Military Deployment Financial Checklist

If you’ve been in the military for a few years, chances are good you’ve gone through a deployment checklist numerous times. You start at the top and work your way down the list one by one… Uniforms – check. Bug out bag – check. Standard safety gear – check. Power of attorney? Will? Financial checklist? Ummm?

Your unit probably gave you a detailed deployment checklist for required gear, but they may not have stressed the importance of having a financial checklist for your upcoming deployment. As someone who deployed 5 times can attest, your finances are probably not near the top of your list when you are packing for an extended stay in a hot zone. But you need to pay attention to your finances while deployed, even if you are single!

Military Deployment Financial Checklist

The first thing you need to do is sit down with your loved one if you manage your finances with someone else and have a long talk about expectations, how your finances will be managed while you are deployed, and other important financial topics. If you are single, you may wish to have this conversation with a trusted family member or friend, or if your finances are simple enough, just set everything up for automated payments and transfers.

Once you have a clear understanding of how your money management works on a daily basis and who will be responsible for which parts of your daily personal finances, you might want to take a hard look at these items before you ship out.

Money management checklist:

  • Power of attorney. A power of attorney gives legal rights for someone else to act in your stead. Be careful though because a power of attorney gives someone the same legal rights as you, so you want to be careful who you give this to, and the type of power of attorney you give them. Stop by your JAG office – they can help you prepare a power of attorney free of charge.
  • Set up joint accounts. This only works if you are married, but it makes money management easier and allows your spouse to pay bills, cash checks and otherwise manage many of your financial affairs.
  • Automatic bill pay. Use auto bill pay for items like homeowner’s insurance, auto insurance, and any other bills that are the same amount each month. This is particularly important if you will not have access to the internet.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. You may be able to save money on interest rates on loans, break a lease or rental agreement, or delay civil proceedings while you are deployed.

Life insurance, estate plans, and health care:

  • Life insurance is essential. Go for the max through the SGLI, but also consider getting more life insurance through a 3rd party. Be sure the life insurance policy does not include a clause that will not pay out if you are killed during an act of war (this is fairly common in many life insurance plans). Additional resources: How Much Life Insurance Should Military Members Buy?, Life Insurance Quotes.
  • You need a will and an estate plan. Even if you elect to have your estate settled by law, a will can make the process smoother and help your survivors avoid probate, which can be a lengthy and expensive process! Stop by your JAG office – they can help you prepare a will free of charge.
  • Healthcare power of attorney. You may wish to have a living will or a durable health care power of attorney. These legal documents can give your loved ones the ability to make healthcare decisions if you are unable to do so. Be sure to effectively communicate your wishes to your loved ones.

Deploying is stressful – your finances don’t need to be

Deployments are stressful enough without worrying about your finances. Whether you are married or single, it is a good idea to get a trusted friend or family member to help you manage your finances while you are deployed.

For a more in depth financial checklist for deployments, check out this printable deployment checklist from USAA. You can print a copy and go over each line item with your spouse, friend, or anyone else who ill help you manage your affairs while you are deployed.

Should You Refinance VA Loan From a 30 Year Mortgage to a 15 Year Mortgage?

I recently received a reader question from a Marine currently out of the country in support of the War on Terror. He sent me a little background on his mortgage situation and wanted to know if he should refinance his VA Loan from a 30 year mortgage to a 15 year mortgage.

Should you refinance a 30 year VA Loan to a 15 year mortgage?

Refinance VA LoanQ) Ryan, I’m looking at my mortgage situation and am considering refinancing my VA Loan from a 30 year mortgage to a 15 year mortgage because we can save thousands of dollars over the course of the mortgage. My wife recently received her nursing degree and will be bringing in enough income that we can easily make the higher payments. The only downside I can see is the possibility of PCSing in the next couple years. Would it be better to refinance for a 15 year loan, or just make extra payments on the current loan?

A) Jarhead, thanks for fighting the good fight. We sincerely appreciate all you guys do to keep us safe. Based on your question, it looks like you have a solid grasp on the situation at hand – refinancing to a 15 year mortgage will definitely save you thousands of dollars in interest over the course of the loan, but as you hinted, making the same payments on a 30 year mortgage will essentially have the same effect. But there are a few other differences between 15 and 30 year mortgages that you should consider.

Comparing 15 & 30 year mortgages. For example, most 15 year mortgages have slightly lower interest rates, larger payments, and shorter terms. Most 30 year mortgages have slightly higher interest rates, lower monthly payments, and longer terms. Assuming you take either loan to full term and you don’t pay extra, a 15 year mortgage will save you hundreds of thousands of dollars interest over the course of a loan. But those savings come at the expense of higher monthly payments and less flexibility.

Sometimes flexibility is more important. In most cases, a 15 mortgage is the better option if you can afford the payments. But due to the number of unknown factors and the military lifestyle, I think a 30 year mortgage will offer you more financial flexibility and the same opportunity to save thousands on interest if you make extra mortgage payments.

In your situation, I would consider more than just the bottom line. If you might PCS in the next year or two, then you have to consider whether or not you will be able to sell your home, and if not, whether or not you will be able to rent it out for what you pay on your mortgage each month (or at least close to it).

If the real estate market in Southern California has recovered fairly well by the time you PCS, then you may be able to sell your home and be done with it. If you don’t think you can sell it or you wish to keep it as a rental to build equity and perhaps move into it later, then a 30 year mortgage will keep your payments low and make renting it more feasible.

Is refinancing a good option?

The 30 year VA Loan you currently have probably offers the right amount of financial flexibility, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t refinance your loan. Right now mortgage rates are near all-time lows, making this a great time to refinance your mortgage (compare mortgage rates, and compare VA Loan rates).

If you can save 1% or more on your interest rate, then it is probably a good idea to refinance, even if you maintain your 30 year term (just keep in mind it will extend your payments to the 30 year mark again, even though you may have already paid off several years worth of payments). But even with the longer term, the savings can more the justify the refinance expense, especially if you have the discipline to redirect your monthly savings toward your principal. Here are more things to consider when refinancing your mortgage.

Tips for refinancing VA Loans

VA Loans can actually be easier to refinance than some conventional loans because of  a process called the VA Streamline Refinance. The VA Streamline Refinance enables you to quickly and easily refinance a VA Loan, often at a low cost. You will not need to submit another Certificate of Eligibility and there is often reduced paperwork, since the VA has your home’s information on file.

Be sure to shop around for the best mortgage rates and stick with a fixed rate loan instead of any exotic mortgages offered by many financial institutions. Once you have your refinanced VA Loan in place, go ahead and add a couple hundred dollars in your budget toward your mortgage payment and set it up on automatic payment. That way you ensure you make the extra payments each month and get the benefits of the lower interest rates as well as the same benefit of the 15 year mortgage.

I hope this helps you and your family, and thanks for your service.

USAA Home Circle – Home Buying Made Easy

USA recently brought me and several other military bloggers on a trip to their headquarters to view several new iPhone apps in work, as well as discuss some other applications and features they have in work (See USAA Auto Circle for their iPhone app for buying a car).

I have always thought of USAA as a top tier bank in terms of being a customer (I have been a USAA member now for about 10 years), but I have a newly found respect and admiration for their company after seeing their campus and headquarters in person, as well as meeting several members of their development and marketing teams. Everything USAA does is designed to improve their service for military members and their families, which truly makes them unique in the financial and insurance industries!

Programs and applications to help military members and families

USAA is working hard on developing tools that will make life easier for USAA members. They know that most of their members are either in, or have been in the military, and often have to move to a new location quickly. That means they often don’t have the time to fully research an area or search for the best housing prices before they need to either commit to rent or buy.

That is a key reason for the development of USAA Home Circle, an iPhone app that gives USAA members the ability to run through the entire home buying process through their iPhone. Don’t have an iPhone? the Blackberry version is in development, and there may be more smartphone apps in the near future – so keep reading. This app may be available to you sooner than you think!

USAA Home Circle – Home buying and renting made easy

USAA Home Circle

USAA Home Circle

Like Auto Circle, Home Circle is an easy way to put the home buying or renting process into one easy to use app. With Home Circle, you can buy, sell, finance, insure and even rent your home through one interface – making it easy to save you both time and money.

How USAA Home Circle Works:

  • Search for homes. USAA home Circle gives you the power to search nationwide MLS listings of homes for sale, plus a robust listing of rental properties, including apartments. You can search by city, zip code, military base, or even down to the neighborhood. Additional information includes details regarding area schools, crime rates and nearby amenities such as shops and restaurants.
  • Personalize your buying or renting experience. USA Home Circle allows you to save your preferences by bookmarking your favorite houses, searches, and neighborhoods, reducing your search time and making for a more easy comparison.  You can also map out driving routes, routes to home, work, school, and other attractions. You can also use your iPhone to take phots and save them with captions, which can be uploaded to your saved listings, making it easier to save details about your home search. I’m currently looking for a home, and after looking at 30+ homes in the last few days, I can see how this would be very beneficial! (now I just need the iPhone!).
  • Save with MoversAdvantage®. USAA MoversAdvantage is a unique real estate program that provides members with a local USAA MoversAdvantage Preferred Real Estate Agent, a USAA Real Estate Coordinator and, in most states, a cash bonus of up to $3,100 for buying and selling a home within the program. More on this program in another article, because my wife and I plan on using it during our home sale and purchase.

How to get the Home Circle Experience. Auto Circle launches today, August 4th. You can find it at http://www.HomeCircle.com, or by downloading the USAA – Mobile Banking. You will also need to be a USAA member to access all features.

About USAA. USAA provides insurance, banking, investment and retirement products and services to 7.7 million members of the U.S. military and their families. USAA membership is open to all who are serving or have honorably served our nation in the U.S. military – and their families. For more information about USAA, check out this USAA review.

USAA Auto Circle – Car Buying Made Easy

USAA recently flew me and several other military bloggers out to their headquarters in San Antonio to get a first look at two new programs they recently developed as iPhone Apps (and a sneak peek at some other things they have in work – sorry, I can’t share everything!).

Before I get into the new USAA iPhone apps, I’d like to give them a big thanks for bringing me out there to see their headquarters and meet some great military bloggers. They run a top tier bank and insurance company (along with many other services they provide), they have a beautiful campus, and everyone I met was first rate. I truly enjoyed meeting everyone, and the fact that they care so much about military members and their families means a lot to me and millions of other people.

Now let’s take a look at what USAA is offering with their new iPhone apps, USAA Auto Circle and USAA Home Circle.

USAA Auto Circle – Car Buying Made Easy

USAA Auto Circle

USAA Auto Circle iPhone App

USAA Auto Circle is a new app for the iPhone that allows people to research, buy, and insure a car all in one stop. Really, you might ask? Yes, really. And it gets better. You can actually get a pre-negotiated price guaranty and compare the dealership price to the amount people actually paid, using the TureCar service.

USAA Auto Circle Experience:

  • Find. Compare cars and reviews from several major databases, including newcartestdrive.com, Kelley Blue Book, and TrueCar.com, then compare the price pre-negotiated by USAA to the prices people are actually paying.
  • Save. Buy a car at one of over 3,000 USAA certified dealerships and save an average of $4,508 off MSRP**.
  • Finance. Get a loan through USAA auto loans. You can apply for a loan and send the funds directly to the dealership through your iPhone.
  • Insure. Members who switch to USAA save $461 a year on average. You can get insurance quotes and update your policy directly from your iPhone.

How to get the Auto Circle Experience. Auto Circle launches today, August 4th. You can find it at http://www.AutoCircle.com, or by downloading the USAA – Mobile Banking. You will also need to be a USAA member to access all features.

About USAA. USAA provides insurance, banking, investment and retirement products and services to 7.7 million members of the U.S. military and their families. USAA membership is open to all who are serving or have honorably served our nation in the U.S. military – and their families. For more information about USAA, check out this USAA review.

How to Build a CD Ladder

Investing in certificates of deposit is a good way for investors to minimize risks and keep a percentage of their income unaffected by changes in the stock market. While CDs offer financial security in that you aren’t going to lose the money you’ve added – you can miss out on interest rate increases if you save your money in CDs over a long period of time.

Using a CD ladder helps you beat the rate cycles and avoid missing out on interest rate increases. When you ladder CDs, you can obtain new CDs and take advantage of higher interest rates while still having access to your money.

How to Build a CD Ladder

You decide how many years you want to invest, and that becomes the length of your ladder. Each year you invest is like a “rung” on a ladder. Take the money you have to invest and divide it over the number of years you plan to invest – so if you have $25,000 and plan to invest over 5 years, you’ll invest $5,000 in 5 different CDs with increasing maturity dates. For example:

  • $5,000 invested in a 1-year CD
  • $5,000 invested in a 2-year CD
  • $5,000 invested in a 3-year CD
  • $5,000 invested in a 4-year CD
  • $5,000 invested in a 5-year CD

After your first year, the first rung of your ladder matures, and each of your other CDs take a step down on the ladder. The 2-year CD now has one more year to maturity, the 5-year CD now has four years left til maturity, etc.

The money from your 1-year CD that just matured can be re-invested into the open rung of your ladder, which in this example is your 5-year rung, by purchasing a new 5-year CD. If you need to use the money for something else, you can, which is why the CD ladder is more liquid than simply putting the full $25,000 into a single CD for a long period of time. Each year, you have access to money and can make investment decisions based on the market, and your own unique financial needs at that time.

If interest rates increase, each time your CD’s mature, you have the opportunity to re-invest in a new CD to take advantage of that higher rate. Because you’re always replacing the highest “rung” of your ladder (the CD with the longest maturity date), you’ll always be taking advantage of the highest interest rates available at the time you’re investing. Alternatively, if they decrease, you still have money invested in CDs with the previously higher interest rates, minimizing the amount of money you’re investing in lower interest certificates.

In addition to the benefit of taking advantage of interest rates with secure investments like certificates of deposits, by setting up multiple certificates that mature annually, you’ll always have access to some of your money in case something unexpected should occur. You don’t want to withdraw money from certificates of deposits before their maturity date because of the penalties and loss of earnings involved.

Where to open CD Ladders

You can start CDs at almost any bank, but you should start by looking at banks that offer the highest interest rates so you can earn the best return on your investment. Here are some of the best online high interest savings accounts, and some of the highest interest rates. Always be sure to shop around.