Honoring Those Who Served – Free Burial for US Military Veterans

My grandfather passed away a few months ago, and even though it is a difficult time for our family, one thing made it easier for us. My grandfather served in the US Navy during WWII and as a veteran of the US military, he was eligible for a free burial with full military honors. Funerals are expensive, with the average funeral costing between $5,000-10,000. Military Funeral Honors send the veteran off in style and save the family a lot of money at at ime when they are already stressed with the passing of their loved one.

Honoring Those Who Served

Free Military Burial with Honors for VeteransVeterans of the US military are eligible for Military Funeral Honors if they served in the active military and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, or if they were a member or former member of the selected reserve. The military will provide the Military Funeral Honors to the eligible beneficiary, which consists of the ceremonial folding and presentation of the American flag and the sounding of Taps. The ceremony is normally provided by a military funeral honors detail of two or more uniformed military personnel, with at least one being a member of the veteran’s parent service.

Let your family know if you desire Military Funeral Honors

Public Law 106-65 requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, but the government doesn’t have the resources to track down each veteran at the time of death. It is your duty to let your family know your desires so they can make your funeral arrangements after you pass. You should also let your family know the location of your DD Form 214 (verification of military service) or other discharge documents, which they will need in order for you to receive Military Funeral Honors. You may also wish to request a full copy of your military service records as having this documentation on hand will expedite the process.

How to Arrange Military Funeral Honors

To arrange Military Funeral Honors, contact your local funeral home. Upon request of the next of kin or authorized representative, the funeral director requests the honors from the Military Service in which the veteran served. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration cemetery staff can also assist with arranging Military Funeral Honors at VA national cemeteries. When military funeral honors at a national cemetery are desired, they are arranged prior to the committal service by the funeral home.

Headstones and Markers

Military Funeral Honors also includes a headstone and marker for the veteran and eligible dependents.Styles include flat bronze, flat granite, flat marble, and upright marble. Again, the funeral director can provide more information.

Free Burial at Sea for Veterans

Burial at sea was a Navy tradition of yore, but it is still available for veterans who wish for it. Burial at sea services are performed while the vessel is on official duty, so it is impossible for family members to be present. Following the burial at sea, the ship’s commanding officer will notify the surviving family members the date, time, latitude, and longitude at which the burial took place.

Here is more information regarding military burials:

Photo credit: Beverly & Pack

Will My Credit Cards Affect My Ability to Get a Car Loan?

I received a reader question last week about how credit cards and available credit will affect her ability to get a favorable rate on a car loan.

Now let’s look at her question:

I am writing because I was curious what effect my credit cards will have on getting a car loan with a good interest rate. I have 6 credit cards that total an available balance of $14,500. When I say available I mean just that, the balance on all the cards is zero and has been for about 6 months.

I was deployed to Iraq and decided to get out of debt first thing. Paid them all off in a matter of 5 months.

One of the cards is almost 7 years old, 3 of them are 5 years old and the other 2 are about 2 years old.

I was discussing this with someone and they mentioned that lenders may frown on me having that much available credit.

My income is quite low while I am home because I am also a college student therefore I can’t claim my GI Bill as income because it’s contingent on me attending school.

So I would say I gross about $16,000 a year while at home as far as what can be considered toward my income to debt ratio.

Will these cards hurt or help me and what is the best scenario if it is more beneficial to close the accounts, considering I want to buy a car within the next 6 months.

Thanks,

K.

Hello K,

Thank you for contacting me, and thank you for your service to our country. And congrats on eliminating your debt, that puts you in a much better financial position to obtain favorable loan conditions!

To answer your questions I will also reference some articles I have previously written. The links are below so you can find more details.

With the information in the above articles, you should understand how your credit score is determined, how to improve it, and why canceling your cards may not be a good idea – particularly your older credit cards.

You should already have a high credit score. Your credit score is determined by your payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of history (15%), new credit (10%), and type of credit (10%). You can reference the above articles for more information. Based on this formula, you should have a good score, so long as your payment history is good (ie you haven’t missed (m)any payments). Everything else is in your favor – you don’t owe any money, the length of your credit history is good, and you don’t have any new credit. I don’t know the type of credit you have, and some types are less favorable than others – for instance a payday loan is less favorable than a major credit card.

Don’t cancel your credit cards. Canceling your credit cards reduces the average age of credit, which can lower your score. A better alternative is to request that the credit card companies reduce your available credit on the cards you don’t use. If you feel like you don’t need a lot of available credit, reducing all but one card to a minimum level (probably $1,000) will reduce your amount of available credit and may make it easier for you to get a favorable loan rate.

Debt to income ratio. Your ability to borrow money is based on more than just your credit score. Lenders also consider your income, debt to income ratio, and other factors. Your credit limits don’t actually count toward your debt to income ratio because it is only available credit, not credit you are using. Your debt to income ratio is currently 0 because you have no debt. When you take on a loan, your debt to income ratio will change, but unless you get an expensive car, your debt to income ratio should be relatively low.

Loan rates vary. There are many factors that lenders use to determine the rates they will offer. Your credit score should be high, which is in your favor, and you can lower your available credit by reducing the limits on your credit cards. The biggest factor you have going against you is your low income. If you can demonstrate to your lender that you are living at home, have few expenses, and have sufficient income, you may be able to receive a good loan rate.

My advice: You have 6 months before you plan on buying a new car, so save up as much as you can right now, and put the money in a high yield savings account, where you can earn interest on your money while you wait.

I recommend doing your homework before buying a new car and before taking on a loan. Examine you needs now, and look ahead a few years – if you plan on getting married or starting a family in the near future you don’t want to buy an economy car now and need to trade it in in a few years if your needs change. Since your income is low, try finding a quality used vehicle that meets your needs, and consider buying a car that is closer to the entry level line than the luxury level line.

Then shop around for interest rates. Try your bank first (I currently use and recommend USAA, but go with whichever bank you are comfortable with). And don’t be afraid to check out dealer financing options. Many dealers are hurting in the current economy and may be able to give you a good deal.

I hope this information helps, K. Good luck in finding a good car at a good rate!

2009 BAS and BAH Rates Announced

There is good news for most military members – 2009 BAS and BAH rates have been announced, and the rates are going up for most people.

New BAS Rates:

Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) Rates for CY09 were recently announced by the Secretary of Defense and become effective January 1, 2009.

  • Enlisted: $323.87
  • Officer: $223.04

New BAH Rates:

BAH rates vary by location, so you will need to check with the official BAH rate page hosted by the Pentagon. (note: this page has experienced intermittent down time recently; probably due to unexpected traffic levels).

USAA Subscriber Savings Account Distribution Announcement

My wife and I received our Subscriber Savings Account letter from USAA yesterday. USAA is a member owned financial institution, so if you are a member of USAA, you actually own a portion of the company. The Subscriber Savings Account is one way in which USAA shares its profits with its members.

I think it is a testament to USAA’s strength that they are able to give back to its members this year, especially in light of the current economic crisis and the natural disasters we saw this year, including floods in the midwest, Hurricane Ike in the Gulf of Mexico, and the wildfires in California.

Subscriber Savings Account distributions were made on 12-08-2008, so you should already have it within your SSA. While the money in your SSA is your money and no longer belongs to USAA, they do maintain possession of it in the even that the money is needed to settle claims or other insurance settlements. USAA members are not able to make deposits or withdrawals to their Subscriber Savings Accounts. When you decide to no longer use USAA forinsurance, you will then receive the contents of your SSA.

5 Ways To Save on Taxes Before Dec. 31

This article is Courtesy of USAA (read my USAA Review).

It may seem too early to think about taxes, but you can possibly save hundreds of dollars or more by getting your deductible ducks in a row before the year ends. As with most deductions, income restrictions may apply so check with the Internal Revenue Service to get details. For starters, see if you can take advantage of these five tax-saving moves:

1. Donate. Spend a Saturday morning going through stuff you don’t want. “Take those clothes and items [in good, used condition] to your local charitable organization right away,” says Sally Herigstad, a certified public accountant and author of Help! I Can’t Pay My Bills. “Be sure to get a receipt to verify the donation was made.” Popular tax-preparation software packages have charitable donation calculators built in, making this one of the easiest deductions you may be able to take.

2. Pay deductible expenses early. Make your January house payment in December so the interest deduction is included in your 2008 tax return. And, in December, pay your property tax that is due in January (for the same reason).

3. Tax-loss harvesting. In light of this year’s stock market struggles, you may want to consider taking some of the losers and selling them to realize the loss for tax purposes. Check with your tax advisor regarding your situation.

4. Put money toward retirement. If you haven’t started contributing to a 401(k) or similar retirement account, now’s the time to begin. Your 401(k) contributions are not deductible, but the money you put into them comes from pretax dollars. So, in effect, you’re reducing your taxable income. If you have an IRA, don’t forget that contributions made to Individual Retirement Accounts may be tax deductible. And, in many cases, you can claim IRA contributions made after Dec. 31, 2008 — right up through tax day, April 15, 2009. For 2008, taxpayers under age 50 can contribute up to $5,000; up to $6,000 for those 50 or older. For accurate information based on your personal financial situation, you should consult a tax professional or get more tax tips online from the IRS.

5. Make smart moves — now. Pondering a job move? Decide quickly if you want to deduct it from your 2008 tax return. You can deduct job-related moving expenses in any given year if you move at least 50 miles from your old home and remain employed full time for at least 39 weeks after the move. If you haven’t met the time test by tax day, you can still deduct moving expenses on your 2008 return, provided you expect to stay in the job for at least 39 weeks. But if you quit or get fired before the time period is met, you have to report it to the IRS. See IRS Publication 521 for details. Military moves due to a permanent change of station also qualify for the deduction, but don’t have to meet the distance and time requirements, says J.J. Montanaro, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER practitioner™ at USAA.

More ways to Save on Taxes

Here are some more year end tax planning tips.

Texas Veterans Leadership Program

I received a press release from the Texas Workforce Commission earlier this week about a new veteran’s program in the state of Texas. The state of Texas recently introduced a new program for veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

More information about the Texas Veteran’s Leadership Program:

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has launched a major initiative designed to assist veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  With the support of Governor Perry, the Texas Veterans Leadership Program (TVLP) will lead the nation in welcoming veterans home the right way as they transition to civilian life.

The Texas Veterans Leadership Program is modeled after the Vietnam Veterans Leadership program, established when TWC Chairman Tom Pauken was director of ACTION under President Reagan.  That program involved successful Vietnam Veterans helping their fellow veterans who were unemployed or underemployed, or who had lingering problems associated with their Vietnam experience.
The State Director of our returning veterans initiative is retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Jason Doran, who was awarded the Silver Star for Bravery in Iraq and is author of I Am My Brother’s Keeper.

The Texas Veterans Leadership Program recruited 28 OIF/OEF veterans as local Veterans Resource and Referral Specialists to provide veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan with employment and training services, readjustment issues, family problems and any other issues facing veterans and their families.  They are stationed in workforce centers in each Local Workforce Development Board areas while working closely with workforce center staff and the local staff of the Texas Veterans Commission.

If you are in the state of Texas and have recently separated and are looking for employment, I recommend going to the Texas Workforce Commission. There are a great group of people who are working to help you get a good job. Thank you for your service to our great nation!

DD Form 214 – The Most Important Military Document You Will Ever Receive

Your DD Form 214, Verification of Military Service, is one of the most valuable military service records you will ever hold – it verifies your military service and includes your complete name used while in service, service number or social security number, branch of service, dates of service, and additional information regarding your military service.

Without your DD Form 214, you are ineligible for veteran’s benefits, including VA medical care, the GI Bill, VA Loans, and many other programs. Veterans should treat their DD Form 214 like any other important document – birth and marriage certificates, wills, vehicle titles, land deeds, insurance policies, etc.

Safeguard your DD Form 214

One of the most important things you can do is maintain its safety. I recommend keeping several copies, just in case. Because it has your SSN and other private information, you should keep your copy locked away in a lock box or safety deposit box – you don’t want to become a victim of identity theft because someone swiped your SSN from your military records.

Consider registering it with your county or town hall

In many states your DD Form 214 can be registered with your town hall or county registrar, just like a land deed or vehicle title. You can consider doing this to maintain a record of your service, because it will make document retrieval quick and easy (though you may have to pay a small fee). Before registering your DD Form 214 with any office, make sure state or local laws do not permit public access to your DD Form 214. Because it has your SSN, you may be exposing your private information to the world, making you an easy target for identity theft.

What to do if you lose your DD Form 214

If you lose your DD Form 214, it is not the end of the world. But it can take several weeks, or even months to get it replaced. If you lose you DD Form 214, you will need to contact the National Personnel Records Center to get a new copy of your DD Form 214.

National Personnel Records Center
Attention: [Your Service, e.g., Air Force] Records
9700 Page Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63132-5000

Here are step by step instructions for getting a new copy of your DD Form 214.

You may also call the National Records Personnel Center telephone information lines:

Army Reference Branch: (314) 538 – 4122
Air Force Branch: (314) 538 – 4218
Navy Reference Branch: (314) 538 – 4200
Marines Reference Branch: (314) 538 – 4200
Coast Guard: (314) 538 – 4200

Be sure to have the following information available when you make your request:

  • Your full name
  • Social Security number
  • Current phone number (including area code)
  • Approximate dates of service
  • Place of discharge
  • Return address
  • Reason for request

You can find more information about replacing your DD Form 214, including which forms you will need to send to the National Personnel Records Center, at the National Archives website. Remember, it can take a long time to get your document replaced, so take care of it. It is the most important military document you have!

Managing Money While Deployed

Jeff Rose is an Illinois area Certified Financial Planner(TM) and co-founder of Alliance Investment Planning Group. He is also the author of Good Financial Cents, a financial planning and investment blog. You can also learn more about Jeff at his website Jeff Rose Financial.

In January 2005, I left the comfort of my family and home and began a 15 month deployment to Iraq.  Although I knew the difficulty and hardships that I would face, I knew it would be an excellent opportunity for my wife and I to get a jump start financially.  You would think that being overseas and unable to spend as freely as you can in the States would give every soldier an opportunity to save some serious bucks.  Especially with the military really promoting all the extra money you’ll make with combat pay, hardship pay, imminent danger pay, hazardous duty pay and family separation allowance. All of which was federally tax free while we were on ground.  I guess that was there way of trying to take your mind off the fact that you were heading into a combat zone.  But hey, never hurts to focus on something positive.

Nonetheless, many of the soldiers I deployed with were equally excited to sock away some cash while we were gone. But what I saw was a different picture.  I saw many come away with nothing saved.  In fact, I witnessed many coming home in more debt after deployment than before we left.  It made me wonder what I did different and what future soldiers could do to maximize the money earned while in combat.

1. No Major Pre-Deployment Debt

One thing that worked huge for us is that we didn’t incur a lot of unnecessary debt prior to being deployed.  Many soldiers were buying brand new laptop computers, high tech electronics, and special ops gear before we left.  I could possibly justify the laptops, but most of the special military gear was a bit premature since we weren’t sure what the government was going to issue us.  Most of it was just to look “Hooah” or have the “coolest” gear.  I called in the “Black Hawk Down” syndrome.  You might not be Delta Force, but you’ll try and look the part. The two major expenses that I incurred prior to deploying were: 1. Lasik surgery 2. My wife’s engagement ring. Our goal was to have those both paid off in the first couple of months, which we did.

2. We had a plan

As I stated above, we had a goal to take care of the Lasik surgery expense and the engagement ring as soon as we could.  Luckily, my wife and I had no student loan debt and these were the only two items that were left to be paid off.  Once we paid those off our goal was to boost our savings and max out our Roth IRA’s.

3. Automatic Investing

One thing that I’ve always been a big fan of when it comes to investing is the systematic withdrawal.  The concept of “out of sight, out of mind” works amazing for anybody that is trying to save.  We had it set up where each of us was depositing $100 a month into our Roth IRA’s. Once we got our savings up were going to max out the remaining balance. By setting up the automatic monthly withdrawals, it made it to easier to write a check to make up the difference. The other benefit of automatic investing is dollar cost averaging, which takes the guess work out of trying to time the market.

4. Be ready for the unexpected

When I left, my wife and I were renting out a home with friends of mine so our expenses were low.  We had talked about buying a home once I got back.  Well, half way through my deployment, a family friend had offered to sell his home at a very good price.  It was exactly what we were looking for and at a price that we couldn’t pass up.  So while serving my country in a foreign land, I purchased my first home.  If we hadn’t of made a plan, I don’t think financially we would have put ourselves in the position to purchase the home.  I’m now thankful we did.

5. Limit the Unnecessary Purchases

You would think that being overseas that you wouldn’t have a chance to really spend any money.  That is a major myth.  The truth is that there are PX’s (Post Exchanges) readily accessible to any soldier.  There you can buy electronics, snacks, souvenirs, etc.  Also, the availability of the internet made online shopping a snap.  One example is a buddy of mine special ordered a pair of Nike running shoes for $150.  Since they were special order, it would take an extra few weeks for the shoes to be shipped.  So he then ordered a regular pair of Nike running shoes at $140 to last him until the others came in.  Did I mention he already had a pair of Nike running shoes that were just fine?  That might be an extreme example, but I have countless others of soldiers wasting their money while overseas.

6. Excellent Supporting Cast

My wife was incredible of keeping track of our finances while we were away. Keep in mind we were just newlyweds, but we were able to get on the same page of what we wanted to accomplish financially.  You hear many stories of a soldier’s wife/husband spending the money while the soldier is away.  I can tell you for a fact that it happens.  We had many soldiers whose wife (we only had male soldiers, so sorry if I’m discriminating) went on shopping sprees with all the new money that was coming in.  I was very fortunate to have a wife that shared my vision in securing our financial future.

7. The Lottery Syndrome

Once we returned home many that had been able to save some cash went on buying sprees.  New cars, trucks and Harley’s were quickly snatched up.   I even had another soldier who had reenlisted while were overseas and received a $15,000 tax free bonus.  All of which was gone in the first month of being home.

Any newly deployed soldier has an excellent opportunity to get off on the right track while on deployment.  Consider some of the steps that I did that helped us and apply those to your situation if you can.  More importantly, learn from the examples of those who fell into financial traps and avoid those situations.

This article was included in the 42nd money hacks carnival: laid-off and freelancing edition at Financial Wellness Project.