on products and services.

Since the inception of the program at the end of 2019, VBBP has grown to roughly 1,000 website visitors per week, revealing a growing interest in both financial education and banking options. Now that awareness is growing, Gurney recommends Veterans take that next step of setting up an account so that they no longer have to put themselves at risk by relying on external entities like check cashing companies.

“We really want to urge Veterans during this time, especially with COVID, to consider direct deposit and setting up a bank account so they can have an easier, faster, and safer way to bank,” he said.

Once Veterans have a bank account, they can sign up for direct deposit by either updating their profile on va.gov (and providing their bank account and check routing numbers) OR by calling 1-800-827-1000.

As the partnership moves into its second year, the organizations plan to expand need-based resources that meet Veterans where they are in their financial life cycle.

Any Veteran or beneficiary who receives federal monetary benefits and who wishes to receive their benefit payments electronically can participate in the VBBP. A full list of participating banks and credits unions can be found at https://veteransbenefitsbanking.org/.

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

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NCIS investigating Camp Pendleton base housing eviction notices amid scandal

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
Residents of San Onofre II housing aboard Camp Pendleton allege that Lincoln Military housing is threatening them with eviction notices if they don’t pay extremely high electric bills that they are contesting. (Photo courtesy of Kristine Schellhaas.)


The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is reportedly looking into allegations that a company which runs military housing at one of California’s largest bases is scamming its residents out of money they don’t owe.

Lincoln Military Housing has reportedly been trying to get military residents to pay hundreds of dollars more than they owe for energy bills, according to statements from families obtained by We Are the Mighty. And if the residents don’t pay up, the Lincoln Military Housing’s San Onofre district office allegedly threatens to have the service members and their families evicted, these families claim.

The exact number of families who have received these eviction notices is unknown, though WATM spoke with multiple military spouses and service members who had been notified by their commands that Lincoln was ordering them out of their homes just before the Christmas holidays.

The residents, all of whom claim they are paid up on rent, all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the housing office in question.

According to one couple who spoke to WATM, an eviction notice was sent to them in early December in response to an article that appeared on the website USMC Life, which is run by military spouse Kristine Schellhaas.

“This program has been hurting our military families since its inception,” Schellhaas told WATM in a statement. “Our families should be able to live on base without the financial burden and threat of eviction from poorly executed billing.”

Schellhaas wrote about the couple on her site in December, calling for the housing office to look into its exorbitant energy bills over the previous two months. Though Schellhaas declined to use their real names, the couple had posted about their frustrations in a Facebook neighborhood group page after being threatened with eviction.

Schellhaas indicated that NCIS was investigating the allegations. When reached for comment, NCIS said it was “unable to comment on an ongoing investigation.”

The residents of the San Onofre II district aboard Camp Pendleton claim that, until roughly two months prior, their bills had been at or below the grace period, meaning they were not billed for utilities.

According to documents obtained by WATM, the residents all saw extreme hikes that had nothing to do with increased power usage.

Lincoln Military Housing declined to respond to multiple requests for comment on these allegations.

Lincoln Military Housing takes part in a program where, if residents manage to conserve energy, they can receive money back from the housing office. If they go over the allotted amount, they pay extra.

The energy bills are managed by a company called Yes Energy Management. The premise behind the company is simple — they are essentially a paid middleman for the middleman. Basically, Lincoln Military Housing — who is contracted by the Department of Defense to manage the housing on some military installations — pays Yes Energy Management to send an electric bill to the base residents.

Rather than having the actual electric company send the bill directly to the residents, both Lincoln Military Housing and Yes Energy Management oversee these bills privately — effectively eliminating any contact between the resident and the electric company.

Each of the homes is fitted with a third party Yes Energy meter that the company uses to determine how much electricity has been used.

The way the system works is that each neighborhood gets their energy usages during a trial period combined and an average is determined by Yes Energy. Those who are above that average get penalized. Those who are below it get rewarded.

Once the residents pay their bills every month, Yes Energy pays the actual energy company, takes its fee from the remainder, and sends what’s left back to Lincoln Military Housing, according to residents.

One of the problems, according to the residents of San Onofre II, is that the neighborhoods they live in weren’t built to have their energy usage measured individually. The residents say that an unnamed employee at their housing office explained that things like Camp Pendleton street lights are wired into their houses, which means that the residents are responsible for paying much more than just their own electric bill.

One resident told We Are the Mighty, “It’s just me and my husband, so when we received the outrageous bills we said something about it and come to find out, our house was hooked up to several street lights.”

Other residents allege that, in addition to paying for the streetlights, empty houses around them drive their monthly usage allotments down. Because there are no residents in those homes, according to neighbors, there is no usage – severely impacting the average usage in that community.

That isn’t a hard thing to imagine, considering Yes Energy has this on its website:

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
Yes Energy Management boasts on their website an ability to recover lost payments due to vacant homes.

Neither of these theories exactly explain why an entire group of residents suddenly saw a significant increase in their bills despite not having changed anything in their homes, residents say.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
Residents of the housing community fear retaliation from the housing office if they talk too much, but they say that not addressing the problem doesn’t fix it, either.

Several residents say they questioned their bills, first going directly to Yes Energy; they claim that Yes Energy told them that the issue was not with them or the energy provider and that they should be speaking with the housing office regarding the way the communities were built.

These same residents allege that they then took their concerns to base housing, where it took months for just a handful of them to receive any type of response. Those that were fortunate enough to get a response also received messages that hinted Yes Energy was to blame for the outrageous bills.

Chelsea Levin, a service coordinator for Lincoln’s San Onofre Housing office, wrote in an email to a resident dated Dec. 7, “I am e-mailing as a follow up regarding the issues you have been having in the home with the Yes Energy account. I wanted to let you know that we are now waiting on the utility company to make the changes.”

The email is in response to a phone call placed to the housing office in September, according to the resident who provided the original email.

So where does that leave the residents?

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
Residents who lived both off base and aboard other military installations know that this isn’t how the program is supposed to work, nor does it work this way elsewhere. But they love their community, so they’re at an impasse.

Right where they were, for now.

The resident who originally spoke with Schellhaas alleges that they were served an eviction notice the day after Schellhaas’s post went live. According to that resident and the resident’s active duty spouse, the housing office contacted the service member’s command to deliver the notice.

In a Facebook post, the resident said that Lincoln cited the resident’s use of salty language in a phone call with the office as the reason they were being evicted.

The resident claimed that the office gave that reason directly to the service member’s command.

“They’re saying I was verbally abusive,” the resident wrote.

When We Are the Mighty reached out to the couple, the resident responded, “I feel as if the housing office saw the article that was posted in USMCLife and that is what caused them to call this morning as well as tell us we were being evicted.”

Other residents who spoke with us cited a fear of retaliation after it became public information that the original residents in Schellhaas’s story were being evicted. One resident wrote: “If you wouldn’t mind, could you please not mention our names or resident IDs? He’s a Marine.”

And another resident wrote to us regarding her husband’s concern about her speaking with us, “He’s terrified we will get evicted. I kept trying to reassure him, but the longer I was looking [at our bill] the more he started to freak out. … He says he’d rather get screwed than be homeless.”

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
Residents are legitimately afraid of retaliation from the housing office for speaking to We Are the Mighty.

Recently, Schellhaas was tasked with updating Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford’s wife Ellyn on “hot-button” issues facing the military community.

In preparation for that meeting, she collected energy data from 17 base homes and four off base homes. What she found was that base residents were charged nearly 45 percent more for comparable energy usage off base. An entire breakdown of her findings can be reviewed here.

Schellhaas issued this statement to We Are the Mighty in regards to the entire energy program:

“I believe there hasn’t been enough due diligence in its implementation and no one authority has demonstrated that the organizations can be made accountable for their actions,” she said. “Privatized housing blames Yes Energy and vice-versa, meanwhile our families are suffering.”

Articles

3 myths about the new military retirement system

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
Veronica Ballek, wife of Col. Michael Ballek, pins a retirement pin on her husband during his retirement ceremony at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, June 2, 2015. | US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse


You’ve probably heard that currently serving military members and their families soon will have to choose whether to switch to the new military retirement system or stick with the old one.

But retirement options and savings choices can be confusing. How can troops know which to pick?

Also read: Pentagon considers lifetime access to Exchange system for vets

Military leaders want families who are thinking through the choice to be armed with as much information as possible, said Lt. Col. Steven Hanson, who heads the Army‘s compensation and entitlements office.

He discussed three military retirement myths at a recent Association of the United States Army conference.

Myth 1: You’ll be forced into the new military retirement system.

That’s false, Hanson said.

Everyone who joins the military after Jan. 1, 2018, will be a part of the new system whether they like it or not. But those who are currently serving at that time will have to make a choice: Keep the old system or opt into the new one.

“One of the big misconceptions about this is that people will be forced into the new system and that is simply not the case,” he said. “Nobody will be moved into the blended system unless they actively choose to do so.”‘

The current retirement program is based on a pension system. Under that plan, if a military member serves 20 years, is medically retired or is forced out and qualifies for early retirement, he’ll be able to walk away with a pension based off his rank at retirement.

But most troops don’t retire out of the military — they simply leave the service. And thanks to the way the current system is set up, that means they walk away empty-handed.

That’s a problem the new “blended” retirement system is designed to fix. Instead of retirement or nothing, it gives service members a savings that is closer to what’s used by employers in the civilian sector.

Under it, troops can contribute money to their Thrift Savings Plans (TSP), and the Defense Department will match it up to a certain percent, much like a 401(k) plan. Even if a service member opts to put nothing in his TSP, the DoD will still contribute an amount equal to one percent of his base pay to the account each month.

And service members who stay in long enough to become retirees will still get a version of the pension system in the new military retirement plan as well, although payments will be based on a lower amount than they are today.

Myth 2: It’s easy to tell which plan you should use.

False. While it would be nice to know if the new system is the right choice for you simply based on how many years you’ve been in, that’s not the case. Whether the new system is right for any given service member is going to be based on a whole slew of information specific to that person and his or her family, Hanson said.

“There’s no cookie-cutter answer. Every service member is going to have different circumstances,” he said. “Everyone should do what’s best for their personal circumstances.”

Myth 3: You’re going to have to figure out which plan is best for you on your own.

Mostly false. While the final choice ultimately will be up to each individual service member, the law that required the retirement plan change also requires the Defense Department to provide a lot of education about what the change means — and how service members can pick which plan is right for them.

“We need to make sure that they have the tools, the skills and the knowledge to make an informed decision,” Hanson said. “We are putting together a training and education plan to make sure service members understand the old system versus the new system so they can make an informed choice.”

MIGHTY MONEY

18 million veterans now have a new benefit

Some 18.5 million honorably discharged veterans now have a lifetime benefit enabling them to shop online at ShopMyExchange.com, marking the first expansion of military exchange privileges since 1990.


“The Exchange is honored to open its virtual doors to millions of deserving veterans,” said Tom Shull, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service‘s director and CEO, a Vietnam-era Army veteran.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
You still need to go get your hair fixed in person, though.

“There are many generations of service members who have not been properly recognized,” he added. “This new benefit acknowledges their service and welcomes them home. This is something veterans can enjoy the rest of their lives.”

Purchases Improve Quality of Military Life

Every purchase veterans make online will help to improve the quality of life for those who wear the uniform today, Shull noted, as exchange earnings support programs such as combat uniforms below cost, fitness centers, child development centers and youth programs on Army garrisons, Air Force outdoor recreation programs, school lunches for warfighters’ children overseas and more.

“This is a virtuous cycle,” he said. “As a veteran myself, it is an honor to pay forward support to active-duty service members and their families.”

Also Read: New online AAFES benefit for veterans is a success

Excitement for the new benefit has been building for months, AAFES officials said, thanks to social media shout-outs from Mark Wahlberg and Marcus Luttrell, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Richard Rawlings and other celebrities. As a result, they said, more than 255,000 veterans verified their eligibility for the benefit before its official Nov. 11 launch.

To verify eligibility and begin shopping, Veterans can visit ShopMyExchange.com.

MIGHTY MONEY

4 basic things you should be doing with your money

Millennials as a group may be delusional about the future, but some are making good decisions with their money today.

Generally, many millennials have little to no credit-card debt, put a portion of their income toward retirement, and have a savings account, an INSIDER and Morning Consult survey found.

Of the 4,400 Americans polled, 1,207 identified as millennials, defined as ages 22 to 37 (237 respondents did not select a generation). The margin of error was plus or minus 1 percentage point.

Here are a few of the ways millennials are smart with their money, according to responses to our survey:


1. They have a savings account.

About 69% of millennials said they had a savings account, compared with 65% of Gen Xers, the survey found.

But while the existence of a savings account is inherently positive, it’s nothing without consistent contributions. A whopping 58% of millennials said they had under ,000 in a savings account, about 19% had between ,000 and ,000, and 11% had between ,000 and ,000.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

(Photo by Sharon McCutcheon)

Many financial planners recommend a high-yield savings account over a traditional savings account for an emergency fund or other short-term need. The best high-yield online savings accounts are offering an annual percentage yield between 2% and 2.5%, and many have no fees and low minimum deposits.

2. They have little to no credit-card debt

Millennials seem to know that keeping a balance on their credit cards isn’t going to make for a good credit score. About 32% said they had no credit-card debt at all — a greater share than Gen Xers (28%). Of the millennials who do have debt, a plurality (36%) said they had under ,000.

It might make sense that Gen Xers, who are older and presumably have more expenses, would be more likely to have credit-card debt, but in this survey the oldest millennials were 37 — and people’s 30s tend to come with houses, kids, pets, and expenses that are no longer limited to Gen X.

Two smart strategies to pay off credit-card debt, according to financial planners, are the “debt snowball,” which prioritizes paying off the smallest debts first, and the “debt avalanche,” which prioritizes paying off the highest-interest debt first. Either method is effective, so the best approach may be to pick the one you can commit to.

3. They would use a id=”listicle-2634449531″,000 windfall to pay off debt or save.

Given an extra id=”listicle-2634449531″,000 cash, 27% of millennials (a plurality) said they would choose to pay off debt, while 22% said they would save the windfall, the survey found. Only 6% said they would put it toward travel or shopping.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

(Photo by Artem Bali)

This is good instinct, as financial planners typically suggest stamping out debt with high interest rates first and foremost, even before saving for retirement or another financial goal. Carrying a balance on a credit card can erode your credit score, and fees and high interest rates can continually add to the overall debt load.

In the survey, the millennials who indicated they wouldn’t use the windfall to pay off debt or save said it would go toward outstanding bills (17%), necessities (12%), or an investment (9%).

4. They put more of their income toward retirement than Gen Xers.

Even though 52% of millennials said they didn’t have a retirement savings account, the ones who do are serious savers.

In the survey, nearly 16% of millennials said they set aside 11% to 20% of their income for retirement — more than any other generation. About 5% of millennials, the same share as Gen X, said they save more than 20% of their income for retirement.

A plurality (33%) said they put away between 1% and 10% of their income for retirement, which is a fine place to start. Experts recommend increasing savings rates annually or every time you get a raise.

One of the easiest ways to build wealth is through automatic and consistent contributions, starting with a retirement account. The contributions to a 401(k) or IRA are pretax, so the money will be taken out of your paycheck before it even hits your bank account. Many employers will match contributions up to a certain percentage or dollar amount. It’s basically free money, but you won’t get any of it unless you’re already contributing something on your own.

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

MIGHTY MONEY

DoD denied benefits to a widow over one mistake

Joseph Parrinello served his country during three wars – World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He met and married Margaret Donnelly while serving in England. They married on December 27, 1957. She followed him to all his assignments and did what many wives did at that time: she took care of the children and managed the household.


In 1972, Joseph retired after 28 years of service. His chief concern in life was making sure Margaret, who was 14 years younger than he and only ever worked in the home, was taken care of if he died. After a lifetime of investments, the Defense Department denied his beloved her survivor benefits because of one wrongly checked box.

 

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After many years together, they divorced in 1991. There was no love lost, Margaret married Joseph at 19 and had just never really known life without Joseph. He still loved her and she was still the mother of his children, so she remained the beneficiary of his Survivor Benefit Plan, even though they were no longer married. During their time apart, Joseph gave his beloved money every month to take care of her, even after the children came of age and left home. It was a surprise to no one when they remarried in 2006. Joseph was 83 and Margaret was 69.

By that time, Joseph had battled cancer and kidney failure. His overall health declined for years, but he never filed a disability claim with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs because he only wanted what he was due and felt the VA didn’t owe him anything. So he lived on Social Security and his retirement pay as an E-7 with 28 years in service.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

Throughout his retirement, Joseph paid 15 percent of his income to take care of Margaret. He had an allotment taken out of his retirement to cover her in the event of his death, resulting in several decades of investment. His survivor benefit plan listed her as the sole beneficiary. At 83, he was tired, ill, and not as sharp as he once was. He didn’t change Margaret’s status from “former spouse” back to “current spouse” on the SBP form because he didn’t think he had to. In his mind, his Margaret was both former and current, and was going to be okay.

When he died at age 91 in December 2014, his daughter Lisa, also an Air Force veteran, tried to help her mother claim her survivor benefits. They initially filed in December of 2014 – but the Defense Finance and Accounting Service said they didn’t receive Margaret’s claim, though DFAS was sure to stop Joseph’s retirement pay and take back pay for part of the month of December. So Margaret refiled in January and was told it takes about six weeks to receive benefits.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss
Joseph Parrinello

After six weeks, Margaret called DFAS to check the status. The answer was the claim was “still processing”. When her daughter Lisa called in February 2015, the claim was “still processing.” In March 2015, Lisa was told her mother “will get paid by the end of March.” In April, the claim was “still processing” and DFAS asked Margaret to send more documents to support her claim.

Lisa, frustrated, contacted her congressman, Mark Sanford. Sanford’s office was able to get an answer from the Defense Department. On June 1, 2015, Margaret was officially denied her benefits because the form had “former spouse” checked even though she is both the former and current spouse and her name is also on the form stating her as beneficiary. The family was told the form needed to be changed through the Air Force Personnel Center. The change (if approved) can take up to 18 months but the Air Force is “backlogged and must go in order.”

As Margaret waits for the Air Force to check a different box, she’s about to lose the house she shared with Joseph, their car, their treasured possessions, and the last wishes and lifetime work of a 28-year Air Force Master Sergeant, who only wanted the love of his life to be taken care of when he died.

The Defense Department did not tell the Parrinellos where Joseph’s 20-plus years of investments went or where they will go if they’re not given to Margaret.

MIGHTY MONEY

How this US soldier is the new Nigerian Prince

“Oh, beautiful friend,” begins an email from Nigeria, “I am in need of your help to move the sum of 30,987,544.36 out of my country but, alas, I cannot.” This email scam is old as email itself but is a spin on an even older scam, one that involves a man claiming to be a political prisoner during the Spanish-American War. Apparently, he’s hidden money away and is desperate to get it before the Spanish find it. Thankfully, through friends, he’s found you, a person of considerable trust. Now if you could just send him some money…

Well, the Spanish-prisoner-turned-Nigerian-prince has transformed yet again. This time, he’s turned into an American soldier… In Nigeria.


This letter con is actually even older than the Spanish-American War. The resurgence of the scam in 1898 was just a play on American anti-Spanish sentiment. In the 1700s, it was a different kind of Spanish prisoner who needed money to smuggle a wealthy family member into or out of a country. Then there’s the 1800s’ “Frenchman in Jerusalem,” or the 1920s’ “German Winemaker Investment.”

These are all different flavors of the same scam. You pay a comparatively small amount up front for the promise of a great windfall down the road, but nothing ever comes. Like all of these schemes, the fraudster is taking advantage of a political situation, economic frustrations, or the recipient’s general lack of knowledge about the subject or region.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

This is the new Nigerian Prince.

He’s back. 

Now, schemers are looking to take advantage of all three of those weaknesses. Americans love their military, but don’t always know where the U.S. military is operating — sometimes because it’s undisclosed and sometimes because Americans don’t really care where U.S. combat troops are deployed (before anyone gets indignant about this statement, ask yourself if you really know).

In reality, U.S. troops are deployed to anywhere between 177 and 195 countries in the world. And those are just the missions with 50 or more troops deployed. Meanwhile, as the U.S. economy has been more or less booming for the last 9 years, it really hasn’t translated into an increase in wages or quality of life for most middle-class and blue-collar Americans. And Americans, even American students, tend to be bad at geography.

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This is not a trick. That’s really where Nigeria is.

But the latest scam isn’t coming from Nigeria. It’s coming from Syria. Well… it claims it’s coming from Syria.

“How are you doing my friend, great I guess! Now I know this mail will definitely come to you as a huge surprise, but please kindly take your time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will probably go a long way to determine my future and continued existence. First, let me introduce myself. I am Capt. Christopher Townsend, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Syria.”

For civilians who may be susceptible to this scam, I hope you tried to show this to a military friend because there are many glaring irregularities between this first paragraph and the photo of the ID sent along with it.

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Blurring the edges of an ID photo is something no one does ever.

Aside from a clearly photoshopped ID photo, the CAC card above was taken from a U.S. Army Sergeant Major, not a captain of Marines. Secondly, unless that captain was also a journalist, it’s unlikely that he would abbreviate his rank using the Associated Press style. Military personnel have many different ways of abbreviating ranks, but the Marines don’t use a period. Finally, no sergeant major or captain I have ever met talks or writes like that.

And a Marine isn’t likely to make that kind of mistake, even in an informal email. Are the Marines in Syria really with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment? That doesn’t matter.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

It matters, but not for the purposes of deciding to send them money.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Donald Holbert)

“Some money in various currencies was discovered and concealed in barrels with piles of weapons and ammunition at a location near one of President Assad’s old Presidential Palaces during a rescue operation and it was agreed by all party present that the money be shared amongst us.”

Do dictators just leave money around, hiding in barrels with arms caches? My guess is that President Assad probably keeps his money in a bank, like most of the world. Keeping illicit cash in barrels laying around one of your many houses is a surefire way to lose it. Besides, rich dictators don’t have to horde cash — they don’t care if people know they’re stealing.

The Syrian Presidential Palaces are located in Damascus and if U.S. Marines are/were in Damascus, even on a rescue mission, we probably would have heard about it by now. Most importantly, Assad never lived there.

Endless opportunity in the face of enormous loss

It would not be this clean after a visit from United States Marines.

(Flickr/Jacobdugo)

Finally, this is something more akin to the plot of Three Kings than something U.S. Marines would really do. The Marine Corps is renowned for its discipline and adherence to its core values on the battlefield. If they came across a cache of million dollars in a Presidential palace, you’d see Marines posing with it and their small arms on Instagram right before you read about it in the New York Times. Then, they’d turn it in.

If you ever have a question about something fishy sent from someone claiming to be a U.S. troop, just ask a veteran. We all need a good laugh.

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