Benefits: Credit Card Benefits for US Military & Spouses

There are many bonuses and perks offered by credit card issuers to active duty military members. Some credit cards for active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines waive annual fees, cap interest rates, and/or offer money back for purchases up to a certain amount.

You may find some credit card companies offer these on a case-by-case basis or by request only, while others may advertise these perks as an ongoing feature of their credit programs. But did you know that in addition to programs a credit issuer may voluntarily offer, there are federally-mandated perks that all credit card companies must offer a service member on active duty when requested?

American Express Benefits for Military

American Express takes the SCRA protections a step further by waiving their annual fees for military personnel and their spouses. The Blue Cash Preferred card has a $95 annual fee and the Gold Card has a $250 annual fee. However, since the annual fees are waived you might as well take advantage of the great perks that the American Express Platinum Card offers. Such as access to hundreds of airport lounges and Uber, airline, hotel and TSA Precheck credits. Plus, get a 60,000-point bonus when you spend $5,000 on your card in the first three months.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) And Credit Card Interest Rates

The SCRA mandates a 6% interest rate cap on loans you took out before starting active duty. This cap is described at the United States Department Of Justice official site as a limit to the amount of interest charged on “certain financial obligations that were incurred prior to military service.” This limit is “no more than six percent per year, including most fees.”

The caveat is that the cap is not automatic, must be applied for with the credit agency, and must be applied for with all credit card companies you wish to claim your SCRA rights with. You will be required to provide a copy of military orders and a formal notice in writing.

There is also a time limit on these notices-you have until 180 days after the end of military service to file the notice. The U.S. Department of Justice notes that when you file your notice, the creditor is required to fully forgive, rather than defer until later, the amount of interest greater than six percent per year.

The interest rate must be forgiven retroactively, and the credit card company is not allowed to engage in any practice that results in “…accelerating the payment of principal in response to a properly made request for a six percent interest rate cap.”

What You Should Know About Military Credit Card Benefits

Viewed from a certain perspective, a great deal of the American economy involves two kinds payments; those that are known up front, and those that are part of what some call “gotcha” tactics.

A gotcha tactic can be anything from a sudden increase in your interest rate due to one or more missed or late payments that is applied as per the agreement you make with the creditor – often this increase potential is spelled out in detail only in the fine print of the agreement, which some people choose not to read closely.

But “gotcha” tactics also work in the other direction – you may be eligible for discounts, lower rates, cash back on purchases, and other perks, but these will not be applied automatically and are generally not advertised. You have to ask for the perks, but before you can do so you have to know to ask for them.

Military credit card benefits are not standardized. You may be required to be on active duty for a minimum amount of time (30 days is one standard), and you will be required to furnish proof of service and possibly evidence that your military service commitment is for a minimum time or that you are about to re-enlist.

Some of these requirements will vary from lender to lender, except where the SCRA laws apply.

Some credit card companies are more generous than others with their military benefits, and some credit card companies have a reputation for liberally interpreting your SCRA rights, offering more than the law requires when such rights are claimed. American Express is one company that has earned a positive reputation in this area.

Remember, you will generally be required to request or sign up for these credit card perks, they are not automatic.

Credit Card Benefits For Military Members You Should Ask For When Signing Up For A New Credit Card Account

Here is a list of perks that are offered by many credit card companies to their military customers – if you are not currently enjoying some or all of these perks, it’s a very good idea to call your credit card company to request the following, especially when opening a new account:

  • No over-limit credit limit fees
  • No annual fee for military members
  • Cash back incentives for military members
  • Cash back programs specifically for military-related expenses such as moving, uniforms, etc.
  • No overseas transaction credit card fees for military members
  • Incentives for electronic payments or automatic electronic payment transfers
  • Waived or reduced credit card cash advance fees for military members
  • Lower APR interest rates for military members
  • Any special perks or incentives for deployed service members or families of deployed service members
  • Special “reserve cards” for military members and/or family members
  • No penalty APR interest rate adjustments for late payments

Which Credit Card Companies Offer The Best Military Credit Card Perks, Bonuses, And Incentives?

Opinions may vary, but one of the best things military members and their families can do to get military-oriented credit card benefits is to apply for credit cards from a military or military friendly company such as USAA, Navy Federal Credit Union, or the company currently servicing your government official travel charge card.

There are other credit card companies that have historically offered perks and military credit card benefits, including Chase Bank, Bank of America, American Express, and Capital One.

Of these, Capital One is rated by third-party websites as being less of an advantage than the others, but Capital One credit cards have waived both annual fees and overseas charge fees for active duty military members. It’s always best to call to inquire about the most current military-friendly credit programs available.

Chase Sapphire Reserve for Military

All Chase personal credit cards are offered with no annual fees for active duty military servicemembers and their spouses. The top two choices are the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve cards. The main difference is that the Preferred offers 10,000 more sign up bonus points while the Reserve offers a recurring $300 annual travel credit.

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $450 annual fee (and $75 authorized user fee) completely waived for US military and spouses
  • $300 annual travel credit (Uber, taxi, airfare, hotel, train, car rental, etc)
  • 3x points on travel and dining worldwide
  • Redeem points with a 50% bonus when booking travel through the Chase
  • Automatic travel insurance on trips purchased with the card including trip cancellation, delay, interruption, lost baggage, and auto rental collision
  • $100 Global Entry sign up fee reimbursed every 4 years
  • 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4000 in the first 3 months of opening account

Important Advice About Signing Up For New Credit Cards

  • Not all credit is billed the same; the interest rate and terms of repayment on a credit card cash advance may be different-and higher-than for ordinary purchase transactions. Know what you are agreeing to before you use the features of your credit account that result in cash back to you from the credit card company.
  • Be sure to ask how much advance notification the credit issuer requires before you leave active duty.
  • When signing up for a new credit card, be sure to check the application to see if there is an option to choose your source of income. If so, always select “military” or “government” as your income source where available. This may go a long way toward helping you claim your military credit benefits from the very start.
  • Check to see if your existing or new credit card provider offers a special hotline for military customers.
  • Know the terms and conditions-what perks apply to your account while serving on active duty, and which will continue if you retire or separate from military service? Ask these important questions before they become a real-world issue.
  • Read the fine print on all your credit card accounts. Know under what circumstances you will be charged added fees, fines, penalties, etc. even as a military customer. Don’t assume that you will be exempt from late charges, interest rate increases, or other actions based on late or missed payments, going over your account limits, etc. When you sign the legally binding agreement for your credit account, you will be subject to the rules you agree to. Know before you sign.

How to Save Your Credit Rating in the Military

Military members, dependents, and military spouses are especially vulnerable to credit problems like identity theft, the potential for lost or stolen cards and personal information, and many other problems.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to save your credit rating even if you are compromised, miss a payment, or have related issues. Credit and credit ratings are tricky but there are some very simple steps you can take that directly safeguard your credit.

It is very important to stress that these are steps all consumers should take themselves. Fixing your credit is FREE and you do not need to pay a third party to help you take the simple credit repair steps below.

Save Your Credit Rating by Knowing Your Credit Reports

First and foremost, reviewing copies of your credit reports regularly protects you from being the victim of identity theft, and to make certain there are no outdated items on your report, errors, etc.

For added protection, know the contents of your credit reports and follow the five tips below. It is that simple.

Tip #1: Add Some Credit

Some credit users don’t have enough credit to their name–they simply don’t have enough of a credit track record to show a lender they are a good credit risk. Other credit users may have a few credit cards but carry high balances. In both cases, adding a credit account may be a good idea.

It’s never a good plan to apply for new credit just ahead of or during a major credit application. Adding a credit account is something that should be done in the planning stages for a new mortgage or car loan, a year before or more is ideal.

The credit agency Experian says on its official site that consumers can legally improve their credit utilization rate by “raising your credit limit on an existing account or opening a new credit account”.

Credit utilization rates are calculated based on all your available accounts. If you have five credit accounts and carry a balance of 50% on each account, adding a new one or increasing the credit limit on an existing account affects the calculation, lowering the utilization rate. This may sound like a bit of creative accounting, but the math and the rationale can definitely help you improve your credit.

Tip #2: Create An Emergency Fund

One of the biggest sources of stress is last-minute expenses that force you to dip into your bank account, potentially affecting your monthly budget.

This can be a serious issue, which is why it’s best to establish a separate bank account and fund for such emergencies when considering Tip #5.

It can be tough to do this in the middle of a typical military assignment. For example, when military members get PCS orders, they have the ability to request advance pay (basically an interest-free pay advance that is repaid in monthly installments over a year) and set up as a small fund for this purpose.

You can do the same thing with a reenlistment bonus, special pays or allowances, etc. The key is to pay attention to times when you may be due extra money from the Department of Defense and plan accordingly (e.g., annual clothing allowance.)

Tip #3: Get Help

Military bases, college campuses, and even lenders may offer classes and seminars on improving credit, becoming ready for a home loan, saving money, budgeting, and other key areas.

If you are living on-base overseas, find your nearest MWR program, Soldier Support Centers, and the USO for potential financial resources.

Your city and state government may have stateside programs open to first-time home buyers, new investors, and other categories of people hoping to learn better money management, credit repair, and investing skills.

A financial planner, tax expert, or investment advisor may be able to help you find or use resources in your local area to get more informed on good credit practices and how to repair your credit yourself and for free.

Tip #4: Reduce Your Credit Card Balances

Your credit report has a ton of useful information: lenders, X number of credit cards and other accounts. It also shows what your credit limits are, and the percentage of used credit limit.

Lenders often look at the borrower’s used credit lines before approving new lines of credit or loans. Ideally, you should reduce your credit card use so that you are well under 50% of your credit limit. As a general rule, 30% is the maximum, but it’s best to reduce the amount halfway below your credit amount.

That will still help improve your credit over time. Carrying high balances on your credit cards does not help you when applying for an auto loan or a VA mortgage.

The credit utilization rate, which calculates the percentage of your credit use across all accounts, is used to determine your credit. If you have three credit cards, your credit utilization rate may be high if there are higher balances.

However, the credit reporting agency, Experian, reports you can change that ratio in a very simple way.

Advanced Tip

Before applying for credit, a va loan etc., make a payment to your account before your card’s statement closing date, instead of on or before its payment due date. Card issuer’s typically report the statement closing date balance to the credit bureaus on the statement date. Thus, even if you pay off your credit balance before the due date your credit report may still show a balance which will effect the utilization percentage used to calculate your credit score.

Tip #5: Set A Payment Schedule

Among the top three causes of bad credit scores, late and missed payments are serious issues. If you have missed or late payments on your credit record in the 12 months leading up to a major credit application like a VA mortgage or an auto loan, your chances at loan approval are seriously compromised.

Do not apply for loans if you have late and missed payments in that 12 months, wait out your payment record until you have a full 12 months of “clean” payment record on the books for best results.

The best way to achieve a clean payment record? Military members, dependents, and spouses should set up auto-deduct payments, ACH transfers, allotments, or any other automated payment process to handle your accounts each month on-time every time.

Military Airport Lounges

Military airport lounges have been a staple of official and leisure travel for servicemembers and their families for a very long time. Anyone who has ever had to make a permanent change of station move from a stateside to an overseas assignment has likely taken advantage of a military airport lounge, and those traveling with families to and from overseas locations find these lounges to be an oasis during the long trip.

Military Airport Lounges: The USO

Since World War Two, some of the most well-known military airport lounges have been operated by the USO. These lounges are open to currently serving military members and their families with unexpired ID cards and feature internet access, sleeping areas, small libraries, mini-theaters, snacks, and other services that vary depending on location. But these lounges aren’t open to all visitors.

The USO official site notes, “Occasionally, veterans or military retirees contact us to tell us they couldn’t get into a USO airport lounge because they didn’t have an active military ID card. As much as we’d like to open our doors to all those who have honorably served, we have limited space and resources.”

At the time of this writing, USO airport lounges are not open to retirees and veterans, preferring to use all available resources for those who are currently serving in uniform and their families.

Find A USO Airport Lounge

USO lounges are normally listed in airport directory maps and official sites. The signage and visibility for these lounges is often minimal so it is always best to ask at an airport information desk if you are not sure if the USO is active at that airport and where the lounge might be. An unexpired military ID is always required for entry into the lounge just like entering a military installation.

You can find a USO lounge by searching the official site: the USO has operations in roughly 200 locations (not all are in airports) so chances are good that you may find USO facilities in an airport you are traveling to or from if you’re traveling to common destinations for official business or leisure trips.

Be Mindful of Peak Travel Times

USO lounges can fill up fast during PCS season, during deployments, and (depending on location) TDYs. For example, if you are traveling from Colorado at the end of the summer just before the start of fall semester classes at the Air Force Academy, the USO lounge at Denver International Airport might be busier than usual. Peak travel times vary depending on location, tourist season, and other factors.

USO Airport Lounges: Not All Destinations Are Equal

Some USO operations are quite small, others, like the one located at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, may have partnerships with major league sports teams; one story that’s made the rounds on certain travel blogs notes the individual who checked into the Lambert Airport USO only to find there were free major league baseball tickets to be had for those arriving in St. Louis.

Some locations may offer free food, coffee, books, and sleep pods, others may also be able to arrange shuttle services from the airport or help travelers find shuttles going their way.

The USO: Not The Only Lounge In The Airport

The USO operates military-specific lounges in major airports all over the world, but these are not the only airport lounges available, and many are open to military members even if those troops are not members of the clubs themselves.

Many airlines have frequent flyer or VIP clubs with lounge facilities that require membership to get in. These airlines often have policies for admitting non-members who serve in uniform and their families. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Priority Pass Lounges
  • American Airlines Admirals Club
  • Delta Sky Club
  • Centurion Lounges

Who Can Use An Airline Club Airport Lounge?

Generally, the airport lounges run by American Airlines, Delta, etc. are members-only spaces and those memberships can cost roughly $500 a year. But the rules for these members-only lounges often include exceptions for military members and sometimes their families, too.

The key to getting access to these lounges is to remember that the staff isn’t used to people coming in without a membership, and even though there are special rules in place for qualifying military travelers, lounge staff isn’t always aware of them and may have to be shown-it’s very good to have a copy of the pertinent rules pulled up on your mobile device to show a staff member in case they are unaware.

It’s also good to do this in a nice and unobtrusive way.

General rules for lounge access where military fliers are concerned will vary depending on the lounge, and rules are always subject to change so it’s best to check with the airline prior to your travel day to make sure you are still entitled to use a members-only airport lounge according to the rules of the program.

Airport Lounges That Have Allowed Military Access Without A Membership

American Airlines operates the Admiral’s Club in select airports around the world, in both domestic and international lounges.

The American Airlines official site says military members and family traveling same-day on United are eligible to use these airport lounges with a boarding pass and a military ID. Military members must be in uniform to travel.

United Airlines has had a policy in the past that any active duty military member flying United same day may use United Clubs as long as you’re flying on orders AND are traveling in uniform. Some travel blogs report United Clubs staff being uninformed about this feature, needing to be shown the rules pertaining to military access as detailed on

But has this policy changed in recent days? Likely not, but it’s always better to check.

Delta Airlines operates Delta Sky Club lounges and have no specific policy listed on the Sky Club official site for military, but some travel blogs claim Delta may allow those traveling in uniform to and from deployments permission to use the lounge with a copy of orders and military ID.

Delta Sky Club membership options are open to those who apply for credit cards (see below), and military members traveling over the holidas may find Delta operating military lounge type operations during peak holiday travel season as a way of showing support for troops and military families.

Some Airlines Don’t Have A Lounge, But…

You may find certain airlines have partnered with other agencies allowing access to airport lounges as a perk of booking, of being a member of frequent flyer programs, etc. It’s always best to ask at the time you book your air travel about the availability of airport lounge perks and how to get them.

GI Bill: How Many Degrees Can You Get With It?

How many degrees can you get with the GI Bill? That depends on a variety of factors but the short answer is, more than one.

The key to getting the most credit hours out of your GI Bill benefits is to review your entitlement, review the school’s degree program requirements and/or your educational goals to structure a course of study that takes full advantage of your benefits and the time allotted to complete the classes.

That sounds fairly simple, but no two schools are alike and some veterans find they have to learn and understand new approaches to academics in order to get the most from their benefits.

Planning Ahead To Get Multiple Degrees With Your GI Bill

Those who serve and have not retired or separated from active service are in the best position to plan for more than one degree. The key is to use other tuition assistance offered to you while serving rather than using your GI Bill.

The Department of Defense offers Military Tuition Assistance to active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members. This program pays 100% of the tuition expenses for education billed for $250 or less per semester hour.

Under Military Tuition Assistance, you can attend two-year or four-year institutions on-base, off-base, remotely, or in a traditional classroom. Each branch of the military including the Coast Guard offers to pay this tuition assistance directly to the school.

Tuition assistance can be used for:

  • Independent study
  • Vocational/technical programs
  • Undergraduate programs
  • Graduate programs
  • Distance-learning programs

Starting your program while still in uniform and using funding sources like these instead of your GI Bill is a great first step toward earning multiple degrees. The GI Bill funds you save here can be used for a Bachelors or Graduate-level program instead. Or both, one after the other.

Veterans don’t have access to Military Tuition Assistance once they retire or separate; it is useful to see if there are state or local programs aimed at veterans that may offset some of your costs before using the GI Bill.

Getting The Most Mileage From GI Bill Benefits To Earn Multiple Degrees

Some students don’t realize that having the GI Bill does not mean you can’t apply for other financial assistance in the form of grants, loans, state-operated veteran benefits programs, etc. It’s best to fill out a FAFSA form and determine what other financial help you may be entitled to. Doing so can stretch your GI Bill money even further for multiple degree programs.

Once you begin using your GI Bill benefits, you will need to determine what is possible under your program. For example, the Montgomery GI Bill does not feature access to the Yellow Ribbon Program–an agreement between participating schools and the VA that provides additional funds (provided by the school) to cover the gap between the VA GI Bill benefit and the final cost of tuition for private institutions.

However, the Post 9/11 GI Bill does include the Yellow Ribbon program, and that is an important factor in school choices, program choices, and how aggressively to approach your college career. The Yellow Ribbon program helps extend GI Bill benefits, but not for all programs or applicants.

The Montgomery GI Bill also does not pay a housing stipend, unlike the Post 9/11 GI Bill. But those who plan to attend remotely or online-only are not penalized under the Montgomery GI Bill, and those who attend online only classes using the Post 9/11 GI Bill are subject to greatly reduced housing stipends unless at least one class is taken in person.

Knowing the limits of your program will help you make more informed choices about how to stretch your benefits.

Attending Multiple Schools

Some GI Bill students need to take classes at more than one school in order to meet certain academic requirements or to speed up progress in the program. This is permitted under GI Bill rules as long as the attendance meets certain criteria.

Going to more than one school is sometimes needed to complete a degree program on time, especially if the student’s “main” college only offers a key class once per year.

VA rules for attending more than one school at a time state classes at more than one school may be approved when both of the following apply:

  • The school granting your degree considers the classes at the second school to be required in order to get your degree
  • The classes at both schools count toward your degree

What You Need To Know About Multiple GI Bill Degrees

There are things you cannot do with your GI Bill benefits. For example, GI Bill money can’t be used for the same class twice, “unless you get a failing grade in a class that the school requires for graduation” accordion to

You cannot use the GI Bill for classes that don’t count toward your stated degree. However you can use Post 9/11 GI Bill funds to pay for licensing fees related to your professional program, certification tests, SAT testing, LSAT, and others.

Depending on the nature of your degree, you may wish to earn a second Bachelor’s degree; this may or may not be possible depending on the nature of the second degree. A degree too similar to the first one earned may not qualify.

That’s not the same as applying for a graduate-level program in the same field–a Bachelors’ degree in Psychology, for example, followed by a Masters’ degree in the same discipline would not be rejected.

The Process Is Simpler Than You Think

Earning more than one degree with your GI Bill benefits does not require you to sign a statement of intent to do so, or otherwise commit to the VA to proceed with more than one; all you have to do is have enough remaining GI Bill benefits to enter your program and structure your attendance according to your needs.

What does this mean? Basically, going through the process of applying to the school, going through the school’s Veterans Affairs office or veteran rep to get your GI Bill benefits moving forward, and decide how to attend.

If you have never used your benefits before you will have your full entitlement. If you have, you will need to check to see how much of your entitlement remains. Then the real work begins.

No two schools may run exactly the same. Some measure classes using terms, the semester approach may be used, or some other unit of measure. The key to maximizing your GI Bill benefits includes knowing what constitutes full-time attendance versus part-time and how you can use that to your advantage.

Your VA benefits are paid based on your status as a full-time or part-time student. But you get more mileage out of your benefits if you take the most number of credit hours you are allowed to take as a full or part-time student.

If full time attendance is between 12 and 15 hours, you get more from your benefits taking the full 15–reducing your overall degree program length. This doesn’t work at all schools, but where and when it does you may find it helpful. These are the little details you’ll need to know about your school, your program, and how your version of the GI Bill will pay for it and the program you select afterwards.

Wedding Military Discounts

Military discounts on wedding products and services are a great benefit that many businesses provide to active duty military and even veterans in some cases. Many businesses promote these discounts and much more so the best rule of thumb is to always ask if a military discount is available. Here is our list of wedding military discounts and how to find even more.

Engagement Rings with Military Discounts

  • Allurez
    5% military discount on engagement rings, wedding bands, pendants, earrings, and all other fine jewelry.
  • Arthur’s Jewelers
    10% military discounts to Active Duty members, Reserves, Veterans and Retirees of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, National Guard and Coast Guard.
  • DreamStone
    Military members receive a discount on engagement rings by entering USTROOPS in the discount box upon check out.
  • Helzberg Diamonds
    10% discount to all active duty, retirees, disabled veterans, and dependents of active duty/retirees, on orders placed in-store, online, or at 1-800-HELZBERG. Once verified, those eligible will receive a one-time promotion code. Offer can’t be combined with any other promotion and is not applicable toward loose diamonds from Create Your Own Helzberg Diamond Ring™ or custom gemstone jewelry.
  • James Free Jewelers
    Currently serving military personnel and their immediate family receive 15% off every day. Please show valid ID to store associate or use .mil address when ordering online.
  • Larson Jewelers
    Active duty military members receive 5% off the purchase of wedding rings and bands.
  • Moissante Bridal
    Military members receive 5% off the purchase of an engagement ring.
    Ready to pop the big question and put a ring on it? Get 5% off on an engagement ring of your choice (maximum price of $10,000) by simply providing your US military email address.
  • Tiffany
    10% off engagement rings and wedding bands for U.S. active duty, reservists and veterans plus fiancés, domestic partners, wives and husbands. U.S. only.

    Free Chapels

    • One of the best perks of being in the military when it comes to tying the knot is that the base chapel is typically free including chaplain performing the wedding ceremony with a variety choices including almost any religious denomination, non-religious, military, civilian and casual. Start with the Chaplain’s office to find out more.

    Free or Cheap Wedding Reception Venues

    • Military bases also offer a variety of options to host wedding receptions at significantly lower cost than non-military venues, hotels or resorts. Depending on where the military base is located and the venues available venues can range from the officer, enlisted or joint-rank clubs, chapel, meeting halls, beaches, lakes, mountains and much more.
    • Weddings for Warriors
      Weddings for Warriors provides free vow-renewals and weddings to active duty military couples. Everything is included from bridal gowns, photography, hair and makeup, the venue and food. This program started in Savannah, Georgia but is now done throughout the United States. Apply to Weddings for Warriors to participate.

    Wedding Dresses for Free or with Military Discount

    • Banana Republic – 15% discount for active duty, military veterans, and dependents. Valid in store only with valid ID.
    • Brides Across America Military Bride Wedding Gown Giveaway
      Multiple bridal retailers and wedding dress designers work with this organization to provide free wedding dresses to military brides. Special wedding dress events are held throughout the year where they giveaway wedding dresses. Check out their site for a listing of the next free wedding dress event in a city near you.
    • Dress Barn – Discount and participation varies by location. Have a military ID with you and ask.
    • Larenas, Somerset, PA
      Save 15% on a bridal gown at Larenas by presenting a valid military ID.
    • New York & Company – Receive a 15% discount at participating locations. 
    • Unique Vintage – Military members receive 10% off through

    Local Wedding Venues & Services with Military Discounts

    • Battlefield Bed and Breakfast Inn, Gettysburg, PA
      Active duty military are offered 10% off any room or suite, all year round, at this 12-room bed and breakfast, located in a Historic 1809 Field Stone Farmhouse. Active Duty Military receive a 10% discount on all wedding and reception packages. This includes the small, medium, and large size wedding packages, and elopement packages. Reserve online or call (717) 334-8804.
    • Lomas Santa Fe Country Club, Solana Beach, CA
      Free ceremony site fee (a $1,500 value) for those who have served or continue to serve in the United States Military.
    • Los Verdes Golf Course, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
      A free ceremony site fee (a $2,800 value) is offered for those who have served or continue to serve in the U.S. military. Some restrictions may apply, and this offer is only valid for new event bookings.
    • Marcus Weddings, Milwaukee, WI
      25% discount on any Wedding package or reception for active U.S. Military personnel. Includes the following hotels in the Milwaukee area: Pfister Hotel, Hilton Milwaukee, Intercontinental Milwaukee and Grand Geneve Resort. Cancellation fees will be WAIVED for any wedding receptions that must be cancelled or rescheduled due to unanticipated deployment.
    • True Photography Wedding Photographer, San Diego, CA
      10% military discount on wedding photography to all who have served the U.S. Armed Forces including veterans and active duty personnel.


What Veterans Need to Know About Federal Debts Right Now

Economic stress is affecting everyone right now, including military-connected students and veterans. It’s more important than ever that you know your rights. And you have some important new rights about your debts.

Your Stimulus Check Can’t Be Taken for Most Federal Debt, Even Unpaid Taxes

You should know that, if you received a stimulus check as part of the coronavirus stimulus package (the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act) signed into law March 27, that’s your money. The CARES Act prevents the federal government from taking your stimulus money to collect on certain federal debts you might have, even unpaid taxes.

If You Have Student Loans from a Private Bank or Private Lender (Not the Government)

Private student loans are also not covered under the CARES Act. If you have private student loans, your lender or servicer may also be offering temporary payment modifications or forbearances as a result of the ongoing crisis.

The good news is that a recent Veterans Education Success report found that the number of undergraduate student veterans who take out private student loans declined significantly with the introduction of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2009. This is a very good sign. Private student loans come with far fewer protections and are almost always more expensive than federal student loans, as our new report explains.

In addition to lower interest rates, federal student loans offer a variety of repayment options that help borrowers cope with employment challenges that may affect their ability to repay, including income-driven repayment, public student loan forgiveness, forbearance and deferment. These options may not be available from private lenders. The variety of requirements and payment options in the private market presents a challenging landscape for individual borrowers. If you have a choice, it’s best to stick to federal student loans.

If You Owe a Debt to the Department of Veterans Affairs

The CARES Act required the Education Department and Treasury Department to pause debt collection, but the law did not do the same for those who owe a debt to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Earlier this month, a veteran in financial distress came to my organization, Veterans Education Success, with a GI Bill debt and a landlord who was threatening to evict him.

“Jack” was forced to withdraw from a class last November due to his service-connected disability, which created an overpayment debt. His March and April housing allowance went to pay for that debt. In addition to appealing the debt through the VA appeals process, he made a payment arrangement with the VA where part of his disability check would go toward the overpayment each month. When he reached out to us, he had still not heard back from the VA. Despite his payment arrangements, when April hit, the VA took part of both his disability compensation and his housing allowance to pay the debt. “Jack” was going to school full time, and his wife is unable to work because she is immunocompromised. They had no money.

Fortunately, due to the decision of the governor in Jack’s state to halt all evictions for 45 days, we were able to prevent the most immediate harm from taking place. We were also able to help him resolve his claim with the VA, but not everyone is so lucky.

In response to requests from the veteran community, the VA suspended all actions on all types of veteran debts beginning April 9 for 60 days. Additionally, the department said it will consider extending the timeline (if the situation with COVID-19 makes that necessary) and will update its website to reflect the change and automatically extend suspensions for affected veterans.

The VA’s suspension of debt collection comes with two big caveats:

If you already entered into a repayment agreement with a third-party debt collector (like a collection agency or the Treasury Department), especially an automatic payment with the Automated Clearing House (ACH), those automatic payments will continue unless you contact the Treasury Department or the private collection agency to cancel the ACH.

In other words, VA debts that happened after April 9 will be automatically paused. But for debts that existed prior to April 9,, you must contact the VA to have them paused.

If You Have Federal Student Loans

If you have federal student loans held by the federal government, your monthly payment and interest rate accrual have been automatically suspended. Also, if you have defaulted on any federal student loans, the government is not allowed to come after you to “collect” on defaulted federal loans through Sept. 30, 2020. (But this covers only federal student loans that are owned by the U.S. Department of Education. Federal Family Education Loans, or FFELs, which were issued prior to 2010 by financial institutions such as banks, and Perkins Loans, which are typically owned by colleges and universities, do not qualify under the CARES Act.)

Media accounts have revealed that about 54,000 wage garnishments are still happening on federal student loan debts. They shouldn’t be. You can report them. Also, you can contact the debt collection company directly and ask whether the payment can be reversed or whether the collection firm has “hardship” programs that could temporarily suspend payments.

If you live in Illinois or Texas, those states have acted on their own to stop debt collection on federal student loan debt held by private entities. And California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York or North Carolina have also stepped in to stop some debt collection on student loans.

Additional Veteran Benefits Resources

Find veterans benefits offered by each state. Did you know that state, city, and community programs also offer a range of veteran benefits and programs for qualifying vets and their families?

City Websites, Chambers of Commerce Sites

Searching for veteran benefits by city can be a bit more challenging than searching for state resources. There are no real standardized templates for city sites, and you may find no help on one type of official site, while finding a large number of resources on a different city-specific resource.

It’s best to begin your search by checking the official page of your city, village, township, etc. If you have no luck there, try searching for veteran benefits on your local Chamber Of Commerce official site. While you’re at it, be sure to have a look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce site for information on national programs such as Hire Our Heroes.

The U.S. Department Of Labor

This government agency offers a search tool to help veterans find career help in their local area via the DoL’s CareerOneStop program. You can search for local help from your nearest “American Job Center.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA official site has a by-state list of VA regional offices and state VA offices. Some of these site vary in detail from others, but many include lists of state resources for veterans that include both VA and non-VA benefit programs.

Organizations with Veterans Service Officers:

  • Veterans of  Foreign Wars
  • American Legion
  • Amvets
  • Disabled American Veterans
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America
  • Vietnam Veterans of America
  • Military Order of the Purple Heart

Some benefits are more well-known than others. Many states offer education assistance, housing, and employment programs for veterans. But there may be tax advantages, retirement home options, even business license exemptions available for qualifying veterans, depending on the state.

It’s always good to know as much about your state options as possible-you never know when you might need to apply for these lesser-known programs.

The U.S. Army Official Site offers a very helpful state-by-state clearinghouse of benefits information searchable by clicking on the appropriate state or using a pulldown menu to access information on that state’s education, employment, insurance, and other benefits. You can also find locations to that state’s VA clinics and other VA resources in this one-stop guide.

Examples of Available Veteran Benefits

Housing Benefits

There are the obvious benefits for veterans seeking e.g. VA mortgage home loans from participating lenders all over the United States, but on the state level there are some options that may be of help later in life, such as Arkansas’ state veteran retirement homes.

That benefit is offered to honorably discharged military members with a priority for Arkansas residents. Other programs include Minnesota’s short-term assistance with rent or mortgage payments for qualifying veterans.

These benefits are likely best found via the state’s official site or the state VA regional office official site such as the one for Minnesota.

Finding state-level veterans’ benefits may seem daunting at first. But you’ll discover that getting to know your state’s official site and your state-level Department of Veterans Affairs official site is an excellent way to get caught up on these benefits, future legislation or state planning that might affect them, deadlines for applications, and points of contact in your community for learning more.

Education Benefits

Many states offer some kind of supplemental or replacement education benefit for veterans. In Illinois, a program known as the Illinois Veterans Grant is for qualifying veterans who listed Illinois as their home of record while serving, or who joined the military while living in the state. This program offers full tuition coverage that can be used separately from or in conjunction with the GI Bill.

Other states offer free or reduced tuition for the dependents of military members. California, Alabama, and other states offer such programs, which may be subject to change from year to year due to legislation or budget issues.

One of the best resources you can use to find these education benefits in your state? Your local state college or state university official website. You will find that in most cases, these sites will have specific information on the veteran education assistance programs offered in that state and how to begin.

These are often listed under a heading in the Admissions section. Look for “Paying For College” or “Student Financial Assistance” headings.

Tax Benefits

Some states, including Texas, California, Alabama, and others, offer tax breaks to veterans in the form of exemptions or tax-free income options. Alabama has an exemption on military retirement pay, California offers property tax exemptions to qualifying veterans, etc.

You will find tax exemption information on your state’s official site. It’s not safe to assume that any tax breaks you may be entitled to are automatic. Consider the requirements of the New York State official site which includes the following:

“If you’re an eligible veteran, you must submit the initial exemption application form to your assessor. The deadline in most communities is March 1—please confirm the date with your assessor. Proof of discharge under honorable conditions including times and places served in active duty (usually form DD-214) must be attached to the exemption application”.

Military Retirement: Financial Issues

You will face many challenges and opportunities as your retirement approaches. And, planning for your family’s financial security is one of those challenges. This guide is merely intended to give you some things to think about as you begin your transition to civilian life. It’s based on my personal experiences and feedback from countless counseling sessions.

Most retirees will find that they still require private, individual life insurance. Many experts recommend a mix of both permanent (whole life) and term coverage.


Life Insurance Planning is not easy. Most people spend more time researching and buying a new car than they spend putting a good plan in place for the financial security of their survivors. Below are some common life insurance mistakes to look out for. Call one of our Counselors or another life insurance professional to learn more about avoiding these mistakes.

  1. Making policies payable outright t minor children/grandchildren.
  2. Failing to review your coverage periodically to ensure that it adequately addresses the changes in your life.
  3. Naming your estate as beneficiary
  4. Failing to name contingent beneficiaries and failing to keep beneficiaries up to date
  5. Not having enough insurance (Use Navy Mutual’s Needs-Based Calculator).
  6. Forgetting the termination date of your Term plan.
  7. Buying insurance as a commodity. Seek the help of a knowledgeable life insurance professional. Our Counselors can help you determine what is best for your family.
  8. Failing to buy the right type of life insurance (Term and Permanent insurance both have a place in your plan).

Disability Insurance. This is one area that most active duty service members don’t think about since they enjoy significant benefits when they become disabled in the line of duty. However, as a civilian, you should pay particular attention to this insurance. If you are starting a second career, most employers will provide you with both a short-term and long-term disability policy on a group basis. You need to review these plans carefully to ensure the protection is adequate. Don’t forget, your excellent military pension continues for life even if you become disabled. This is a significant benefit that you have over your civilian counterparts. You should also evaluate your occupation and your avocation to see what affects they may have on this decision. Is your occupation one such that there is an increased probability of disability? Is your occupation one in which a disability would end your employment? For example, a surgeon who suffers a disabling injury to his/her hands or an airline pilot whose vision becomes impaired? Purchasing an individual disability policy may be a consideration.

Property and Casualty Coverage. This is the one area of insurance planning that you may have best under control. However, if you move to a new state to begin your retirement, you will need to re-evaluate your Homeowner and Automobile policies. Some retirees also look at insuring their household goods in order to have adequate protection as they are trucked off to the new homestead. Look to companies that serve service members and veterans as their primary mission, such as USAA and Armed Forces Insurance (AFI).

Financial Planning

I am not going to tell you which stocks, bonds or mutual funds to buy. But, I will hopefully stimulate some thoughts as you make a significant financial transition in your life. A very small number of military retirees truly retire when they leave the service. However, for most military retirees, retirement means starting a second career when they are not financially secure enough to stop working. In most cases, this second career will provide you with a significant increase in discretionary income and an excellent opportunity to save for your eventual full retirement. It is a great time to plan and a good time to seek the services of a professional financial planner. Most planners will tell you pretty much the same thing: When you get ready to retire you will need to establish an income stream of about 80 percent of your final working income to sustain your lifestyle. This income will come from three sources: a pension, Social Security, and private savings. The good news is that as a military retiree, the first two already provide you with a solid foundation.

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA). You probably have an IRA established for both yourself and your spouse. You may have ROTH IRAs that are superb vehicles for retirement savings since you never pay taxes on any money that comes out of them. However, when you start your second career, you may no longer be able to contribute to your ROTH because your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) will exceed the allowable limits. You may need to shift to a conventional IRA. How much can you contribute each year? If you are over age 50, are you taking advantage of the “catch up” provision? When can you withdraw funds without penalty? When do you have to start withdrawing funds? These are important questions.

Social Security is probably something to which you have not paid much attention. You should because it is the second important element of your plan. Review your most recent Social Security statement carefully with your spouse. If your spouse has a work history, review his/hers as well. Pay particular attention to the retirement estimates. You need to consider several things: How long do you want to work? When do you want to start drawing retirement benefits? What effect does earned income have on Social Security benefits? How does your military pension affect Social Security benefits? (I’ll answer that one now — it has no effect!) Do you understand that special Military Service Credits may be available to you? Is it better for your spouse to draw retirement based on their Social Security Account or your account? Why would you want to wait until age 70 to start drawing benefits? Answers to these types of questions will be important inputs to your financial plan.

Your military pension is one of the best, if not the best, pensions that exists in America today — Cost of Living Allowances (COLA) protected, income for life starting the month following your retirement. It is so valuable that there are companies willing to “buy” your pension from you. Do not be tempted, these schemes are egregious rip-offs. Your pension is the first element of your financial plan. Another piece of advice is to use the “myPay Account” feature available on-line with DFAS ( to monitor and make changes to your retirement account. Remember in almost all cases your active-duty allotments will carry right over to your retired pay account.

Private Savings is for many, the most important element of their plan. How much savings you have now? How much do you need to fund a comfortable retirement? How do you get there from here? Answer those three questions and you have your plan. You may be able to go it alone, but most retirees would probably benefit from some professional help.

  • Qualified Employer Retirement Plans. Your second career will most likely come with a new retirement plan opportunity. They come in the form of qualified plans that means that they enjoy favored tax status. Contributions to some plans can be made with pretax dollars. All plans allow your money to grow tax-deferred. Most employers offer a 401 (k) Plan. A relatively new variation is the Roth 401(K) that is funded post-tax dollars. What type of plan does your new employer provide? This may be an important factor in your job search if you are still looking. Is it a defined benefit plan or a defined contribution plan, or are both types offered? Which is better? If it is a defined contribution plan, does your employer provide matching contributions? How much? How much are you allowed to contribute each year? Are there “catch up” provisions for those over age 50? How long before you become vested? Is the plan “integrated” with Social Security? Is the plan portable if you leave that employer? The last question is important since many military retirees change employers four times or more. When can you start drawing a retirement benefit? Does that benefit enjoy COLA increases? What if you start your own business? What retirement plans are available?
  • Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). Hopefully you were able to take advantage of this Military 401 (k) plan. It is a good solid qualified retirement plan. It is comprised of five funds with different focus that provide good diversification and it has an incredibly low fee of only six basis points. The plan has recently added a six fund – a Lifestyle Fund which uses a combination of the five previous funds to meet your retirement goals. However, once you retire you can no longer contribute to the TSP. What are your options? You can keep it and continue to manage the funds inside the plan as your assets continue to grow. In many cases, you may be able to roll it over into your new employer’s qualified plan. In some cases, you may be able to roll it over into your personal IRA. Which option is best for you?
  • Deferred Annuities. Once you have maximized your contributions to your IRA and employer retirement plans, you may still want to invest more money on a tax-deferred basis. A Flexible Premium Deferred Annuity (FPDA) is one product that allows you do this. Annuities can be either fixed or variable. A variable annuity has more risk because it is invested in the equity market and therefore also offers the potential for higher returns. Fixed annuities are more conservative, but they also have a guaranteed minimum interest rate. What is your risk tolerance? Which annuity is right for you? Navy Mutual offers an excellent fixed FPDA. To learn more about annuities, visit our website and review our Annuity Tutorial or call us and ask for a copy of the annuity tutorial pamphlet.

Taxes. Most retirees are shocked by the big jump in their tax brackets. Military compensation has many tax benefits that will no longer exist in your civilian career. Most retirees will receive a straight salary instead of the more complicated system of military pay and allowances. Maybe you avoided state income tax during your military career and that may factor into where you live in retirement. You should note that just because a state does not have a state income tax does not mean it has a low-tax burden.

How will your military retired pay be taxed? One thing to remember is that there is no FICA tax taken from your military retired paycheck. Be prepared for your first tax return to be a little more complicated than it was in the past, and expect to see a larger tax bill. You may get into the business of paying estimated taxes for the first time in your life. You may also get caught up in Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) provisions. You may feel it necessary to visit a tax professional. There are a few things that you may be able to take advantage of in the tax area. First, you may be able to defer tax on some income by contributing to a qualified retirement plan as discussed above. Your employer may offer a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) that allows you to use some of your salary on a pre-tax basis for qualified medical expenses and childcare. There may be some other areas where tax breaks are allowed that you had not considered. Be prepared to do some tax planning.

A prominent financial planning firm notes the following nine big mistakes that people should avoid when saving for retirement. They are provided here for you consideration as begin, review, or refine your financial plan:

  1. Relying solely on the investment returns of your portfolio.
  2. Forgetting about the effects of inflation.
  3. Not having a properly allocated portfolio.
  4. Underestimating taxes.
  5. Underestimating your spending during retirement.
  6. Having unrealistic investment expectations.
  7. Underestimating the time you will spend in retirement.
  8. Failing to plan for unexpected health care expenses.
  9. Mismanaging your tax-deferred assets.

In summary, retiring from the military and beginning a second career offers enormous opportunities for securing a very comfortable, financially secure and full retirement. Do not waste these opportunities by failing to plan.

Estate Planning

Estate planning is not a pleasant subject or an enjoyable task. What is estate planning? Estate planning means more than simply preparing a last Will and Testament. In its broad sense, estate planning must address the administration and protection of assets during your lifetime and for decision making in the event that you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

Estate Planning also involves the preparation of several key documents: a will, one or more Durable Powers of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directives, Living Wills, and one or more trusts. What do these things do? Which do you need? How do you have them prepared? Who should be involved in the planning? These questions should be considered during the planning process. While you can do many of these things yourself, this is one area where professional legal advice is essential if you want to ensure the documents? validity for you and your family. The military Legal Assistance Centers can prepare many of these documents for free while you are still on active duty and many of these centers may offer services to retirees on a space-available basis.

However, estate-planning issues can become very complicated and they vary widely from state to state, so you may need the advice of an estate-planning attorney. Estate planning firms may offer a free consultation to assess your needs and then will discuss what they will provide and their fees. A comprehensive estate plan includes all the documents above plus some continuing service can cost about $2,000 to $3,000. The more complicated your estate, the greater the cost. Most retirees have relatively simple estates so costs can be less. Just because your estate is simple now does not mean that you will not need estate planning in the future. Also, estate planning is not a task reserved solely for the elderly.

Trusts can help avoid tax liabilities. While most retirees may not have estates large enough to be concerned about estate and inheritance taxes, this can change. Hopefully you will see a substantial increase in your estate as you pursue your second career. Also, many retirees underestimate their estates by failing to include the real value of their home or by failing to include the large death benefits of their life insurance policies. In some cases, there is even a value attached to survivor pensions such as SBP. So while tax planning should not be a major focus of a trust, it can be a valuable tool.

Incapacitation. What if you are involved in a serious accident or contract a serious illness? Who will make the decisions regarding your medical care? What medical measures do you want taken to save your life? What if those measures reduced you to a prolonged vegetative state? Who has the power to make significant financial decisions if you are incapacitated? Who will take care of your children if you are unable to do so? Durable Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Advance Health Care Directives can answer most of those questions. A Will is used to designate the guardians of your children. All of these are legal documents — and in today’s litigious society are challenged frequently. This is why they need to be prepared by competent attorneys. These documents represent the cornerstones of your estate plan.

Trusts. Many people consider trusts something that only the wealthy need and use. However, a trust can be a valuable tool for almost anyone. A trust is a set of instructions that tell the world how you want things done if you are not around or able to do them yourself. The most popular and widely used trust is a revocable trust that you own and manage while you are alive. It also carries out your wishes when you die. There are some key reasons why you might want to consider a trust:

Trusts avoid probate. Trusts avoid delays in settling your estate and will save your survivors both time and money. Another good reason to avoid probate is privacy. Any of your assets that pass through a normal probate process become part of the public record and are available to creditors and others who might want to take advantage of your family. Trusts are private.

Trusts can help plan for known or unexpected family situations. How can a disabled child, sibling or parent be cared for? How can you ensure that funds will be available and be used to fund college education for your children? How can you protect your married children in the event of a divorce? How can you ensure funds are controlled so that they do not pass to a person who is not mature enough to receive them? How can you prevent a guardian from squandering your young children?s inheritance? How can you help a family member with a drug or alcohol problem? There is an almost endless list of problems and issues that can be helped by a properly prepared trust.

Trusts can be used with Life Insurance Planning. A trust can own or be the beneficiary of a life insurance plan. Residuary trusts can be set up to dispense the proceeds of a large policy to your children in a controlled manner if you and your spouse should die prematurely. An estate planning attorney/tax expert should be consulted to discuss the advantages of using trusts with life insurance.

The estate planning tools and documents will be based on your own family circumstances. Hopefully, I’ve given you some things to consider. Most retirees would benefit from speaking to a professional to get additional insights. However, there is one element of estate planning that every retiree should seriously consider. For example, have you informed your family of your wishes if you should pass away? And have you provided them with sufficient information on your finances and other key issues that will allow them to carry on when you are gone?

Health Care Planning

As a retiree, you are pretty well set as far as medical care goes, especially when compared to the average American. Tricare provides an array of options for health care and Tricare for Life ensures that when you reach senior citizen status you will be well cared for when Tricare and Medicare benefits are coordinated.

Dental Care. Dental Care is an important health care benefit that you need to replace. Most employers provide some type of dental plan as an employee benefit. If not, you are eligible for the Retiree Dental Plan. However, be prepared to absorb some out-of-pocket expenses if you have any dental issues above the normal two cleanings per year. Even the best plans only cover 80 percent for routine fillings and major work such as root canals and crowns may only be covered at the 50 percent rate. A couple of bad teeth can reach that maximum quickly.

Tricare provides you and your family with an excellent medical care benefit. Get a good briefing on the program at the Transition Seminar so you enroll in the option that best fits your needs. Tricare Prime is probably your lowest out-of-pocket option if you are near a military health care facility. You may also want to purchase a Tricare Supplement Policy at age 65. When you turn 65-years-old Tricare-for-Life kicks in and no further supplemental policies are needed.

Tricare and your Civilian Employer. Most retirees pursue a second career with a civilian employer. Typically, the most expensive employee benefit is the health care plan, so you may be able to leverage your Tricare benefit to your advantage. In many cases, an employer will be willing to compensate you for declining their health care plan in favor of Tricare. For example, they may pay all your Tricare costs as an alternative or provide you with an increase in another benefit, such as a better dental plan increased life insurance, etc. This is worth discussing with your employer. If your employer offers a cafeteria plan for benefits, staying with Tricare will give you an opportunity to select other employee benefits from the menu.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA). One great way to mitigate out-of-pocket health care expenses is to pay for them with pre-tax dollars. You can do that through an FSA if your employer offers one. An FSA allows you to put cash out of your salary and into a pre-tax account which can be used to reimburse you for out-of-pocket health care expenses, often including many over-the-counter medicines. You must use all the funds in your FSA each year or any unused funds will be forfeited. I suggest that you might want to be conservative at first until you get a feel for your medical expenses. You can also establish a separate FSA up to $5,000 to pay for child cares/adult day care expense. Discuss the FSA with your new employer’s HR director.

Long Term Care (LTC). Long term care is one area where you are not covered. Neither Tricare nor Medicare provide for custodial care which is what most LTC consists of. Medicaid is usually a non-starter for a military retiree due to your pension. LTC is a growing topic of interest in this country. Statistics show that with people living longer than ever. The probability of their needing some type of assisted living is also rising. In your family, the person with the most need is usually the female spouse This time of transition from active service, may be a good time to consider your future LTC needs and start planning now.

Long Term Care (LTC) Insurance Plans. These are plans that you purchase much like Term life insurance. You pay an annual (or more frequent) premium and if you meet one of the triggers for LTC your plan pays you a monthly amount. These triggers are either one, the inability to perform two of the five or six Activities of Daily Living (ADL) without assistance or two, serious cognitive impairment such as dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. ADLs typically include eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, and transferring from bed to chair. LTC Plans have a variety of benefit elections which impact the price, such as the amount of the daily benefit, the length of the benefit period (usually three to five years), the length of the elimination period, inflation protection options, etc. Your age is a major factor in your premium costs. The best place to start is with the Federal LTC Program. Use it as a benchmark.

Self-Insure. Some financial professionals believe that if you have sufficient assets, you can provide for you and your spouse’s long term care. However, there is a risk that you could run out of funds and, of course, any assets used for long term care would not be available for other uses or for passing them on to your family. You should consider seeking the counsel of a financial professional if you think you can self insure. Additionally, some of the other options below could be used as part of your overall LTC Self Insurance Plan.

Family Care. About 70% of long term care is still being provided by family members. However, this can be a significant physical, mental and financial burden on a family. It can require modifying a home to accommodate the LTC needs of a person. In many cases, families eventually have to turn the care over to professional care givers or turn to a nursing home anyway. Some children have also turned to paying the premiums for LTC Insurance for their parents.

Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). One popular self-insurance plan is a CCRC. These are facilities that offer the full range of living arrangements ? from separate homes or apartments where couples live independently, to nursing facilities where a person requires continuous LTC. There is typically a large entrance fee ($100,000 to $300,000 or more) and then a monthly fee ($1,000 to $3,000 and up). For those with sufficient assets CCRCs offer an attractive option for insuring LTC needs.

Annuities. An annuity can provide monthly income for life or for a specified number of years. This income could be used to fund LTC needs or could be used to pay LTC Insurance premiums. The best way to use an annuity for this purpose would be to purchase a flexible premium deferred annuity at a young age and then make monthly contributions to it. Let it grow tax deferred and then annuitize it later in life to pay for LTC expenses. This is probably not a viable option for most retirees. However, it might be an option for a younger retiree. There are also some hybrid annuities available that can have a LTC Option where the annuity payment would be increased if the annuitant met certain LTC criteria.

Life Insurance. Some permanent (whole life) life insurance plans have a LTC Option which allows an accelerated payout of the death benefit if the insured meets certain LTC criteria. Again, this would work best if the policy were purchased at a younger age with lower premiums. Most retirees will find whole life insurance to be an expensive alternative. However there are advantages: You have the LTC protection if you need it and life insurance and cash value if you don’t require long term care, so it may be well worth the cost.

Reverse Mortgages. A reverse mortgage is a nonrecourse first mortgage loan against a home’s market value that advances cash to the borrower who remains the homeowner. It requires no installment payments, and proceeds from the sale of the home are used to repay the loan when the borrower no longer maintains the home as a principle residence (e.g. dies or moves into a nursing home, etc.) A reverse mortgage is an option for obtaining funds to pay for LTC. Reverse mortgages are provided through the federal government and private lending institutions.

What is ‘The Survivor Benefit Plan’?

When a military retiree dies their retirement pay stops. This means that the surviving spouse will be left without a substantial income source. If you are a retiree you need to give serious thought to how you can protect your spouse from the hardships caused by the loss of your retirement pay.

One option available to you is the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). The SBP is an insurance plan that will pay your surviving spouse a monthly payment (annuity) to help make up for the loss of your retirement income. The plan is designed to protect your survivors against the risks of:

  • Inflation
  • Your early death
  • Your survivor outliving the benefits

How SBP Works

At retirement, full basic SBP for spouse and children will take effect automatically if you make no other valid election. You can’t reduce or decline the SBP without your spouse’s written consent. This means you will have to have your spouses input in the decision and their signature is required.

You may choose coverage for a former spouse, children, or you may be able to cover an “insurable interest” (such as, a business partner or parent).

If you elect to participate in the SBP you pay a monthly premium. The premium is based on how much SBP coverage you select.

Your SBP coverage can be any amount from full coverage down to as little as $300 a month. If you elect higher SBP payments on your death your monthly payments while you are alive will be higher.

The highest your SBP can be is 55 percent of your retirement pay.

There are several categories of beneficiaries that you can have the SBP for. The categories are:

Child Only

This option pays the SBP only to your children regardless of whether you are married or not. Your children will get the SBP until they turn 18 or age 22 if a full-time, unmarried student.

Children mentally or physically incapable of self-support remain eligible, while unmarried, for as long as the incapacitation exists.

Spouse Only

The surviving spouse be a widow or widower who was married to you when you enrolled. If you marry later, you can add your spouse, but they must be married to you for at least one year prior to your death to get any benefits.

Spouse (or Former Spouse) and Child

You can also elect to cover your children under this category of coverage. This coverage pays to your spouse while they are alive. If they die before you it will pay to your children after your death.

Disabled Dependent

You can also contribute your SBP payments to a Special Needs Trust (SNT) to allow a disabled dependent to continue receiving federal disability payments.

A SNT is a trust designated for beneficiaries who are disabled, either physically or mentally. It is written so the beneficiary can enjoy the use of property that is held in the trust for his or her benefit, while at the same time allowing the beneficiary to receive essential needs-based government benefits. Talk to a financial advisor for more information.

Former Spouse

If you have a former spouse when signing up for the SBP you can elect coverage for them.

If you have more than one former spouse, you can only choose one. If you add a former spouse, your current spouse doesn’t get anything.

Person with a Natural Insurable Interest

If you don’t have a spouse or kids you can elect SBP coverage for a person with a natura insurable interest in the member. This usually includes business partners.

The Department of Defense defines a natural insurable interest as “a natural person with an insurable interest who has a reasonable and lawful expectation of financial benefit from the continued life of the participating member, or any individual having a reasonable and lawful basis, founded upon the relation of parties to each other, either financial or of blood or affinity, to expect some benefit or advantage from the continuance of the life of the retired member.” If the election is for a person who is more nearly related than a cousin, no proof of financial expectation is required.

Again, talk to a financial advisor.

Inflation Protection

Like your retirement pay the SBP annuity is protected from inflation. Each year when retired pay gets a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) so does the SBP.

Remember, since the SBP coverage amount goes up with COLA, your premiums will go up too.

How to File Your Taxes When You’re Deployed

Deployed service members are expected to file their taxes. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service realizes service members and their families face unique circumstances and offers tools – and some special extensions – to make tax filing easier. Military OneSource also provides a suite of free tax services for eligible service members and their families.

Getting help filing taxes, getting an extension

In addition to serving in a combat zone, there are other ways service members can obtain an extension on filing taxes beyond the July 15 deadline.

Other tax assistance for service members and their families can be obtained through:

  • The IRS has a web page on tax information for military members who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and uniform services.
  • The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Offered for free by the IRS, this program is for those living on or off the installation and includes sites for military members overseas. VITA staff can help you with military tax issues.
  • Military OneSource MilTax free tax filing services. MilTax preparation and e-filing software, available Jan. 22 through Oct. 15, allows you to prepare and file your federal and state taxes with ease. It’s designed to address military-specific scenarios, such as those described above.

Getting started on free military tax filing

If you are a service member or filing taxes on behalf of a service member, keep the following in mind when getting started on your taxes:

  • Make sure you have a power of attorney in place if someone is filing on your behalf. If your spouse or someone else is filing your tax return, make sure they have all your information and attach the power of attorney – a legal document that provides them authority to make financial decisions in your absence. The person filing your taxes on your behalf will need to attach IRS Form 2848 with the tax return.
  • Get your statement online: You can go to myPay to get your military W-2 form. It is posted there before being mailed to you. You’ll need your Common Access Card or personal identification number to access it.
  • File the return in your permanent state. If you are stationed away from your permanent home address, you will still pay taxes in your home state in most cases. Note: military spouses who work and live with their service member in a state other than their home state as a result of military orders may not have to pay income tax in the state where they work.
  • Gather other important information. Other documents you may need to file your taxes include 1099 forms, deduction and credit information, receipts for child-care expenses, last year’s tax return, and any documents for investments, rental properties or mortgages. You’ll also need your military ID and every family member’s Social Security number, bank account and routing numbers if you are filing electronically, and receipts for charitable donations.

Deadline extensions for combat zone and hazardous duty

Filing your taxes after the July 15 deadline is more common than you think. This is especially true for service members who are deployed. The IRS extends filing deadlines – and paying of your income taxes – for service members who are:

  • Serving in a combat zone or directly supporting those in a combat zone, serving in a contingency operation, or having a “missing” status. Your tax extension generally starts the day you begin serving in the combat zone for the period of your service plus 180 days afterward. The spouse and family members of those serving in combat zone or contingency operation sometimes also qualify. Your command will notify the Internal Revenue Service of your deployment, so you can receive an automatic federal tax return extension. You may still want to write “COMBAT ZONE” in red on top of your tax return when you do file.
  • Hospitalized outside the United States because of injuries suffered in a combat zone or hazardous duty area. This applies for the period the service member is continuously hospitalized outside of the United States as a result of injuries sustained while serving in a combat zone, including 180 days thereafter. For hospitalization inside the United States, the extension period cannot be more than five years.

Preparing and filing taxes is a citizen and service member duty. But as a member of the military family, you can obtain 100% free access to tax consultants and financial counselors with military expertise.