Armed Forces Bank Launches “Militarily Speaking” Podcast Series Dedicated to Helping the Military Community Navigate Finances and Military Life

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Armed Forces Bank (AFB), a full-service military bank committed to serving those who serve since 1907, today announced the launch of its biweekly “Militarily Speaking” podcast series, which is dedicated to helping the military community navigate finances, as well as military life overall.

Militarily Speaking shares stories and offers insights about both good and bad financial practices, as well as strategies to help service members get ahead. The podcast discusses military benefits members should take advantage of to become more financially independent. Topics highlight resources that help service members prepare for important milestones, such as Permanent Changes of Station (PCS) moves and the eventual transition to civilian life.

At the end of each episode, the podcast concludes with its “Military Minute,” a guessing-game segment featuring military history, military facts and pop culture. Correct answers by listeners result in cash prizes, as well as a donation to a charity of the winner’s choice.

“We’re excited to share amazing stories and provide a force for opportunity, security and success for our military community,” said Paul Holewinski, CEO of Armed Forces Bank. “The podcast features inspiring leaders who offer solutions that give our military men and women financial and personal advantages for lifelong success.”

Militarily Speaking is hosted by Tom McLean and Jodi Vickery, two AFB executives with deep experience supporting military banking locations and their service members around the country (click here for bios). Tom and Jodi provide wisdom and wit as they conduct in-depth conversations with thought-leaders on key issues affecting the military community. Guests include:

  • Dan Bozung, author of This Civilian S**t is Hard, a book offering helpful advice on making the transition from a military career to civilian life. Bozung enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997, and then became a naval pilot. He left active duty in 2005 and eventually graduated from Harvard Business School, only to find his transition to civilian life challenging. Bozung persevered and has words of wisdom to impart.
  • Danielle Adams, is a real estate agent for the MilHousing Network, which understands the journey, joys and challenges of moving as a military family. Adams is a military spouse and went through a PCS move during the pandemic.
  • Melanie Aguto, VA loan specialist. VA Loans are a $0-down mortgage option issued by private lenders and partially backed, or guaranteed, by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Eligible borrowers can use a VA loan to purchase a property as their primary residence or refinance an existing mortgage. Aguto is a VA loans specialist with over 27 years of experience.
  • Shauna Fleming is founder of A Million Thanks, a national nonprofit organization that collects and distributes letters of support and thanks directly to active duty, reserve and veteran military men and women. The organization also provides higher education scholarships to their children. Fleming founded A Million Thanks in 2004 when she was 15 years old.
  • Tim Ney is executive director of the Armed Services YMCA, which provides innovative, interactive programs and services designed especially for junior-enlisted service members, their spouses and their children—all who sacrifice so much for us and our country. Ney is a retired, decorated Marine who has dedicated his life to serving others.
  • Kim McCallister-Young is co-director of Military Saves, which seeks to motivate, support, and encourage the entire military community to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. McCallister-Young is a proud Air Force veteran and active-duty Army wife.

“Our podcast guests offer insights and ingenuity to service members providing them with resources to adapt to life changing situations and emerge even stronger than before,” said Tom McLean, SVP and Regional Military Executive for Armed Forces Bank.

Militarily Speaking is available on popular podcast platforms, including Audible, Spotify, Amazon Music and Blubrry, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. The podcast lasts 25 to 30 minutes and airs live every other week on Wednesday evenings, with the first podcast having aired on April 6. Recordings of the podcast are posted and may be listened to at no cost. Episodes are also available on Armed Forces Bank’s website (www.afbank.com/media/category/podcast), which includes a summary of each episode.

Armed Forces Bank’s Long-Standing Military Commitment

With its headquarters in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, AFB has been dedicated to serving military service members and their families for more than 110 years. Approximately 75% of AFB Associates have some type of military affiliation either by spouse, retired themselves or their children.

“At Armed Forces Bank, we celebrate the contributions and sacrifices made by military families. As the spouse of a 20-year Army veteran, that hits home,” said Jodi Vickery, EVP and Director of Military Consumer Lending for Armed Forces Bank. “Our podcast gives us another important way to actively express our support and gratitude for the many sacrifices military men and women endure.”

About Armed Forces Bank

Armed Forces Bank (AFB), founded and headquartered in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is a full-service military bank committed to serving those who serve since 1907. With 23 locations, Armed Forces Bank has more on-installation locations than any military bank in the country. Armed Forces Bank provides affordable, personal and convenient banking and financial services to both active and retired military, as well as civilian clients in all 50 states and around the world. AFB has $1.2 billion in assets and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dickinson Financial Corporation, a $3.5 billion bank holding company headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. AFB’s sister bank, Academy Bank, is a full-service community bank with over 70 branch locations in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. For more, visit www.afbank.com. Member FDIC.

Armed Forces Bank and U.S. Army Working Together to Employ Veterans

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Armed Forces Bank (AFB), a full-service military bank committed to serving those who serve since 1907, today announces a new partnership with the U.S. Army Partnership for Your Success (PaYS) Program. Working together with PaYS, Armed Forces Bank will guarantee soldiers an interview and possible employment after serving in the Army.

The PaYs program is a strategic partnership between the U.S. Army and a cross section of corporations and public sector agencies. The program provides America’s soldiers with an opportunity to serve their country while they prepare for their futures. PaYS partners promise soldiers five job interviews, job mentoring, and the potential for employment as they return to civilian life.

To celebrate this partnership, Armed Forces Bank will hold a ceremonial signing on Thursday, August 18, at 3 p.m. at the Fort Leavenworth branch (320 Kansas Ave). Members of the media are invited to attend, but advance clearance is required. Key U.S. Army and Armed Forces Bank representatives will be on hand for the ceremony, which will include the singing of the national anthem, remarks by 1st Lieutenant Caleb Plug from the U.S. Army, a plaque presentation, flag salute and refreshments.

U.S. Army Captain Micah Robbins will be signing the Memorandum of Agreement along with Jodi Vickery, EVP and Director of Military Consumer Lending for AFB. U.S. Army General Robert Arter, former Board Member for Armed Forces Bank and retired Commanding General of the Sixth United States Army, will also be in attendance. General Arter’s military awards and decorations are extensive. They include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit (with Oak Leaf Cluster), the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart.

The Fort Leavenworth ceremony location is significant, as it is the oldest active U.S. Army post west of the Mississippi River. Established in 1827, the military base has devoted more than 190 years of service to the nation.

“Our partnership with PaYS is a natural extension of our longstanding commitment to support the distinct needs of military service members and their families,” said Paul Holewinski, President & CEO of Armed Forces Bank. “We’re honored to join forces with the U.S. Army to connect soldiers with the business community, as they return to civilian life.”

Each year in the United States, more than 200,000 service members exit the military, often with uncertainty about transitioning into the civilian workforce and without a defined career path. Soldiers who participate in the PaYS program gain valuable leadership, professional and technical skills, as well as experience and confidence, as they pursue career opportunities. In addition, service members gain access to employment possibilities with organizations that understand the value of their military service. In turn, PaYS provides employers with a pool of highly skilled, motivated and responsible candidates from which they can fill their personnel needs. The PaYS partnership provides a win-win situation for all.

Armed Forces Bank also is proud to work alongside U.S. Army Recruiters, Army National Guard Recruiters and local ROTC programs through PaYS to send the message of staying in school, setting goals, choosing appropriate friendships, leading a values focused life and staying off drugs. Granting employment interviews gives AFB the opportunity to mentor soldiers and newly commissioned officers on resume/interview skills and building better qualifications as they transition to private employment. Often, this will be the soldier’s first experience with interviewing in the private sector.

Armed Forces Bank’s Longstanding Military Commitment

With its headquarters in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Armed Forces Bank has been dedicated to serving military service members and their families for more than 115 years. Approximately 75% of AFB associates have some type of military affiliation either by spouse, retired themselves or their children. AFB, and its sister bank, Academy Bank, currently employ 22 veterans of the armed forces and 57 spouses of active or retired members of the armed forces.

AFB’s dedication to the military includes many leadership initiatives and awards:

  • AFB is a founding partner of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership. MSEP connects military spouses with hundreds of partner-employers committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses for long-term, portable careers with advancement opportunities.
  • AFB is a leader within the S. Army’s Training with Industry (TWI) program, a yearlong training program with AFB for one Officer and one Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army Finance and Comptroller Corps. The TWI program is designed to take selected officers out of the military environment and expose them to the latest commercial business practices, organizational structures and cultures, technology development processes and corporate management techniques.
  • For each of the last eight years, AFB also has earned the “Military Saves Designation of Savings Excellence” by the Association of Military Banks. The program helps service members and their families save money, reduce debt, and build wealth.
  • AFB was named “Distinguished Bank of the Year” for 10 of the last 11 years by at least one branch of the military. Nominated by the Command Leadership at military installations around the country, the award recognizes AFB’s leadership in serving military service members and their families with a vast array of banking services, installation support and financial education. In 2019 and 2020, the Department of the Army and Navy recognized AFB. In 2021, AFB received 13 nominations from the Army, Navy and Air Force with the award ceremony to be conducted at the end of August 2022.
  • AFB was named the official financial services partner for A Million Thanks, a national organization that collects and distributes letters of support and thanks directly to active duty, reserve and veteran military men and women around the world.

“As a spouse of a 20-year Army veteran, I understand the importance of stepping up and providing service members with an interview and the potential for employment,” said Jodi Vickery, EVP and Director of Military Consumer Lending for AFB. “Transitioning from the military is not easy and our partnership with PaYS is an important way to actively express our gratitude for the many sacrifices military men and women endure.”

Armed Forces Bank offers a variety of exciting career paths in the fast-growing banking and financial services industry. Serving both active and retired military, as well as civilian clients around the world, AFB values former service members as employees. AFB provides a wide variety of training, development and mentorship programs for veterans across the company.

“The best way to honor a service member is to hire one,” adds Tom McLean, SVP and Regional Military Executive for Armed Forces Bank. “We thank our Armed Forces for protecting our freedoms. There’s no place else where people can dream such big dreams and reach their goals. Our business and our country will only improve by employing more military veterans.”

About Armed Forces Bank

Armed Forces Bank (AFB), founded and headquartered in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is a full-service military bank committed to serving those who serve since 1907. With 23 locations, Armed Forces Bank has more on-installation locations than any military bank in the country. Armed Forces Bank provides affordable, personal and convenient banking and financial services to both active and retired military, as well as civilian clients in all 50 states and around the world. AFB has $1.2 billion in assets and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dickinson Financial Corporation, a $3.5 billion bank holding company headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. AFB’s sister bank, Academy Bank, is a full-service community bank with over 70 branch locations in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. For more, visit www.afbank.com. Member FDIC.

About the Partnership for Your Success (PaYS) Program

The Partnership for Your Success (PaYS) Program is a strategic partnership between the U.S. Army and a cross section of corporations and public sector agencies. The Program provides America’s soldiers with an opportunity to serve their country while they prepare for their future. For more, visit https://www.armypays.com

At Risk of Losing Your Home? Help Could Be a Click or Call Away.

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Financial challenges can take a serious toll on anyone, but have been especially felt by veterans in recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why they remain dedicated to supporting veterans, service members and their families with resources during these difficult times.

If you or someone you know is struggling financially, you can reach out to VA for support. Overcoming financial challenges can be stressful, especially when your home is at risk. You don’t have to carry that burden alone.

Veterans Affairs home loan assistance:
Solutions to help you keep your home

Housing hardships have remained one of the top concerns for many people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have found yourself struggling to afford housing, VA’s home loan assistance may be able to help. If you fall behind on your mortgage payments, your mortgage servicer (the company that handles collecting the money for your lender) can take your house to cover the money you owe. This process is called foreclosure.

However, VA is here to help and guide eligible veterans in understanding your home retention options.

There are six general ways to avoid foreclosure:

Repayment plan: If you’ve missed a few mortgage payments, this plan lets you go back to making your regular payments, with an added amount each month to cover the ones you’ve missed.
Special forbearance: This plan gives you some extra time to repay the missed mortgage payments. At the end of the forbearance, you must repay the missed payments in full to bring the loan current.
Loan modification: This plan lets you add the missed mortgage payments and any related legal costs to your total loan balance. You and your mortgage servicer then agree upon a new mortgage payment schedule.
Extra time to arrange a private sale: If you need to sell your home, this plan lets you delay a foreclosure, so you have time to sell.
Short sale: If you owe more money than your house is worth, your servicer might agree to a short sale. This means the servicer will accept the total proceeds from the home sale (even if it’s less than the full amount you owe on the mortgage) as full payment of the debt you owe.
Deed in lieu of foreclosure: This plan lets you avoid the foreclosure process by signing over the deed to the home to your servicer. The home will then belong to the servicer.

VA loan technicians are available to answer any questions you may have about debt, VA loans and other housing financial concerns. You may also be eligible to receive VA financial counseling to help avoid foreclosure.

If you are struggling with how to make your mortgage payments, contact your nearest VA Regional Loan Center to explore your options and find solutions.

You can also contact a VA Home Loan Representative by calling 1-877-827-3702 Monday through Friday, from 8am to 6pm EST.

Other resources that can help VA also provides veterans, service members and their families with a wide range of financial literacy resources to help you better manage your money, including financial counseling.

For more information

Remember, you can always visit VA’s housing assistance site at va.gov/housingassistance.

If you want to learn more about managing your mental health, visit mentalhealth.va.gov. Here, you can explore a variety of mental health resources, information, treatment options and more. We are aware of the stress that financial challenges may cause. If you find yourself in crisis, do not hesitate to reach out for immediate help. Emergency care is available by calling 911 or going to your nearest emergency department. The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 and can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1 if you are a veteran). You can also chat or text at 838255.

Source: Vantage Point Blog

What Medical Benefits are Available for Veterans and Their Families?

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Veterans and their loved ones may be eligible for health benefits and medical assistance, including the basic Medical Benefits Package for Veterans, which may include eligibility for dental and mental health benefits, as well as care for dependents and family including Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) (CHAMPVA).

What does the basic medical package for veterans cover?

All enrolled veterans receive the VA’s comprehensive Medical Benefits Package, which includes preventive, primary and specialty care, as well as diagnostic, inpatient and outpatient care services. Veterans may receive additional benefits, such as dental care depending on their unique circumstances.

To check your eligibility, visit the Basic Medical Benefits Package for Veterans program page to take a quick questionnaire, or use the Benefit Finder at benefits.gov to compare your eligibility to over 1,000 assistance programs. If you are eligible, you may also be entitled to other specialized healthcare programs including:

  • Mental Health Services: The VA provides general and specialty mental health services for treatment of a range of mental health conditions, including treatment for substance abuse disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma and serious mental illness. Services are provided in the outpatient and inpatient mental health setting.
  • Dental Care: Outpatient dental treatment is available to eligible veterans and may include the full spectrum of diagnostic, surgical, restorative, and preventive procedures.

How can I apply for these benefits?

To apply, complete the VA Form 10-10EZ, Application for Health Benefits online, on the VA’s website.

What coverage is available for dependents?

Health Care Benefits for Dependents (CHAMPVA) is a comprehensive health care benefits program in which the VA shares the cost of covered health care services and supplies with eligible beneficiaries.

For your dependents to be eligible for CHAMPVA, they cannot be eligible for TRICARE/CHAMPUS, and must be in one of these categories:

  • The spouse or child of a veteran who has been rated permanently and totally disabled for a service-connected disability by a VA regional office.
  • The surviving spouse or child of a veteran who died from a VA-rated service-connected disability.
  • The surviving spouse or child of a veteran who was at the time of death rated permanently and totally disabled from a service-connected disability.
  • The surviving spouse or child of a military member who died in the line of duty, not due to misconduct (in most cases, these family members are eligible for TRICARE, not CHAMPVA).

To check your eligibility, visit the CHAMPVA program page to take a quick questionnaire, or use the Benefit Finder to compare your eligibility for over 1,000 assistance programs.

Where can I find other benefits for veterans?

Benefits.gov provides information on a variety of resources for members of the military and their families, such as housing loans, healthcare, counseling and career assistance, and you can check your eligibility using the Benefit Finder questionnaire.

Curious to learn more about available programs for veterans or other healthcare benefits? Check out our new articles about military benefits and healthcare and medical assistance on our News page.

We hope these resources will help you discover benefits you may eligible for. We encourage everyone to take time this month and throughout the year to appreciate our armed forces and their service to our country.

Source: Benefits.gov

Here’s What You Need to Know About the New Tax Laws

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The coronavirus pandemic led to some temporary changes in tax laws. Most changes apply to the general public, but some have special implications for the military community.

Even within the military, the changes will not have the same impact on everyone. So, it is important to know your circumstances and adapt to the reforms and changes in a way that reflects your finances and lifestyle.

COVID-19-related changes

Provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act may affect your 2020 federal income tax return in the following ways:
Expanded advance child tax credit: As part of the American Rescue Plan to help Americans recover financially from the pandemic, the child tax credit for 2021 was expanded to $3,600 for children under the age of 6 and $3,000 for children 6-17 years old. Eligible families will automatically receive monthly payments from July 15 through December 2021, totaling half of the credit. Families may claim the other half of the credit when filing their 2021 tax return.
Retirement account withdrawals: The 10 percent tax penalty for an early withdrawal from a retirement account has been suspended in 2020 for those who suffered financial hardship due to COVID-19.
Economic Impact Payments: You should have received a $1,200 Economic Impact Payment in 2020 ($2,400 if you are married), plus $500 for each qualifying child. If you did not, or if you received less than the amount for which you were eligible, you may claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on your federal income tax return.
Charitable contributions: To encourage giving in 2020, the CARES Act allows taxpayers to deduct up to $300 in cash donations to eligible charities without itemizing the contributions.
Unemployment benefits: If you are a military spouse who received unemployment benefits in 2020, you will receive a form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments, that states your unemployment income and any income tax withheld. Be sure to report this information on your tax return.
Social Security payroll tax deferral: Social Security taxes were deferred for service members from mid-September through the end of December 2020. The deferred Social Security taxes will automatically be taken from your wages from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2021, so will not affect your 2020 income tax filing.

Key tax reforms

Picture your financial and personal events over the last year. Perhaps you are looking forward to having your first child. Maybe the ink just dried on the paperwork for your new home. Take a look at these key reforms and see if they will affect your spending and family circumstances:
Standard deduction: For tax year 2020, the standard deduction is $12,400 for singles or those who are married but filing separately, $24,800 for those who are married and filing jointly and $18,650 for those who file as the head of household.
Personal exemption deduction: Beginning in 2018, you can’t claim a personal exemption deduction for yourself, your spouse or your dependents. This may impact decisions on the itemized deductions and dependents you claim on your tax return.
Itemized deductions: Beginning in 2018, the following changes were made to itemized deductions that taxpayers can claim on Schedule A:
• Your itemized deductions are no longer limited if your adjusted gross income is over a certain amount.
• You can deduct the part of your medical and dental expenses that is more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.
• Your deduction of state and local income, sales and property taxes is limited to a combined, total deduction of $10,000 ($5,000 if married and filing separately). As a military member, your state of legal residence and the state in which you own a home will determine how much this change impacts you.
• Under the new rules, unreimbursed business expenses, including auto, travel, meals, entertainment and home office expenses, are no longer deductions.
• For debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, the deduction for home mortgage interest is limited to interest on up to $750,000 ($375,000 if you are a married taxpayer filing a separate return) of home-acquisition debt. This new limit doesn’t apply if you had a binding contract to close on a home after Dec. 15, 2017, and closed on or before April 1, 2018. The prior limit would apply in that case.
• Beginning in 2018, you cannot deduct interest on a home equity loan or line of credit unless it’s for buying, building or making substantial improvements to your home.
• The limit on charitable contributions of cash increased from 50 percent to 60 percent of your adjusted gross income. However, for tax year 2020 only, the limit is 100 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Child tax credit: With the exception of the temporary expansion of the child tax credit for tax year 2021, as of 2019, the maximum credit is $2,000 per qualifying child. The maximum additional child tax credit is $1,400. Also, the income threshold at which the credit begins to phase out is now $200,000 ($400,000 if married and filing jointly).
Credit for other dependents: A credit of up to $500 is available for each of your dependents, such as an adult child with a disability or an elderly parent who does not qualify for the child tax credit. In addition, the maximum income threshold at which the credit begins to phase out has increased to $200,000 ($400,000 if married and filing jointly).
Education: As a result of the new tax codes, you can use funds from your 529 education savings plan to pay for private K-12 educational expenses at secondary public, private or religious schools with a limit of $10,000 per student per year.
Reserve service members: Reserve service members are able to deduct unreimbursed travel expenses to attend drill duty only if it takes place more than 100 miles away from home.
Moving expenses: Members of the armed forces can still deduct moving expenses as long as the move is part of an authorized permanent change of station or PCS. If you’re voluntarily moving, you will join most other taxpayers in no longer being able to deduct moving expenses from your taxes.
Deployments to the Sinai Peninsula: If you previously served in the newly designated combat zone, you may qualify for retroactive tax benefits. If so, you’ll need to submit an amended tax return, or Form 1040X, for the year in which you were there, dating to 2015. You generally have three years from the date you filed your previous tax return to claim the refund.
Alimony or maintenance payments: If you make alimony or maintenance payments, you will no longer be able to deduct them from your taxable income, and the recipient will no longer have to claim the payments as income. This went into effect for any divorce or separation agreement signed or modified after Dec. 31, 2018.
Estate tax exemption: The estate tax exemption for 2020 is $11.58 million, so an estate valued at less than the new threshold will not be taxed when the owner dies.
Investment fees: You can no longer deduct investment fees from taxes. If a major part of your financial strategy includes investments, and you have substantial investor fees, you will be paying more in taxes.
Penalty for not maintaining minimum essential health coverage: Beginning in 2019, the penalty amount was reduced to zero.

Source: MilitaryOneSource

Guide to Veterans Affairs benefits and loans

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In a nutshell…The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers many benefits for eligible veterans, including VA loans, the GI Bill, job training, medical benefits and housing grants for disabled veterans.

After your time in military service, you may be eligible for numerous veteran benefits. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, offers a range of services and assistance for eligible U.S. veterans and qualifying family members to help transition into civilian life.

Read on to understand the different benefits and loans available through the VA.

VA housing and homebuying assistance

One of the most well-known veteran benefits is VA housing assistance. It is meant to help veterans, service members and surviving spouses buy or build a home, refinance a home or make home improvements. Below are some of the specific programs and insights into each one.

VA home loans

A VA home loan is a type of mortgage loan that is backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Note that just because the loan is backed by the VA doesn’t mean it’s risk free. The VA backs the loan to protect the lender, not the borrower. If you miss payments, you still risk getting hit with late fees, decreased credit scores or — worse — possible home foreclosure. VA loans can be used to …

  • Buy a home
  • Build a home
  • Buy a home and fund improvements
  • Make energy-efficiency improvements to an existing home
  • Refinance an existing loan

Specific eligibility requirements can vary based on when you served. But veterans, surviving spouses and those joining the military today must generally meet one of the following eligibility criteria to qualify for a VA loan:

  • Served 90 total days of active service during wartime
  • Served 181 continuous days of active service during peacetime
  • Served six years of service in the National Guard or the Reserve
  • The applicant is a surviving spouse of a service member who died in the line of duty or passed away from ­a disability that resulted while serving.

Additional eligibility requirements apply in some circumstances, so check with the VA for specifics.

The VA offers just one type of direct loan — through its Native American Direct Loan program for purchases on qualifying tribal lands. Otherwise it offers borrowers indirect, VA-backed loans from private lenders that participate in the VA loan program. Be sure to shop around and compare mortgage rates to choose the best mortgage for you. Ask friends and family for lender recommendations and be sure to look at online reviews.

VA loan programs specify that the home purchase being financed must be for a property used as a primary residence. Here are some other rules to keep in mind:

  • Property requirements: VA loans are for single-family residences with one to four family units and must be primarily residential in nature.
  • Qualifying income considerations: VA loan rules on using rental income as qualifying income for the loan include having cash reserves for at least three months’ worth of mortgage payments and providing the previous two years of tax returns showing the rental income.

There are some key differences between VA loans and other types of mortgages that make VA loans so appealing. These differences are:

  • No down payment may be required: Most types of home loans generally require some form of down payment. The VA loan typically requires nothing down — although you can make a down payment if you want to try to lower your total loan amount and monthly payment. If your home is appraised at a lower value than the listing or asking price — or if the lender needs it to meet secondary market requirements — you may have to make a down payment.
  • The VA has no minimum credit score requirement: There are no credit score requirements set by the VA — however, the specific lender you go through to apply for a VA loan may have their own credit requirements.
  • You may not be subject to loan limits: Unlike FHA loans, VA loans of more than $144,000 do not have a borrowing limit, as long as you have full VA loan entitlement — meaning you have not already taken out a VA home loan, or you have fully repaid a previous VA loan.
  • You do not need mortgage insurance: Unless you put 20% down, lenders typically require mortgage insurance to protect themselves in case you don’t pay your mortgage. Since a VA loan is backed by the VA, you are not required to pay for mortgage insurance.
  • VA loans have a funding fee: VA loans may require a one-time funding fee. This fee can range from 0.5% to 3.6% of your loan, depending on a number of factors, and can be wrapped up in your loan if you’re unable to pay it outright.

Types of VA home loans

There are several types of VA loans that are designed especially for the varying borrowing purposes listed above. These are:

  • VA purchase loans: A loan program that qualifying individuals use to buy, improve or build a home
  • VA cash-out refinance loans: A loan program that allows qualifying veterans, service members or surviving spouses to replace an existing loan with a new one, allowing them to borrow against equity in their home or refinance a non-VA loan into a VA loan
  • VA interest rate reduction refinance loan (IRRRL): A program that allows qualifying individuals to refinance your VA loan under new terms, potentially allowing you to reduce your monthly mortgage payments or interest rate.

There are both fixed-rate and adjustable-rate VA mortgages. With fixed-rate mortgages, you lock in your interest rate for the life of the loan. With adjustable-rate mortgages, your interest rate fluctuates according to the index of interest rates. The VA no longer prescribes specific interest rates — adjustable-rate loan changes depend on whether the loan is a standard or hybrid adjustable rate mortgage. Be sure to talk with your lender about which option is best for you, and learn how often these rates are subject to adjustment.

Homeowners insurance for veterans

Like almost any type of mortgage, institutions offering VA loans will typically require the borrower to purchase homeowners insurance. Additionally, the VA requires borrowers to have a hazard insurance policy where appropriate (flood insurance, for example, in known flood zones), which may be included in the conventional homeowners policy required by your lender. It may be worth asking your insurer or agent about possible military discounts for these types of programs.

State-specific veterans benefits

If you do not qualify for a VA loan or you are simply looking for additional housing benefits, there are generally state-specific organizations and programs designed to help veterans and others with housing at the state level. Be sure to check with your local VA office to help point you in the right direction.

VA disability benefits and programs

If you became sick or injured while serving in the military, or have an existing condition that got worse as a result of military service, you may qualify for VA disability compensation. You can file a claim for VA disability compensation online or at your local VA regional office — or send the appropriate information via mail to the address below.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Claims Intake Center

P.O. Box 4444

Janesville, WI 53547-4444

You will need the following documentation to submit your claim:

  • Military discharge papers (DD214 or any other separation documents you may have)
  • Any service treatment records
  • Medical treatment records that show proof of disability (for example, doctor reports, X-rays, test results, doctor orders/recommendations for treatment, mental status examination or operative reports)

Be sure to apply for disability compensation as soon as possible since the claims process can take a while — generally in the neighborhood of four to five months. The VA site regularly updates the average time it takes to approve or deny a claim — it was 134.4 days as of June 2021 and 139.6 days as of July 2021.

VA benefits for disabled veterans

  • Disability compensation: This is a tax-free monthly benefit paid to disabled veterans who are considered 10% disabled or higher. The exact dollar amount you receive each month fluctuates based on the degree of your disability and if you have dependents.
  • Clothing allowance: This is an annual allowance for eligible veterans and service members whose clothing has been damaged by prosthetics/orthopedic devices or topical medication for a skin condition.
  • Service-disabled veterans’ life insurance (S-DVI): This insurance benefit is for eligible veterans who may have service-connected disabilities but are in good health otherwise. The amount of premium you pay depends on your age, the type of plan and the amount of coverage you need.

The eligibility requirements and application process for each benefit can change, so be sure to check with your local VA center to determine whether you qualify and how to access the benefit.

VA disability housing programs

  • Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA): The HISA program provides up to $6,800 in funding for home improvements and structural alterations to a disabled veteran’s primary residence. The intent behind the program is to improve home accessibility.
  • Specially Adapted Housing grants (SAH): The SAH grant helps certain veterans and service members with disabilities work toward independent living by creating barrier-free environments.
  • Temporary Residence Adaptation grant (TRA): The TRA grant may be available as part of the SAH program described and linked above. It is used to help veterans and service members make accommodations when living temporarily in a family member’s home that needs changes to meet their needs.

Automobile allowance for veterans

Although the VA does not offer specialized car loans for all veterans, it does provide an automobile allowance for veterans and service members with qualifying injuries. This is a one-time allowance for disabled veterans and service members to help them purchase a vehicle that better accommodates their needs.

Qualifying individuals can use this allowance to purchase a new or used vehicle that is already equipped with adaptive equipment, or they can purchase and install adaptive equipment to an existing vehicle.

VA education, training and employment benefits

The VA offers several education, training and employment benefits to veterans, service members and their qualified dependents to help with education costs, finding a training program or career guidance and counseling. Below are the different VA education and training benefits.

  • Veteran Readiness & Employment (VR&E): The VR&E program is designed to help veterans and service members with service-related disabilities with job training, employment accommodations, resume developments and job-search coaching. In some cases, these benefits may extend to dependents.
  • Personalized Career Planning and Guidance (PCPG): The PCPG program offers education/training, career, academic, resume and goal-planning counseling to eligible service members, veterans and dependents.
  • Dependents and Survivors Educational Assistance: This is a specialized program for spouses and children of veterans or service members who died or received permanent disabilities while serving. The program helps with tuition, housing, books and school supply costs.
  • Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC): The VET TEC program helps veterans with training and educational courses in high-demand areas of the tech industry. The training is for computer software, computer programming, data processing, information science and media applications.
  • VetSuccess on Campus: This program is designed to help veterans and service members transition from life in service to life on campus. Each school that is a part of the program has a VA Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to help support veterans with assistance needed to pursue their educational and employment goals.
  • Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR): The MGIB-SR program pays for up to 36 months of education or training benefits for qualifying reservists and members of the Army National Guard or Air National Guard.
  • The National Call to Service Program: This program offers a choice between a $5,000 cash bonus, up to $18,000 of student loan repayment, or educational assistance for eligible veterans who performed a period of national service.
  • Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP): The VRRAP is a temporary program that provides up to 12 months of tuition and schooling fees as well as a monthly housing allowance for qualified veterans who became unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligibility for other unemployment and education benefits can impact eligibility for this program.

Next steps

To find out if you are eligible for VA home loan programs, visit the VA website or your local VA regional office to discuss the programs and your service record.

Continue to read the complete article on CreditKarma.com

The City of Austin’s RENT Assistance program

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The program is available for low-income Austin residents who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 and are struggling to pay their rent. 2020 has been challenging for everyone and the City of Austin has expanded its RENT Assistance program making it easier for eligible candidates to apply.

The RENT assistance program will pay up to 12-15 months of rent for eligible Austin renters and may cover the following:

Future rent payments will be provided three months at a time and families will be requalified every three months after that. If the government pays for a portion of your rent, the program can pay the additional portions not covered by the government subsidy.

Residents may be eligible if they earn 80% or less than the average household income. If residents were assisted last year, they are still eligible for this new program and can help cover rents that are still due from April 2020 through December 2021.

For example, a mother with two children who lives in Austin’s Rosewood neighborhood who made $54,500 a year but has lost her job due to the pandemic should apply for RENT assistance. She is currently unable to pay her landlord and may lose her apartment. She can visit http://AustinTexas.gov/RENT and submit her application.

Another example includes a couple living in Austin’s Riverside neighborhood. They made a combined $62,500 and renewed their lease, but due to the pandemic one of them lost their job and they are now struggling to make future rent payments. They will qualify for RENT assistance.

The RENT Assistance Program has established a priority point system to ensure those in greatest need are considered first.

Renters in the first priority group will receive 3 points and will be considered first. That includes Renters need to meet two criteria: the renter must qualify for unemployment for at least 90 consecutive days before application and have zero or extremely low income (at or less than 30% of the area median income).

Renters in the 2nd priority group will receive 2 points and will be considered after the 1st group. This includes renters who qualify for two criteria: renters who qualify for unemployment for at least 90 consecutive days before application, and have low income (between 30% and 50% of the area median income).

Renters in the 3rd group will receive one point and will be considered after the 2nd group. These renters only have to meet one of the following criteria:

  • Renters who qualify for unemployment for at least 90 consecutive days before application
  • Low income renters (at or less than 50% of the area median income)
  • Renters who have experienced homelessness in the last 3 years
  • Renters who applied for the RENT Assistance program between August 2020 – December 2020 and did not receive rent help (this does not include inactive applications and applications that were denied.)

All other applications will be considered after those in the 3rd group.

With an easier application process, candidates do not need to submit documents with their application but will be requested if they are selected. Documents that will be needed include:

  • A Self-Certification form stating residents have been financially impacted by COVID-19. The form will be sent electronically requesting an e-signature.
  • Proof of current monthly income for all household members.
  • Proof that residents are at risk of experiencing homelessness or that housing is unstable, which may include past due rent or eviction notice.
  • Current lease showing address, name of the leaseholder, amount of monthly rent, and when the lease expires. The lease must be signed by both the resident(s) and the landlord.
  • A government-issued photo ID for the head of household. For example, a driver’s license, passport, or other photo ID.

A social security number and legal status are not required for this application. Eligible applicants will be randomly selected, and if the application is selected, the RENT Assistance program will contact the landlord and pay rent directly.

To learn more and apply please visit http://austintexas.gov/RENT. The portal will remain open through September 2021 or until all available funds have been committed.

Five Financial Perks From Serving

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By Natalie Rodgers

From active-duty members of the military to longtime veterans, it’s no secret there is an array of financial resources you can utilize to best care for yourself and your family.

However, many don’t know the specifics of some of these great benefits and how they can best be utilized. Here are five ways you could be better caring for your finances as a member of the military:

  1. Save While Deployed

Service members currently in combat have access to the Savings Deposit Program, a bank account that will collect 10 percent interest to the deposited amount during and for three months after deployment. Money originally deposited to the account cannot exceed $10,000, must be done after deployment, and has to be via cash, check or allotment. To start contributing to your account, contact the finance officer in theater.

  1. Education for the Whole Family

Many people know that the GI Bill can cover full college education, funding tuition and fees at public colleges for up to three years and for over $25,000 for students at private universities, but the benefits can also apply to spouses and children. Members who have served for at least six years with the intention to continue serving for at least ten years are also eligible to transfer their benefits to their spouse or children. These benefits apply for both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees and can also cover the costs of books and necessities for full-time students.

Former military members may also be eligible for free courses or job training following the events of the COVID-19 pandemic with costs covered by the U.S. military.

  1. Affordable Mortgage Plans

Whether you are already utilizing a loan from the VA or are looking to purchase a home soon, the maximum amount one can receive for their home mortgage has grown significantly in recent years. Many veterans have been able to buy a home without a down payment while others have been able to lower their current rates by implementing an Interest Rate Reduction Refinance loan. More information on all of your mortgage options can be found on the VA’s website, va.gov. Additionally, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act can provide protections for your mortgage loans, along with many others, should deployment change your circumstances.

  1. Life Insurance Discount

Regardless of your health or risk, active-duty military can receive up to $400,000 of life insurance through the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance. This total can be obtained for only six cents a month for every $1,000 of coverage purchased, or about $288 a year. Military spouses can also receive up to $100,000 of coverage for as low as $54 a year.

For retired or veteran members, Veteran’s Group Life Insurance has proved to be a popular option, especially for those with health issues. Coverage through this insurance does increase with age and should be compared to other options to find the best deal for you.

  1. Retirement

The Thrift Savings Plan, a retirement plan available to veterans, is one of the lowest cost ways to save for retirement overall. According to new implementations applied to the TSP in 2018, service members who joined the military from 2018 to the present day, or who opted into the Blended Retirement System from 2006 to 2018, are now eligible to have their retirement funds matched by the Department of Defense, as long as 5 percent of your total income is going into the account.

With these new rules, members can collect up to $19,500 in just a year, with higher capacities available to members over the age of fifty or to those who are receiving a tax-free income from a combat zone.

Source: U.S. News

Five Ways You Can Utilize Your Service for Your Finances

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Young couple looking at family finance papers

By Natalie Rodgers

From active-duty members of the military to longtime veterans, it’s no secret there is an array of financial resources you can utilize to best care for yourself and your family.

However, many don’t know the specifics of some of these great benefits and how they can best be utilized. Here are five ways you could be better caring for your finances as a member of the military:

  1. Save While Deployed

Service members currently in combat have access to the Savings Deposit Program, a bank account that will collect 10 percent interest to the deposited amount during and for three months after deployment. Money originally deposited to the account cannot exceed $10,000, must be done after deployment, and has to be via cash, check or allotment. To start contributing to your account, contact the finance officer in theater.

  1. Education for the Whole Family

Many people know that the GI Bill can cover full college education, funding tuition and fees at public colleges for up to three years and for over $25,000 for students at private universities, but the benefits can also apply to spouses and children. Members who have served for at least six years with the intention to continue serving for at least ten years are also eligible to transfer their benefits to their spouse or children. These benefits apply for both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees and can also cover the costs of books and necessities for full-time students.

Former military members may also be eligible for free courses or job training following the events of the COVID-19 pandemic with costs covered by the U.S. military.

  1. Affordable Mortgage Plans

Whether you are already utilizing a loan from the VA or are looking to purchase a home soon, the maximum amount one can receive for their home mortgage has grown significantly in recent years. Many veterans have been able to buy a home without a down payment while others have been able to lower their current rates by implementing an Interest Rate Reduction Refinance loan. More information on all of your mortgage options can be found on the VA’s website, va.gov. Additionally, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act can provide protections for your mortgage loans, along with many others, should deployment change your circumstances.

  1. Life Insurance Discount

Regardless of your health or risk, active-duty military can receive up to $400,000 of life insurance through the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance. This total can be obtained for only six cents a month for every $1,000 of coverage purchased, or about $288 a year. Military spouses can also receive up to $100,000 of coverage for as low as $54 a year.

For retired or veteran members, Veteran’s Group Life Insurance has proved to be a popular option, especially for those with health issues. Coverage through this insurance does increase with age and should be compared to other options to find the best deal for you.

  1. Retirement

The Thrift Savings Plan, a retirement plan available to veterans, is one of the lowest cost ways to save for retirement overall. According to new implementations applied to the TSP in 2018, service members who joined the military from 2018 to the present day, or who opted into the Blended Retirement System from 2006 to 2018, are now eligible to have their retirement funds matched by the Department of Defense, as long as 5 percent of your total income is going into the account.

With these new rules, members can collect up to $19,500 in just a year, with higher capacities available to members over the age of fifty or to those who are receiving a tax-free income from a combat zone.

Source: U.S. News

The Bob Woodruff Foundation Releases Best Practices for Organizations Providing Emergency Assistance to Veteran and Military Families

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The COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic downturn have had a profound financial impact on millions of Americans, including our nation’s veterans and military families.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) quickly pivoted their 2020 grantmaking plans to get critical funding into the hands of their partners, enabling emergency financial assistance (EFA) for veterans when and where it was needed most. Based on insights gathered from their grantees, BWF has now released “Emergency Financial Assistance: Best Practices,” the latest issue in their Stand SMART for Heroes research series, to share key findings that can help organizations minimize risk and maximize impact for veterans and their families.

In April 2020, BWF released a pivotal research paper, “Veterans and COVID-19: Projecting the Economic, Social, and Mental Health Needs of America’s Veterans,” indicating that half of veterans between the ages of 25 and 44 had less than $3,000 to $4,000 in savings before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Additionally, 15% of veterans were employed in industries that were most likely to be impacted by the pandemic.

In anticipation of increased need, BWF leveraged their findings and expedited their 2020 grants to provide direct support to the military and veteran population during the pandemic, broadening their usual granting criteria to include applications from programs providing EFA. At the same time, BWF developed a survey to evaluate applicants for risk and professionalism. The results of that survey formed the basis for this latest research paper publication.

“Providing support to cover rent, groceries, home or vehicle repairs, or other unexpected expenses can help veterans maintain stability in the short term, so that they can thrive in the long term,” said Anne Marie Dougherty, Chief Executive Officer of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. “By sharing what we’ve learned from our network through our latest issue of Stand SMART for Heroes, we’re shining a light on this urgent need while also providing an important resource to organizations that want to help.”
For more information, and for funders interested in supporting emergency financial assistance programs, please visit bobwoodrufffoundation.org/stand-smart-for-heroes/.

About the Bob Woodruff Foundation:
The Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) was founded in 2006 after reporter Bob Woodruff was wounded by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq. Since then, the Bob Woodruff Foundation has led an enduring call to action for people to stand up for heroes and meet the emerging and long-term needs of today’s veterans, including suicide prevention, mental health, caregiver support, and food insecurity. To date, BWF has invested over $76 million to Find, Fund and Shape™ programs that have empowered impacted veterans, service members, and their family members, across the nation. For more information, please visit bobwoodrufffoundation.org or follow us on Twitter at @Stand4Heroes.

CARES Act Extends VA Home Loan Options for Financial Hardship

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was designed to help Americans economically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and to help homeowners avoid home foreclosure.

Along with the CARES Act, the VA’s Loan Guaranty Service is focused on ensuring veterans and their families facing temporary or more long-term difficulty paying their monthly mortgage understand their options.

How does this law affect my VA home loan?

If you experience financial hardship caused directly or indirectly by COVID-19, you should immediately contact your loan servicer. If you do lose income, you always have options to avoid foreclosure on your VA home loan. Your options include forbearance extension under the CARES Act.

The CARES Act allows borrowers with government-backed loans (including VA loans) to request special forbearance—an agreement between you and your mortgage servicer—where your servicer agrees to either delay payments or to accept partial payments for one or more months. The details of any forbearance agreement are between you and your servicer, which means you don’t have to call VA for permission. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a video summarizing the mortgage forbearance changes.

  • You can request a forbearance for up to 180 days without paying late fees or other penalties by simply stating you are affected financially by COVID-19.
  • If necessary, you can request up to 180 additional days of forbearance before the first forbearance period ends.
  • Your servicer cannot report delinquency if you take advantage of relief related to COVID-19 throughout the current emergency and 120 days afterward.

What does ‘up to 180 days’ mean?

Not all borrowers need 180 days. Your financial situation and ability to repay after the forbearance ends will help determine the length and terms of your forbearance agreement.

What do you need to know about forbearance?

It’s important to understand that all delayed payments covered in a forbearance period are still owed. For example:

Your monthly mortgage payment is $1,100 and you request a forbearance for three months. After the three-month forbearance, you’ll owe your mortgage servicer the $3,300 of missed payments in addition to resuming your monthly mortgage payment of $1,100.

Your servicer will try to help you reach affordability, so you must be honest about your income, savings and expenses. VA encourages you to be realistic about what you can afford and how much time you will need. If you attempt to overreport your income to keep your home, you could face an insurmountable debt and raise your risk of foreclosure. Your servicer does not have to accept partial payments unless that was part of the agreement. If you underreport your expected income to try to save money, your servicer may determine that you can’t afford your loan and may raise your risk of foreclosure.

When are my missed payments due?

This depends on your forbearance agreement. Your repayment plan could be that you make the payments all at once, if you are financially able, or spread payments out over an agreed-upon time period.

What if I can’t afford the higher monthly payments?

In this case, VA allows loan modifications. This can offset the size of your monthly payments by extending your loan out beyond your 360-month (30-year) loan, as long as your loan does not exceed 480 months from origination date. Instead of 30 years, your loan term could be 30 years plus 1 month or up to 40 years.

Keep in mind, your mortgage note is a legal document that specifically states the date of first payment. Those payments are due on the first of each month. A VA loan can be repaid early without penalty, but your mortgage note must be legally modified to adjust any of the terms mentioned above.

What if I don’t have a government-backed home loan?

  • All homeowners can use the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) “Find a Housing Counselor” tool to find counseling agencies approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in your area.
  • You can also call the HOPE™ Hotline, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at (888) 995-HOPE (4673).
  • If your loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, other programs may be available. As a homeowner, you can find out if your loan is owned by Fannie Mae by going to knowyouroptions.com/covid19assistance and by Freddie Mac by going to myhome.freddiemac.com/getting-help/

More information

Visit the VA home loan CARES Act webpage for more information. If you experience any issues with your home loan, you can call a VA Regional Loan Center at 1-877-827-3702. We may have additional call volume, so please be patient with us. Stay safe and remember VA is here to serve you.

Source: blogs.va.gov

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    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
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    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
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