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Investment Ideas for the 2/c Loan

A few years back both my wife and I took out our 2/C loan with the USAA Career Starter Loan. I have always been interested in finance and was very excited at the opportunity to invest this money. My wife is not interested in finance at all and also ended up investing her money.

The cool part about this story is that we have both doubled our original $30,000 investments, but we chose very different assets to do so. I chose real estate and ended up buying a rental property with it. Today, my equity in the property is worth over $70K. She chose to invest in index funds (and some stocks) now worth just over $80K.

The takeaway here is that there are a ton of different investment strategies that will allow you to turn this loan into a very large amount of money. The choices my wife and I make reflect our personalities. A rental property is very hands on and I was excited about investing so I enjoyed that aspect. The index funds my wife chose have taken exactly none of her time since she bought them yet she still came out ahead (which I am always reminded of).

This overall passiveness is extremely attractive because you gain all the returns without any headaches associated with managing a property. Today there are even more passive options available then when we invested our loan back in 2015.

If you’re ROTC, Academy or OCS then you will have the opportunity to take a low interest career starter loan. The USAA Career Starter loan provides forward thinking individuals a unique opportunity to invest a large amount of money earlier then most people have the opportunity too. Basically, it is an incredible opportunity to get and stay ahead.

Becoming a Savvy Investor

Other places online may tell you not to invest with borrowed money. In general, this is good advice as most personal loans have interest rates in excess of 10%. Also, you don’t want to risk borrowed money on a penny stock (or single stock) and then have loan payments for the next 5 years on money you’ve lost. However, a savvy investor sees the opportunity to loan such a large amount of money at a low interest rate and invest it to gain much higher returns. By taking advantage of this difference, you can easily have over $60K in assets once you are done paying off the loan.

In order to set yourself up for success down the road, there are three major factors you need to address:

  • Do not lose money. Especially important because this is borrowed money that you make payments on for 5 years-regardless of what you do with it.
  • Keep it simple. Regardless of what service you are, you will have a lot on your plate when you commission. Training pipelines, frequent moves, deployments and long hours are the reality. Active investing strategies such as trading or house flipping require your undivided attention to successfully execute. It is not realistic to expect you will be able to do this while starting your professional career. Building wealth passively will allow you to focus on your busy life and not come home to more work.
  • Keep a long term view. A simple way to think of this is that any money you invest you cannot touch until the loan is paid off. Think about this money as the base of your personal net worth and focus on continuing to contribute to that number every month. If you want to buy a house down the road, using the VA loan will allow you to do so without needing this money as a down payment. We have articles on what it is and how to do that if you’re interested about learning more. Time is on your side with this investment, selling too soon will ensure this money never grows into a life changing amount.

We’ll explore some investment options available and then show example portfolios demonstrating what a $30,000 investment in these options five years ago (our minimum recommended holding period) would be worth today.

Financial Advice

The following content is educational in nature only. Money Gouge is not engaged in soliciting advice of individual investments. Please do your own research and remember that past performance does not guarantee future returns.

Index Funds

The stock market is one of the best ways to increase your wealth passively. You can buy individual stocks or index funds.

Index Funds

A FINANCIAL product that allows you to invest your money across a large amount of individual stocks simultaneously. With index funds you buy a diversifed basket of stocks. Every dolLar you invest is instantly diversified. A COMMON INDEX FUND IS THE S&P 500.

Index funds are popular because their diversification means that your performance is not tied to the fate of just one company. For example, in the early 2000’s both Blockbuster and Netflix were leading entertainment companies. If you had invested $30,000 in either circa 2005 here’s what that would be worth today.

Netflix

$9,291,000

Blockbuster

$0

This is the craziness of investing, it’s very difficult to determine whether a company will be a winner or loser. Putting all your eggs in one basket really sucks if that basket is Blockbuster.

Exchange Traded Funds (ETF’s) are the actual thing you buy in the stock market that allows you to buy an index fund. So if you wanted to buy the S&P 500, you could buy VOO . This is Vanguard’s S&P 500 Index Fund. Vanguard maintains the basket of stocks that is the S&P 500 and buying shares of VOO allows you to buy the S&P 500.

Search results for VOO on Robinhood. Hopefully you have more buying power than me.

Understanding Fees

Companies such as Vanguard maintain these index funds for a super low fee of .10% (or $10/year for every $10,000 invested). It is important to choose the ETF with the lowest fee because they are all offering the same basket of stocks and a higher fee will drag on your returns. For comparison, a 1% fee on $10,000 over 10 years will cost you over $2,000 whereas the .10% would be $200.

S&P 500

The Standard and Poors 500 index (S&P 500) is the 500 most valuable companies by market cap. This index is extremely popular because it basically represent the 500 most successful companies currently on the market. It is relatively safe because you own all 500 and are not tied to the performance of any individual one.

If one company begins to struggle, it will be kicked off the S&P index and another rising company will take its place. This happened in December of 2020 when Tesla (TSLA) joined the S&P 500 and replaced a company called Apartment Investment and Management (AIV). AIV was not struggling and has done well since being kicked off, but Tesla has become such a successful company that it was added. Successful companies will naturally find their way in to the S&P 500 so when you buy it, you will automatically be holding quality stocks.

ETF’S to buy the S&P 500:

  • Vanguard S&P500 Index (VOO)- Expense ratio .03%
  • SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY)- Expense ratio .0945%
  • Ishares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV)- Expense ratio .03%

The five year return of the S&P 500 is an awesome 17.6%. So, if you had invested $30,000 in 2016 and not touched it you would have $67,477 today.

$30,000 invested in the S&P500 5 years ago. Source: Investor.gov

Total Stock Market

The total stock market index is the ultimate diversification tool. When you buy this index fund, every dollar is diversified throughout the entire stock market. This is done by dividing the entire stock market into sections based on the market capitalization (or value) of a company. There are five categories (Mega,Large,Mid, Mid-Small and Micro). This index is evenly weighted between all sizes. The advantage of this (vice the S&P 500) is that you gain exposure to small cap stocks which traditionally grow faster than large caps. The extensive diversification of this index makes it one of the most popular in the financial independence world.

ETF’s to buy the total stock market:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI)- Expense ratio .03%
  • Ishares Core Total US Stock Market (ITOT)- Expense ratio .03%

The five year return of VTI is 17.39%. So if you used your loan to invest $30,000 five years ago it would be worth $66,877.00 today.

$30,000 invested in the Total Market Index 5 years ago. Source Investor.gov

Information Technology Index

This index consist of a basket of high quality tech stocks. Big companies like Microsoft and Apple as well as quickly growing companies such as Square and NVIDIA are all included. As you can probably guess, this index has been absolutely crushing it over the last few years. It’s five year return is 31.55%. So, if you invested $30,000 in 2016 you would have $118,188.55 today.

$30,000 invested in the Technology Index 5 years ago. Source: Investor.gov

How to Buy Index Funds with your Career Starter Loan

Buying an index fund (or stock) is simple, open a brokerage account. A brokerage account is an account used to buy stocks and ETF’s. You are likely familiar with Robinhood and may already have one. Robinhood is the most well known brokerage account but it is not the only one that offers an awesome product. It’s user friendly interface makes your stocks easily accessible, this can be a dangerous thing when you’re trying to not touch your money. For the career starter loan investment you may also want to consider M1 finance. Here’s why:

  • M1 Finance will allow you to build a portfolio. Say you wanted to split your investment between VTI,VGT and VOO but wanted to weight more heavily in technology. You could set VTI and VOO to 20% each and VGT to 60%. M1 will automatically divide every investment between them with no math on your part. Robinhood will not do this. If you wanted to add some individual stocks to your investment, this is also the simplest way to do that.
  • It offers a $30 sign up bonus, which is more than Robinhood. The sign up stocks I have gotten from them have never been worth more than $10. If you really wanted to max out your benefits, sign up for Robinhood (free stock) and transfer to M1 to get a $30 bonus. If you already have a Robinhood you could also do this.
An example portfolio for your career starter loan.

M1 Finance

  • No cost for buying stocks/etf’s
  • Dividend Reinvestment
  • Fractional Shares
  • $30 Sign On Bonus
  • Portfolio Style Investing

Robinhood

  • No cost for buying stocks/etf’s
  • Dividend Reinvestment
  • Fractional Shares
  • Free Stock
  • Portfolio Style Investing

If you are interested in reading more about different brokerage accounts check out our article on that.

Buying Index Funds through a Roth IRA

If you’re comfortable with not touching your money until you are 59 1/2, then you can use the Career Starter Loan to make one of the best financial moves possible. A Roth IRA is an individual retirement account where all the investments are tax free for life. The catch is that you cannot touch the money until you’re 59 1/2. Roth is one type of IRA, the other is traditional. A quick look at the two:

Roth

  • Max Annual Contribution: $6,000
  • Annual Contribution is deducted from your taxable salary for this year
  • Annual Contribution is tax free for life

Traditional

  • Max Annual Contribution: $6,000
  • Annual Contribution is deducted from your taxable salary for this year
  • Annual Contribution is tax free for life

Money Gouge Tip

Do not invest in a traditional retirement account with the career starter loan. You will not save much money because your taxable income is already extremely low. It will save you a lot more to not pay taxes on what your investment grows to by the time you are 59 1/2.

How To Buy Index Funds Through an IRA

The max annual contribution to a Roth IRA is $6000. If you take the Career Starter loan in 2021 then you can invest $6000 right away and another $6000 on January 1st 2022. If you plan on investing more than that overall (it’s smart to invest as much as you can) then you can go ahead and invest the additional money in a normal brokerage account.

To open a Roth you will need to use either M1 finance or a traditional brokerage such as Vanguard. At this time, Robinhood does not offer IRA’s. You can sign up for an M1 IRA here.

The biggest difference between a regular brokerage and Roth IRA for M1 is that the Roth requires a $500 minimum to open. That shouldn’t have much of an effect since the goal is to max it out ($6,000).

Vanguard is also popular, and you can check out their IRA account here. For me, I would prefer M1 over Vanguard because of it’s significantly better user interface and no commissions. Vanguard will charge you a commission (fee) to buy anything other than their index funds. You can buy anything for free on platforms such as Robinhood or M1 so it really does not make sense to pay this.

Money Gouge Tip

Purchasing index funds through an IRA does not mean you have to change your overall allocation. Basically, you’re buying the same stuff but in different accounts. The intention is to buy as much as possible ($12,000 in two $6,000 increments) in Roth so that it grows tax free for life. The rest of the investment can be in a normal brokerage and on platforms like fundrise which we will discuss later.

If you’re interested in learning more about setting up your TSP in the future or retirement accounts in general check out our article on that. Keep in mind that using your Career Starter Loan to invest in an IRA has no impact on your TSP. You will still need to focus on that when you commission. See more here.

Beyond Index Funds

It is okay to buy a small amount of individual stocks alongside index funds. The two major considerations are:

  • How much of your overall investment can be used for individual stocks?
  • What stocks are appropriate?

Overall Amount

While the majority of your overall investment should be index funds, one of the minor allocations can be individual stocks. The other minor allocation is real estate (more on that later).

A 10-15% allocation of the entire investment amount is appropriate. This will give you a decently sized position without taking too many dollars from your main investment in index funds.

If you are not interested in investing and don’t have any companies in mind then you do not have to allocate anything towards individual stocks.

What stocks are appropriate?

The stocks you buy are much more important than the amount. In general 1 or 2 high quality companies should be sufficient. This will allow you to build a larger position instead of a ton of small positions in a bunch of companies (which you are already accomplishing with index funds).

A high quality company is a well established and profitable brand. If there is a company you like or have always been interested in investing in: this is the time to do so. It helps if you view your investment as becoming an owner of the company.

What companies are you interested in becoming an owner of?

A 10% allocation on $30K would be a $3000 investment; here’s what that looks like in a few high quality companies if you had done that 5 years ago.

Equally important is what you should not invest in. Speculative or volatile investments are best avoided when using this loan. That includes:

  • Crypto
  • Penny Stocks
  • Companies you know nothing about or have never heard of

Remember the goal is to invest in assets that will grow over the long term. The volatility of these above investment puts you at real risk of losing borrowed money. The next asset is both non volatile and historically profitable over the long term.

Beyond the Stock Market

Did you know that including real estate in your portfolio reduces volatility and can increase overall return? This is because real estate’s performance has a low correlation to the stock markets performance. Therefore it is naturally insulated from a drop in the stock market. It also pays dividends providing a stable passive income.

Advantages of Real Estate

Diversification Away from Stock Market

Passive Dividend Income

This fact is well known by professional investors and can be seen by the asset allocation in the Yale and Stanford endowment funds. Both are legendary in the investment world because they have achieved market beating returns over the long term.

9.5%

Yale endowment fund allocation in real estate.

8%

Stanford endowment fund allocation in real estate.

You can also achieve less volatility and better overall performance by allocating 10% of your investment in real estate. One common way is to use Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT’S).

Source: Investor.gov

Public REIT’s

There are a ton of REIT’s (300+) available on the market. One of the most popular ways to buy REIT’s is the Vanguard Real Estate Trust (VNQ). This is an index fund of high quality REIT’s. It has an average 5 year return of 8.38%. It’s dividend yield is currently 2.83%.

VNQ on Robinhood

But there’s a problem with publicly traded REIT’s.

Public REIT’s trade on the stock market so their price is affected by overall market movements. Therefore, they are still correlated to market performance (even if the underlying business is not impacted). This negates one of the benefits of investing in real estate. VNQ fell in early 2020 alongside the rest of the market.

When Yale and Stanford invest in real estate they buy apartment buildings (and other large commercial buildings) directly because they have that type of money. Owning real estate like this is how you maximize your diversification because these buildings are valuable and cash flowing regardless of the stock market.

Fortunately, there is a way for you to mimic this (without having millions of dollars) and buy a collection of professionally vetted rental properties. Unfortunately, I did not know about Fundrise when I took my career starter loan but I have since invested with them and done well.

Fundrise

Basically, Fundrise allows everyday investors to invest in real estate in the same way as professionals do. It made real estate a lot more approachable and a lot less complicated.

Fundrise has paid around 100M in dividends to shareholders. Source: fundrise.com

Fundrise allows you to buy shares of quality investment properties. These shares allow you to become a direct owner of the properties. This allows you to truly diversify without a lot of the complexity usually involved with real estate.

How does Fundrise perform?

Here are the numbers from their various funds (portfolios). For reference, we’ll include VNQ’s performance as well.

Income REIT

  • Dividend: 6.97%
  • Average 5 year return: 8.6%
  • Value of $3k investment made in 2016: $4,531

Growth REIT

  • Dividend: 3.02%
  • Average 5 year return: 12.98%
  • Value of $3k investment made in 2016: $5,522

VNQ

  • Dividend: 2.83%
  • Average 5 year return: 8.38%
  • Value of $3k investment made in 2016: $4,486

The numbers don’t lie, an investment in either of their funds has performed well over the last five years. The best part is that this is passive and does not involve the stock market. Although stocks have done well over the last five years, diversification will pay off if the next five years are different.

Fundrise

An awesome new platform that allows you buy shares of professionally vetted investment real estate.

Putting it All Together

Let’s walkthrough a couple $30k portfolios that demonstrate how you could invest a career starter loan. We’ll breakdown the allocations and what they would be worth if you had invested in them 5 years ago and not touched them.

Portfolio 1

Portfolio 2

In just five years, your career starter loan could build you serious wealth. My wife and I both experienced this. If you are still unsure of how much of your loan to invest we discuss that in more detail here. Basically, invest what you can: the more the better. The best part? Investing this loan takes about 30 minutes of your time. This is a lot better than time consuming strategies that will probably flop (such as trading).

The Career Starter loan is an awesome opportunity. Invest what you can and then shift your focus to paying the loan off.

Money Gouge

Two military guys helping you make better financial decisions and understand how money works.
Learn More, Earn More

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The Best Way to Use the $200 American Express Travel Credit

American Express has been on a streak adding new benefits to their flagship Platinum card. Their latest addition is a $200 travel credit. This is on top of the $400 in offers that were released last month and in addition to their airline credit.

What: $200 Travel Credit for travel booked through AmexTravel.com. Includes airfare, hotel, cruises, car rentals and tours.

When: Usable through December 31st, 2021

AmexTravel usually has pretty standard rates for plane tickets and most fares. Whatever you book through them will now be $200 off and have a guaranteed refund if you need to cancel. That being said, there are some ways you can make that money go even further.

Note

Amex is running two types of promotions on plane tickets: Insider Fare and Recommended Flights. Though you will save $200 overall with the travel credit, I could not find any fares that were cheaper than google flights. In addition, Insider Fare is denominated in points (though they are decent) so the credit does not apply.

The Fine Hotel and Resort Collection

Amex Platinum members can get insane offerings at awesome hotels in popular spots by booking through the Fine Hotel and Resort Collection. Let’s look at a few different locations over a theoretical one night stay (29-30 May) over Memorial Day weekend:

Washington DC

The Jefferson

Their Website : $580/night
AmexTravel $530/night

The booking is cheaper through the Hotel and Resorts collection. Keep in mind, this is not including the $200 credit you will receive off the price. The booking also includes:

  • $100 Food and Drink Credit within the hotel
  • Daily breakfast for two
  • If available, room upgrade upon arrival
  • Guaranteed 4pm late checkout
  • Early check in at noon

San Diego

Four Seasons

Their Website $350/night


AmexTravel $350/night
  • $150 for the first night after credit
  • $100 property credit. Good for spa as well as food and drinks.
  • 4pm late checkout
  • Early check in
  • Room upgrade when available

Amex was also running a deal for this hotel where you book two nights and get a third one complimentary. These are constantly changing but most locations had at least one place offering this from what I’ve seen.

Money Gouge Tip: Ritz Carlton

Do not use Amex travel for the Ritz Carlton if you are in the military. They have a much more lucrative deal for military which you can read about here.

Final Thoughts

American Express continues to impress with their Platinum card. If you are curious about some of the other great benefits you can check them out here. This $200 credit is a way to make the card more useful in a COVID world; although it’s still not as good as the $300 travel credit on the Chase Sapphire Reserve that can be used for almost anything. Plane tickets and cruises might be hard to book for a while but you do have until the end of the year. Ultimately, the best way to use this credit is to combine it with the perks of the Fine Resorts and Hotels Collection. Combining these allows you to have an amazing weekend in a 5 star hotel without paying 5 star prices.

Written by: Dan Tapia

9% Yield! What are I Bonds and How to Buy Them

In This Article

What are I Bonds?

Inflation linked Bonds (I Bonds) are 30 year bonds which pay interest semiannually. They are a popular investment right now because they are currently yielding 9.62% risk free. Though popular, there are some quirks that you should know prior to investing:

 

How Do I Bonds Work?

Unlike other bond types, the interest earned is not paid out. Instead, it gets added to the value of the bond. The interest is paid out biannually and is added to the total value of the bond. Then, the rate is re-adjusted to what the CPI is at that time- plus 1%. This cycle repeats and compounds. The next interest rate applied will be applied to the new total value of your bond, which includes interest from earlier payments.

Is the Interest Taxable?

The interest on an I Bond is taxable on your federal income only. Per the treasury, you have a few options to handle that:

You can elect to report the interest earned for a given year on your tax return.

Defer payment on interest earned until one of the following:

  1. You cash out
  2.  You give up ownership and the bond is reissued (selling the bond on the market).
  3. The bond stops earning interest because it has reached maturity (30 years).

There is one exception. If you use an I bond to pay for education you can be exempt from taxes on the interest. If interested, the details can be found here.

 

How To Buy an I Bond

Electronically

You will need to make a treasurydirect account which you can do here. Once you have an account you can buy them anytime. The minimum is $25. You can buy any amount greater than $25 and up to $10,000.

Paper

If you are so inclined, you can buy physical I Bonds. They are available in the following denominations:

  •  $50
  • $100
  • $200
  • $500
  • $1,000

The only way to buy physical I Bonds is buy them when you file your tax return. Basically, you can have all or some of your tax returns in I Bonds up to the limit of $5,000.

$100 I Bond

Bonus: How To Gift an I Bond

You can also gift someone an I Bond. In order to do so, you need to know their social security number and they also need to have a treasury direct account. Hopefully they will streamline this process a bit to be more like a 529 contribution.

 

I’m sure in todays day and age people will appreciate a text from you asking for their social security number so you can give them free money.

 

You can also gift those physical I bonds from your tax return. Little does he know it, but AJ will be receiving one in the mail this year.

 

Where Do I Bonds fit into your finances?

I Bonds are useful if you want to protect your savings from inflation and earn a small return. That being said, you will still need to determine the amount of savings that you have on hand for emergencies. Our calculator can help you quickly determine (or double check) this number.

Savings Calculator

In todays inflationary environment, an emergency cost more than it used to. What's your savings number?

Whatever you determine to be your savings number, you should not invest that in I Bonds. That’s because you will not have access to it for 12 months after investing-which defeats the point. Rainy day savings are dollars that you intentionally sideline from investing to give you the peace of mind when unexpected things happen.

 

That being said, I Bonds are perfect for targeted savings.

 

Targeted savings is money you are saving for a specific expense (think downpayment) that is more than 12 months but less than 5 years away. 

 

One popular alternative to I bonds for your savings is high yield savings accounts. Some quick back of the envelope math shows how much better $10k does in an I Bond compared to a high yield savings account.

I Bond

Lending Club High Yield Savings

Current Interest Rate: 9.62%

Current Interest Rate: 1.25%

$ 0
Annual Return on $10K
$ 0
Annual Return on $10K

Final Thoughts

I bonds are a savings tool that help your savings keep up with inflation. Although everyone is talking about the 9.62% return, keep in mind that this is driven by the consumer price index and that rate it adjusted every 6 months. 

Due to their initial lock up period of 12 months you should avoid putting your rainy day savings in them. However, they are an excellent investment for savings you will need in the mid term horizon (12 months- 5 years). 

 

For long term investments, the stock market will likey offer a much better return. If you are looking for some ideas for long term investments, check out our article: The Best Investments for Passive Income

Did you know?

1. Income in a combat zone is tax free. Where are they located?

2. You can pocket up to $500,000 in profit on a home sale tax free?

3. Reservist can deduct travel expenses from there taxes?

Tax Breaks Every Military Family Should Know

What to Know About Taxes When Selling Your Home

Emergency Savings Calculator

The first real taste of financial independence is when your savings are sufficient to give you peace of mind. Savings are the essential first step upon which all your future financial success will rest. Do you have enough saved?

How to Find the Right Amount of Emergency Savings

Whether you are just getting started or are already on your way, it is important to reassess your savings periodically. Your savings number is a dynamic amount that changes with your lifestyle and as expenses change over time.

The standard guideline is 3-6 months expenses. Though a good start, knowing an actual number is a lot more useful.

Here’s how to calculate your emergency savings number

  1. Determine Monthly Expenses

    You’ll need bank and/or credit card statements from the last 3 months. Details below.

  2. Determine how many months you need to save.

    This is driven by your lifestyle. Details in section.

Multiplying these two will give you your savings number.

1. Determine Monthly Expenses

It helps to break down monthly expenses categorically. This allows you to quickly identify where your money is actually going.

We’ll walk through some common expenses in each category (not an all inclusive list). You are going to need to check your bank/credit statements for the 2-3 months prior.

Housing

  • Mortgage/Rent
  • Electric
  • Sewer
  • Lawn/Other services

Transportation

  • Car Payments
  • Insurance
  • Fuel
  • Estimate maintenance cost: Example- 1 oil change every 3 month is probably a reasonable assumption

Non Discretionary

  • Groceries
  • Medicine/Insurance/Copay
  • Any essential cost you can’t scale back on

Discretionary

  • Eating Out
  • Bars/Entertainment
  • Travel
  • Monthly Subscriptions

Seperate your expenses into these categories and then average your months together. This is your monthly expenses. Factor in any unique expenses such as a quarterly bill (or accounting for an oil change).

If you’re like me this number may be larger than you expected. Here’s some tips for managing expenses:

How to Reduce Your Expenses

Because you broke them into categories, you will quickly be able to see trends in your spending. Generally, the discretionary is where you can cut back the quickest. This is not to suggest you need to stop hanging out with friends or doing things that make you happy.

We all have subscriptions we don’t use but are still paying. You may also realize that a lot of expenses aren’t really important to your lifestyle. Cutting back on these small expenses will start to add up big.

How To Keep Your Expenses Low

If you are young and have relatively small monthly expenses those will likely increase over time. Be deliberate about expenses in the housing and transportation category. These are large monthly expenses and are very difficult to get rid of in a timely manner. Some specific tips include:

-Try subtracting the cost of a car payment for a car you want before buying it. This is the best way to determine if you are comfortable with this higher expense before you are committed to it. Our article: How To Determine How Much Car You Can Afford will help you in this process.

-If you are buying a house for the first time, keep it simple. Buying a house that’s enough for your needs will keep you from wasting a ton of money. Remember, there are a lot more expenses than just the mortgage.

2. How Many Months Do You Need for your Emergency Savings?

Determining the amount of months you need saved is a result of:

  1. How simple or complicated your life is. Having houses, kids,etc. increases the chance that an unexpected expense will occur.
  2. Your comfort level: No amount of math can replace the feeling of no longer having to stress about making ends meet. If having more saved helps you get there: so be it.

Here are some guidelines. They’re not all inclusive.

So there you have it: Multiplying a month of expenses times the amount you need gives your savings number. This brings us to our calulator.

The Emergency Savings Calculator

You can use our calculator to create your plan of attack to reach your savings number. Set the interest to whatever your bank account is yielding and use it to see how long it will take you to save.

We recommend focusing on reaching your emergency savings number before moving on to other goals. Sufficient savings is the crucial first step from which you can achieve your goals.

Why Does our Emergency Savings Calculator have interest?

Our savings calculator has interest because it can also be used for targeted savings.

Targeted savings is savings that you have on top of your emergency savings for a specific expense (like a home downpayment) that will occur within the next 5 years.

Unlike your emergency savings which will have a close to zero interest rate you can actually invest targeted savings in securities like I bonds and get a safe return on your money. The interest rate helps you determine what you will need to save accounting for the return you expect to earn helping you get there.



What to Know About Taxes When Selling Your Home

what to know about taxes when selling your home

Using the VA loan to invest in real estate is a great way for service members to achieve their financial goals. An investment property can bring in cash on a monthly basis while building equity over time. Countless service members have done this, and many more do so every year.

Each PCS season, however, many personnel opt to sell rather than rent. This is a complicated decision, and ultimately comes down to individual preference and circumstance. Regardless of preferences, intentions, and circumstances, it’s important for any homeowner to understand tax liability when selling a home. We’ll walk you through it. Let’s walk through it.

In This Article

Big Picture

Whether you’re looking to sell a home soon after buying it or several years down the road, you’ll want to understand the tax implications. If the home you’re selling is your primary residence and you’ve owned it for more than two years, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to sell it without paying capital gains taxes. If you’ve had it for less than two years, you can expect to pay long term capital gains taxes, and if you’ve owned it for less than a year, expect to pay short term capital gains. That said, there are some tax breaks that might apply depending on your situation. Some of these are unique to military personnel, and all are worth knowing about.

Capital Gains 101

The topic of capital gains can get complex, but a basic understanding of how these taxes work goes a long way. When you sell an asset for more than you bought it for, you’ll pay capital gains taxes on the profit. The amount you pay depends primarily on how long you owned the asset. 

 

Short Term Gains

If you hold an asset for a year or less, expect to pay short term capital gains taxes, which match income tax rates. To see what tax bracket you’re in, check out the IRS website or use the calculator below. 

Brackets reflect rates for 2022 according to the IRS. ‘Marginal Tax Rate’ is the tax that you’d expect to pay on the next dollar you make.

Long Term Gains

If you hold an asset for more than a year, expect to pay long term capital gains taxes. These are pretty straightforward, and easier on your wallet than their short term counterparts. Match up your filing status with your taxable income to see where you land.

 

Tax Rate

0%

15%

20%

Single Return

$41,675 or less

$459,750 or less

More than $459,750

Joint Return

$83,350 or less

$517,200 or less

More than $517,200

Ben’s annual taxable income is $65,000, which puts his marginal tax rate at 22%.  In August of 2019, he bought 40 shares of stock X at $100 per share, and sold them just after Christmas at $140 per share for a quick profit. His capital gains are $1600, with a short term capital gains tax of $1600 x 22% = $352.

 

Ben’s buddy, who has the same income and bought the same amount of the same stock at the same time, waits until October to sell at the same price of $140 per share. His tax liability is a bit less, with the long term capital gains rate resulting in a tax ($1600) x (15%) = $240.

Selling After 2 Years

If you’re selling your primary home after owning and living in it for two (or more) of the last five years, there’s a good chance that you’re exempt from capital gains taxes on the first $250,000 of profit ($500,000 if married, filing jointly). The specific requirements are as follows:

By definition, you only have one principal residence at a time. For a service member that’s looking to sell a home on their way out of a duty station, the home almost certainly meets the principal residency test. If you’re looking to sell a home that you rented out for a while, it’s possible to claim it as your principal home, but a bit more nuanced. Again, the key idea is that you can only have one primary residence at a time.

You and/or your spouse owned the home for at least 24 months of the five years leading up to the sale. If you’re married filing taxes jointly, only one of you needs to meet the ownership requirement. If it’s been longer than five years, there’s a period of suspension which allows you (if you’re a service member) to suspend this five year period, which may apply.

You (and your spouse, if married) used the home as your residence for at least 24 months (730 days) out of the past five years. It doesn’t need to be all at once. If you’re married, you both need to meet this requirement, though the residency doesn’t need to be simultaneous to count towards either person’s tally.

You didn’t take an exclusion on the gain from the sale of another home for the 2 years leading up to the sale. You can only do this once during any 24 month period.

If all of these apply to the sale of your home, congratulations. The first $250,000 (or $500,000 if married) of profit isn’t subject to any capital gains taxes. If your gains exceed that limitation, then seriously, congratulations.

Selling Before 2 Years

If you’re selling your house between one and two years, it’s viewed as a long term capital gain. This is big for service members on two year orders who buy on their way into a duty station and sell on the way out. Depending on the closure dates for buying and selling, a difference in a week or two could be the difference between a 15% gains tax or pocketing the entirety of the profit. See below for an example of how timing can come into play as well as a long terms gains calculator.

Timing Example

Buy

June 15th, 2021

June 15th, 2021

Sell

June 7th, 2023

June 22nd, 2023

 

Capital Gains

Long Term

Exempt

Long Term Gains Calculator

Selling Before 1 Year

If you’re selling your home before owning it for a full year, your profit it is viewed as a short-term gain and is taxed accordingly. However, if you moved for a specific reason, you might qualify for a partial deduction that could limit or eliminate your tax liability. Most frequently, these exemptions apply in situations where the move was unforeseen and necessary for the sake of work and/or health.

Partial Exclusions

If you don’t meet the two year residency requirement for the full exemption but find yourself moving for work, health-related reasons, or other unforeseen circumstances (like having twins), you might be able to claim a partial exclusion.

What Qualifies?

To qualify for a partial exclusion, the primary reason for selling your home must be the result of a medical issue, a change in your place of employment, or another “unforeseeable event”.

1. Employment Exclusion

If either of the following is/are true of yourself, your spouse, or another co-owner of the home, you qualify for a work-related partial exclusion.

 

  • You had no place of employment previously, and began a new job at least 50 miles from the home.
  • You were transferred to or began a new job at least 50 miles farther from your home than your previous place of employment.
2. Medical Exclusion

If any of the following is/are true of yourself, your spouse, another co-owner of the home, or anyone else using the home as their primary residence, you qualify for a health-related partial exclusion.

 

  • A doctor recommended it because of a medical issue.
  • You moved to ensure or facilitate healthcare in the event of illness, injury, or disease or yourself or a member of your family. 
  • You moved to ensure adequate medical or personal care was available for someone from your extended family:
    • Children, step-children
    • Siblings, step-siblings, half-siblings
    • Parents, grandparents, step-parents
    • Aunt, uncle, niece, nephew
    • In-laws
3. Unforeseeable Events Exclusion

There are additional categories that may qualify you for a partial exclusion that the IRS labels “unforeseeable”. Very few are positive life events, but they’re good to know about in the event that you’re moving as a result of one of them. Divorce, legal separation, unemployment, inability to keep up with basic living expenses due to a change in employment status,  and the death of a spouse, co-owner, or primary resident are all events that qualify for a partial exclusion. On a lighter note, so does giving birth to twins (or more)… so take that for what it’s worth.

4. Other Legitimate Reasons

If you’re moving for a reason similar to those above, but don’t perfectly fit into any of the categories, it’s still possible to qualify for an exclusion. Generally, the primary reason for selling your home must be unforeseeable or related to health or work. Here are a few questions to ask up front to see if you might qualify.

  • Did a circumstance arise while you owned and were living in your home that you couldn’t have reasonably anticipated?
  • Did the circumstance result in financial hardship in keeping your home?
  • Did the home become a (much) worse residence for you and your family due to this circumstance?
  • Did you sell your home shortly after the circumstance happened or began?

 

If the answer to these questions are yes, it’s important to bring a tax professional on board to help you navigate the process and ensure you’re filing correctly. To obtain the partial exclusion, you must demonstrate why and how you qualify for it based on facts and circumstances. This can be as simple or complex as your unique circumstance, but is certainly something that you’ll want to enlist the help of a pro for. If you qualify, they’ll help you do it right and ensure you receive your exclusion. If you don’t, they’ll be able to tell you before you file and anticipate your liability.

How it 's Calculated

Even though the exemption is only partial, it may still cover the entirety of your capital gains. It’s calculated in three basic steps. If you’re married, complete these steps for both you and your spouse, and add up the totals… Or just use the calculator.

Do it Yourself
  1. Choose the shortest time period from:
    • Time you owned the home prior to the sale
    • How long you stayed at your home in the five years prior to the sale
    • How long it’s been since the last time (if ever) you took an exclusion on gains from the sale of a home
  2. Determine what portion of two years your result from Step 1 is.
    • If counting in days, divide by 730
    • If counting in months, divide by 24
  3. Multiply the number from Step 2 by $250,000.
  4. Married? Repeat 1-3 for your spouse and add the totals. 
 
Smarter, not Harder:

Unique Military Benefit

Military Personnel can suspend their five year test period (in which they must have lived in the home for 2 of them) for up to ten years. Together, the test period and suspension period can last up to fifteen years. For service members who plan to return to their primary residence on a subsequent tour or after transitioning out, this can be huge.

Fine Print:

Military Personnel can suspend their five year test period (in which they must have lived in the home for 2 of them) for up to ten years. Together, the test period and suspension period can last up to fifteen years. For service members who plan to return to their primary residence on a subsequent tour or after transitioning out, this can be huge.

Tax Breaks Every Military Family Should Know

The Most Relevant Tax Breaks for Military Families

Military life is uniquely challenging for both the service member and their families. Fortunately, there are plenty of lucrative tax breaks that you can take advantage of through deployments or frequent moves. Here are the ones you should know:

  1. Combat Zone Tax Exclusion
  2. Home Sale Tax Exclusion
  3. Reservist Travel Cost Deduction

Understanding how to be eligible for these tax breaks will allow you to factor them in when making important life decisions (such as buying or renting at a duty station).

More importantly, it will allow the sacrifices you and your family make to create a brighter financial future by putting thousands of dollars into your pocket today.

Other Important Things to Know

We’ll also cover how to file an extension and where to file for free. These are relevant topics for almost every military family, so feel free to share this article with others who could benefit from it.

Note

The information in this article is not specific tax advice and is educational in nature only. If you have specific tax questions consult a tax professional.

Tax Break #1: The Combat Zone Tax Exclusion

Deployments are a reality of all military careers. Deploying to a Combat Zone means your income is tax free for the period you are there. This allows you to save hundreds of additional dollars/month. For example, at E5 base pay (at 4 years) this amounts to over $400/month! 

Where are the Combat Zones?

Military members are eligible if they are serving in one of the following regions and are receiving hostile fire/imminent danger pay. These regions are designated combat zones by executive orders and congressional designation.

Additional Ways to Be Eligible

  •  You are also eligible for combat zone exclusion if you are outside of a combat zone performing service in direct support of combat zone operations (as designated by the DOD) and receiving hostile fire/imminent danger pay.
  • If you are wounded in a combat zone you will be eligible for the time you are hospitalized as a result of your wounds.

How to Get the Tax Benefits

Your benefits will be handled by the admin in your organization. They will be aware of when and how to apply for this exception. One important detail: if you are in a combat zone for 1 or more days of a given month, your income for that whole month is eligible.

Build Your Future: Combining Combat Zone Exclusion with the TSP

The limit for the TSP increases to $58,000/year ($4800/month) if you are in a combat zone.

It gets even better, if you contribute to a ROTH TSP you will be able to build tax free wealth with money that was never taxed. To see how powerful this is over a hypothetical nine month deployment, check out the video below:

Source: Investor.gov

Investing just $10,800 over the course of a 9 month deployment would net you over $400K by retirement. Thats a 37x return on each tax free dollar you invest!

It’s essential to plan for this prior to deployment. You need to make sure you are contributing to a TSP fund you are comfortable with. Additionally, our TSP calculator can help you determine a good monthly savings amount for your personal finances.

TSP Calculator

Enter the percentage of pay you want to save and see what it will be worth. We handled the rest.

Tax Break #2: Sale of a Primary Residence

Military life means you’re going to be moving often. Fortunately, the VA Loan is an awesome tool that allows you to buy homes as you go. When rotation time comes, most families face the challenging decision of whether to sell or rent out their current home. If you choose to sell, you can pocket thousands of dollars tax free on the gain.

Understanding the qualifications needed to do this is critical to avoiding a large tax bill. Additionally, it will help you when deciding to sell or rent.

How to Be Eligible For This

If you sell your house for more than you paid for it, that profit is called capital gains. The IRS exempts you from tax on the first $250,000 of gains (or $500,000 if married). In order to qualify, the following conditions must apply to you. The IRS refers to this as the Principle Residency Test.

1. Principle Residence

You can only have one principle home at a time. The home you owned and lived in during your current duty easily meets the criteria.

2. Ownership

You and/or your spouse owned the home for at least 24 months of the five years leading up to the sale. If you’re married filing taxes jointly, only one of you needs to meet the ownership requirement,

If it’s been longer than five years, there’s a period of suspension which allows you (if you’re a service member) to extend this five year period. You need to have AD orders over 90 days that are either:

  1. At a duty station >50 miles from your principle residence
  2. Direct you to live in government quarters unders government orders (Training commands)

3. Residency

You (and your spouse) used the home as your residence for at least 24 months (730 days) out of the past five years. It doesn’t need to be consecutive but must add up to 730 days.

4. Look Back

You didn’t take an exclusion on the gain from the sale of another home for the 2 years leading up to the test. You can only do this once during any 24 month period.

Passing the Test

If these apply, you “passed the test.” The first $250K (or $500K) of profit will not be taxed. Keep in mind you still need to report this income on your return even though it’s not taxable. It’s as simple as including the 1099 Form you receive at closing on your return. H&R Block and other free filing software allow you to include this on your return.

Tax Break #3: Travel Expenses for Reservist

Many reservists have to travel to their place of training. Depending on where you live, this can constitute significant time and money. If you travel more than 100 miles away from home for performance of service you can deduct unreimbursed expenses from your taxes. This can lead to hundreds or thousands of additional dollars on your tax refund.

How To Do This

In order to do this you need to fill out a Form 2106 (Employee Business Expenses Form). Follow the detailed instructions on this page. They explain what can be deducted and how to calculate it. 

Note

Though the instructions are thorough, we highly recommend consulting a tax professional if you intend to claim these deductions. As a good practice, save all receipts and itineraries for tax filing.

Where to File Taxes for Free

If you are planning on filing a simplified tax return there are multiple options to file for free. These include

We recommend H&R Block. MilitaryOneSource uses the exact same software but requires a CAC card to access it. H&R Block is also a lot simpler to work with than IRS Free File and retains your returns from previous years.

File For Free

Move taxes to the done pile and start worrying about how to spend your return.

Itemized Returns

If you have rental properties, sold cryptocurrency or want to deduct itemized expenses (such as a reservist deducing travel expenses) you’re going to need to pay for your return. You can still file quickly and easily through H&R Block but will need to pay for a higher level of the software.

For comparison, here’s what you can expect to pay with the most popular tax filing software:

Turbo Tax

  • $89
  • $49/ state filing

H&R Block

  • $74.99
  • $44.99/state filing

Because these softwares are extremely similar, we still recommend H&R Block if you need to itemize because it is the cheaper of the two.

When to Get A Professional

If you have multiple rental properties, a small business or just feel like you’re in over your head- hire a tax professional. They can be worth the fee. After acquiring a few rental properties I switched to using an accountant and my return almost doubled from the previous year.

We recommend that you use a certified tax accountant. They will be able to reduce your taxable income without getting you into trouble.

How To File an Extension

Tax extensions can be daunting, but they are often required for military families. It’s also more common than you may think, more than 16 million people are expected to get an extension this year. The process is straightforward and requires one form. You can file for an extension here.

This will give you an additional 180 days to file your taxes. If you know you need an extension, don’t wait- the IRS requires this to be filled out in a timely manner.

Note

You will not receive notification if your extension is accepted. It will be automatically applied. Additionally, you need to estimate your taxes on the form. If you owe taxes you still need to pay your estimated amount owed while filing the form.

How To Get Access To More Articles Like This

Here at Money Gouge we strive to bring military families knowledge about how to improve their financial lives. If you can get behind that mission and want to learn new ways to make your money go further, subscribe today to see our lastest articles.



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Climb Out of Debt Quick with Tally

Struggling to manage credit card payments? 
 
Trying to help someone who’s swimming in credit card debt?
 
Let Tally do the work.
“Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.”

Albert Einstein

In This Article

Big Picture

If you’ve got any credit card debt, it needs to be addressed. Tally can help. It’s a financial application that consolidates your credit card debts and enables you to pay them off efficiently. In fact, Tally pays your bills on your behalf in the most efficient way possible using a revolving line of credit and a series of algorithms designed to help climb out of credit card debt quick. 

Who's it For?

Truth be told, we heard about this service for the first time a few years ago, but thought it was too good to be true. Since then, it has gained credibility and popularity to the point that it has been featured by the New York Times, Business Insider, and Forbes. After looking into it again, hearing success stories from a few friends and coworkers, and giving the app a test-drive, we realized that there are a quite a few service members who might benefit from Tally. If any of the following describe you or someone you know, Tally might be a great option. 

 

How it Works

Based on your quick credit check and credit card information, Tally will offer you two separate lines of credit, called “Tally +” and “Basic”. The Tally + offer involves a $300 annual fee ($25/month), which is paid from your line of credit, not out of pocket. In other words, Tally takes $25/month off the top of your savings… savings that you likely would not be making if you weren’t using Tally. The second is the “Basic Offer”, which comes with a higher APR and a lower line of credit, but no monthly charge. 

 

Which one is right for me?

Example of Tally+ vs Basic Offer

The benefits of Tally + are that it allows you to pay more towards the balance of your high interest credit card debt right away, and the payments you make toward the line of credit incur less interest. However, if you don’t save at least $25 more per month by using Tally + than you would with Basic, Basic is the better choice.

If your goal is to get out of credit card debt quickly, it’s much more important that you simply choose one and move on than it is to spend a lot of time making sure you pick the right one. If you go with Tally +, there’s a good chance it could save you more than $25 more per month. If you don’t, you avoid the $25 monthly fee and still are able to harness all of the tools Tally has to offer. 

 

Once you’ve chosen your line of credit, Tally uses it to pay off your credit card debt instantly. If your line of credit doesn’t cover the entirety of your debt, Tally still pays off as much as possible off the bat. Then, it uses the room you free up in your (revolving) line of credit each month to keep paying off your debt and manage monthly minimums (See FAQ 1 below for more detail). Either way, you make one simple payment each month to your Tally line of credit.

image from meettally.com

Features and Details

With Tally, you no longer have to track different payment deadlines, compare APRs, or scramble to meet monthly minimum payments. Also, you can easily avoid late fees by setting Tally up to pay at least the minimum on your cards every month.

Extra payments help a lot. Whether you want to do a one-time extra payment of $5 or automate a few hundred extra every month, Tally enables you to do it in seconds. It even shows you how much you’ll save by doing so and how much quicker you can climb out of credit card debt.

Both on the app and online, Tally is generally easier to navigate and understand than many credit card and banking apps. While this has no direct affect on your finances, it certainly makes it easier to take control of your debt without a sloppy interface getting in the way. 

What's the Catch?

The only real catch here is that the Tally+ line of credit incurs a $25 monthly charge. However, the fee is taken out of your line of credit (which is higher than it is for the Basic offer, and comes at a lower APR) instead of out of pocket, and it could pay for itself by saving you over $25 more per month than the Basic Option. If not, then you can simply use the Basic line of credit and still have access to all the great features Tally has to offer. 

 

Again, which one you choose depends on your specific situation, and in our opinion, $25 per month to get out of credit card debt is money well spent (reference the Einstein quote at the top of this page).

Getting Started

When you create an account, you’ll answer a few basic questions and Tally will run a quick credit check on you. This process occurs nearly instantly, doesn’t impact your score (known as a soft check), and allows Tally to offer you a line of credit. A score of 580 or higher is usually required (If you don’t qualify, here are some resources to help you understand and improve your credit score).

Next, you’ll link your credit cards and banking information with your account. Like Robinhood, Venmo, and Mint, Tally uses a financial technology company called Plaid to link bank account information. As long as you know your login information (or can quickly retrieve or reset it), it’s quick, easy, and secure.

Based on the credit check and credit card information, Tally gives you the choice between the Tally+ and Basic Offers, and you’re off to the races.

FAQs

The line of credit offered by Tally is revolving. Each month, as you make a payment towards your Tally line of credit, you free up a bit of room for Tally to apply toward your credit card debts. As long as you stick with it, sooner or later your credit card debts will be paid off, and the only balance you’ll have is toward your Tally line of credit.

Tally can’t fix spending habits. People, especially service members, typically end up in credit card debt for one of two reasons (or both):

 

  1. They don’t understand how credit or credit cards work
  2. They consistently spend more than they make

Tally can help get you out of debt quick, but it can’t keep you from going back into debt. Once you’ve paid off your credit card debt with Tally, pay off your balance in full every month! 

Nope! The credit check performed by Tally is a “soft” check, meaning that it has no impact on your credit score.

Disclaimer

We use affiliate links to products that we know and love. Affiliate links do not cost our visitors anything. Any outbound link on Money Gouge to another website may be an affiliate link. If a visitor clicks that link and a sale or sign up is generated for the merchant, we may be compensated if certain conditions are met.

“Tally Technologies, Inc. (NMLS # 1492782 nmlsconsumeraccess.org). Lines of credit issued by Cross River Bank, Member FDIC, or Tally Technologies, Inc. (“Tally”), as noted in your line of credit agreement. Lines of credit not available in all states.

 

To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% – 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 – $300.

 

Want to Learn More About Credit?

If you’re realizing you might not know as much about credit cards, credit scores, and credit checks as you’d like, you can learn more here

Key West:The Best Military Discount

How to Get the Best Military Discount in Key West

The Navy Gateway Inn and Suites (NGIS) has Vacation Rentals available for active duty military members. These are 3 bedroom, fully furnished townhouses that house up to six people. Here’s how you book them:

  1. Go to the NGIS Key West Website
  2. Enter your stay information
  3. Select “Key West Vacation Rentals”
  4. Enter your information to book the stay
  5. For questions you can call 1-877-NAVY-BED
Getting Past “This Website Is Unsafe”

As you’re probably well aware google chrome does not play well with antiquated military websites. Sometimes this site gives the “this website in unsafe” page. To get past that you click anywhere on the page and type thisisunsafe. I didn’t believe this either the first time I heard about it, but it applies to any military website you are trying to access.

How Good is the Key West Military Discount?

Although Key West is in Florida, it’s island vibes feel worlds away from the rest of the United States. That’s what makes this small island an incredibly popular destination. High demand in a small place translates into an expensive trip if you’re looking to go. In fact,the average prices of a hotel room and Airbnb are:

$429/Night

AirBnb

$300/Night

Hotel

For reference, the average hotel in New York City cost $258/night.

So what are the current rates for a fully furnished, 3 bedroom townhouse operated by NGIS?

$145/night

Less than half the rate of a hotel room. Better yet, the NGIS generally has at least one of these townhouses available. If you book a few months ahead of time there are usually no availability issues.

Where are these vacation rentals located?

These rentals are located on the edge of the NAS Trumbo Pt. Base. They are 1.5 miles from Green Parrot (and the bars downtown) or about a 15-20 minute walk.

Credit: Google Maps

The island isn’t big, so you’re never more than a few minutes by car from wherever you need to go.

What to Do in Key West

There’s a ton to do in Key West. Since you’ll be saving hundreds of dollars in lodging cost and can sleep up to six people, here are some of the more unique experiences to try.

1. Floating Tiki Bar

Talk about a unique way to unwind with friends. Trips start at 2 hours and you can join as an individual or rent out the entire bar (up to six people). Experiences range from evening sunset cruises to swim stops. Learn more here.

Credit: Cruisin Tikis

2. Visit Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote National Parks in the US. Located around 70 miles away from Key West, it’s home to incredible snorkeling on the Great Florida Reef and a colonial fort. Because it is a national park, admission is free for service members and up to three people with you.

Ways to Visit Dry Tortuga National Park

There are two primary ways to get to Tortuga National park.

  1. The Yankee Freedom ferry boards only 1/2 mile from the NGIS Vacation Rentals. It leaves daily at 7:30 AM and returns at 5:15PM. Included are a fort tour and lunch. Active military rate is $180 and adult fare is $190.
  2. A Seaplane can be chartered through Seaplane Adventures. It’s more pricey at $361/ half day. Though expensive, it does provide an incredible experience:
    • Complimentary Snorkel gear
    • 40 Minute Flight at 500 ft
    • Beat the ferry to the island and have it all to yourself

Planning Your Trip to Key West

Though you now have a solid place to stay and some idea of what to do, you’ll still need to plan travel to/from Key West. This location is unique because the drive to Key West is incredible. Some ideas for driving:

Fly To Miami Then Drive

Miami International is a 3.5 hour drive from Key West. It’s flights tend to be cheaper than Key West with much more locations because it is significantly larger. The following are the airlines with the most connections to Miami.

You’ll want to start with these to find the cheapest/ most convenient flights. It also has a Centurion Lounge for Amex Platinum Cardholders.

Renting A Car

We get it, car rental prices have skyrocketed. But if you use the following companies they have offices in both Miami airport and Key West.

  • Enterprise
  • Budget
  • Alamo

Using these companies allows you to take an unforgettable drive that’s part of the Key West experience. It also allows you to grab groceries and get setup once you arrive. At that point, you can easily walk or Uber everywhere so you can turn it in same day.

Save an Additional $200 on Rental Cars

If you book your rental car (or flight) through American Express Travel and you are a Platinum cardholder you will get a $200 travel credit applied to the total cost.

Pro Tip: For Tolls

There are some tolls on the way to Key West. You can make this a non event with Uproad. This is an app that automates tolls for you. Once you make an account, it will automatically pay any tolls for you. You do not have to go through the cash lane either. You can also plan out trips and it will estimate your tolls. Here’s their estimate for this trip, most of the tolls are accrued in Miami.

Flying to Key West

You can also fly to Key West directly. Though more expensive many connections are available. The airlines with the most direct flights are:

Cancellation Policy For NGIS Vacation Rentals

There are no cancellation fees if you cancel 14 days or more prior to the stay. Within 14 days a fee of one nights stay applies.

How to Get Access to More Articles Like This

Here at Money Gouge we strive to bring military families knowledge about how to improve their financial lives. If you can get behind that mission and want to learn new ways to make your money go further, subscribe today!



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  • Monthly Insurance
  • State Sales Tax
    • Most states offer a bit of a tax break on the purchase of a new vehicle if you trade in your current car. The states that do not offer this tax break are California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Montana and Virginia. Note that sales tax is paid to the state in which the vehicle is registered (usually a service member’s home of record), not necessarily the state the car was purchased in. If you’re registering your vehicle in one of the states listed above, choose “No”. Otherwise, choose yes.
  • Registration and Title Transfer Fee.

Mortgage, Equity, and Amortization Calculator

Instructions

For each section below, input the appropriate information for the home you’re thinking about buying (or already have) to see what you can expect to pay up front and over time. Scroll down to see the amortization schedule and determine what your equity is in your home at any point.

Details:

  • For the price of the new home, use the (anticipated) accepted offer rather than the assessed value, since this is what determines the terms of the mortgage.
  • Unsure of what your property tax rate will be? Find out.
  • What’s PMI? Private Mortgage Insurance – an insurance that is typically required with conventional mortgages if the down payment is less than 20%. (If you’re using a VA loan, you don’t have to pay PMI).
  • While HOA (Homeowner’s Association) fees don’t affect the terms of a mortgage, it’s useful to see how they affect your monthly payment since they are certainly part of housing costs.

Mortgages

There are more than 5 common mortgage types. Learn which is best for you.

Financing Calculator

The cost of interest is the true cost of a loan. See what different loans will cost you.

Learn the VA Loan

The VA Loan is a powerful wealth creation tool. Learn how to you maximize yours.

How Much Car Can I Afford?

How much car can I afford?

How much car can I afford?A vehicle is a large purchase that can greatly impact your month to month finances so the answer to this question is important. In order to buy a car responsibly, we recommend buying a car that costs no more than 15% of your after tax monthly income. Don’t know how much that is? We’ve got you covered.

How To Determine How Much Car You Can Afford

  1. Check your monthly pay stub or LES.
    1. You can use last month’s base pay or average the last three months for a more accurate number.
  2. Enter that number below:

Example: If you made an average of $3000/month over the last three months you can afford a car that costs $450/month.

Why 15% and how is cost defined?

Why 15% is the magic number

15% of your salary is our recommended contribution level to your retirement account (401K or TSP). If you’re just getting started, it’s okay to include an employer match in that number but work towards making that the amount you contribute. For most people, 15% will provide solid retirement savings.

Limiting vehicle costs to 15% keeps your vehicle costs (likely your largest expense besides housing) at or below your retirement contribution. This is a simple way to make sure that you are managing your money effectively and investing more in your future than the average household.

Finally, only 30% of your salary is committed to these fixed costs. That leaves plenty of flexibility for you to deal with housing, life, or our favorite: other investments. In order to keep this level of flexibility it is important to accurately estimate the total cost of a vehicle.

What goes into cost?

Cost does not mean your car payment. Your car payment is the largest component, but not the whole picture.

Estimating Fuel Cost

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2019 the average person spent $2094 annually ($175/month) on fuel and related items. For most people this is a reasonable estimate.

Additional Considerations:

  • Average fill up cost for pickups is $101.92, so you might have to pay a bit more.
  • An EV owner who drives 540 miles a month and charges at their house at the average energy price will pay $25.20/month in energy according to Kelley Blue Book. This is a good guideline for EV fuel cost.
  • It’s easy to check how much you spent on fuel over the past few months if you look at your spending history on USAA, Navy Fed, or a budgeting app like Mint.

Estimating Insurance Cost

Estimating insurance cost is as simple as getting a quote for the vehicle you are interested in. You can do this prior to going to the dealership from information available online. Generally, all you need is:

  • VIN
  • Mileage
  • Purchase Price
  • Expected Usage (miles)

If unable to get a quote, you can also use the average insurance cost of $73/month according to a survey by Value Penguin.

Putting It All Together

In our previous example, we could afford a car that costs $450/month on our $3000/month salary. We’ll use the average values of $73/month for insurance and $175/month for fuel to determine what our car payment should be.

A car payment of $200/month will help keep the total monthly cost of the vehicle to $450 or 15% of a $3000 salary.

Why do gas and insurance affect how much car I can afford?

Most people only consider vehicle payments when buying a car. I made this mistake when I bought my Kia Stinger. The result is that you end up in an uncomfortable situation of high car payments and additional expenses. Your total monthly cost will quickly exceed 15%, which can feel pretty overwhelming.

Factoring in gas and insurance allows you to make sure that your 15% is an accurate assessment of monthly vehicle cost. This puts you in a much more comfortable position and keeps you from blowing your hard earned paycheck.

Married? Kids? Single Income Family?

In general, it’s a great thing if you can keep your total transportation expenses at or under 15% of your total household income. That said, there are many service members with spouses that are in school, looking for a job after completing yet another PCS, or at home taking care of the kids while the service member is so often at work, gone for training, or deployed.

Very frequently in these situations, the service member needs to drive to and from work while the remainder of the family needs to make it to school, practice, doctor’s appointments, and complete the never-ending family errands. This leads to families spending a large proportion of their monthly finances to pay for two cars, and in many cases it’s quite difficult to keep that number under 15%. In fact, we’ve met a lot of service members (especially young ones) that spend much more than 15% of their household income on transportation.

If this sounds like you, here are a couple of things you might consider:

  1. Could you get away with a more economic car?
    •  If you’re the type of couple with a Hellcat and an F-150, we get it. If you’re strapped for cash though, ask yourself if you could get away with a Cruze and a CR-V instead. Lift kits, horsepower, and style are all well and good, but any parent or spouse will tell you that providing for a family and looking after its future are much more important. Oftentimes, trading in the horsepower for a more efficient choice can save hundreds a month and well over a thousand a year.
  2. Do you live on base?
    •  If so, consider carpooling into work with someone else in your unit who lives close. If you don’t know of anyone, start asking around or even ask your senior enlisted or OIC if they know of anyone that could help give you a ride to/from work since you’re nearby work. We’ve met families that live on base that have consolidated to one car and carpooled in with friends who live a few blocks over or out in town. Floating a friend $50 or a dinner each month for the extra 4 minutes it takes him to pick you up and drop you off beats paying for two cars if you can help it. This strategy doesn’t work forever, but frequently it can save a family a lot of money during a duty assignment or a deployment workup. You might be surprised at how willing your friends or your chain of command might be to help you out for a while. It all starts by reaching out.
  3.  Just can’t do it?
    • If you live in town, absolutely need two cars, are a single income family, and have done everything that’s reasonable to reduce your transportation costs, we get that too. If you’re early in your career and can’t do it, don’t let it stress you out. It can be a tough thing to do during the first several years in the military, and in some cases it’s nearly impossible or not worth it. Again, we get it. Going forward, realizing that your base pay will increase based off of time in service and rank will enable you to get closer to achieving the goal of spending no more than 15% of your monthly income on transportation. It’s worth looking at what you and your spouse expect to be making a few years from now and coming up with a plan to get your monthly costs where you want them going forward. 

Money Gouge

Two military guys helping you make the most of your money. Learn More Earn More

Lessons Learned

Still wondering why 15% is necessary? Read the experience that led to us writing this article.

Loan Calculator

The total cost of a loan is determined by rate, amount and time. Find out yours today…

Credit Builder

Build your credit and savings simultaneously with seedfi. A useful tool to afford the car you want.

Fundrise

What is Fundrise?

Fundrise is a Real Estate Investment Trust.

Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)

A company that owns, operates or finances income producing real estate

Reit.com

Fundrise is professional real estate investment company that buys cash flowing properties such as apartment buildings or single family homes.

These properties are grouped based on performance and market. These groups (called funds) are designed to accomplish specific investment goals.

You can purchase shares of these funds for as little as $10. The process is similar to buying a stock, and your investment may appreciate in value or earn dividends, or both. What you are actually buying is a small piece of the real estate holding in that fund.

Here is our Money Gouge portfolio. We invested the first $100 from the website into Fundrise in September of 2021. In return, we’ve received a (small) dividend and 12% return on a completely passive investment.

12% Return as of November 2021

Fundrise is an REIT that allows you to buy shares of cash flowing real estate. These shares are purchased in as little as $10 increments. They give you ownership of the real estate in the fund you invest in.

How is Fundrise different?

Availability ↗

Investing in real estate projects used to be limited to accredited investors. Fundrise is accessible to everyone.

Affordability ↗

Most syndications that invest in similar projects require a $50K investment. Fundrise allows you to invest with as little as $10.

Passiveness ↗

You could get similar returns with your money by buying real estate yourself. Fundrise gives you the returns without any of the work.

Availability

Until recently, investing in commercial real estate was primarily available only to accredited investors.

Accredited investor:

Having a networth of over $1M not including your primary residence or an annual income that exceeds $200,000 individually or $300,000 combined.

Investor.gov

Something to Think About:
Holding a Series 7, 65 or 82 in good standing also allows you to be an accredited investor.

The SEC limits investor participation in private real estate projects because they are often difficult to understand and harder to stay current on. An investment in these types of projects involves buying shares in a company that will own and operate the building.

Fundrise operates it funds as REIT’s. This makes them an investment that is accessible to everyone.

Affordability

A common way to invest in real estate is buying a rental property or participating in a syndication.

Syndication: A professional investor leads an investment of a large apartment building or commercial property among multiple investors.

Millionacres

Syndicates work with multiple investors because they are buying large, expensive properties. The price is high enough that they gather multiple investors to help make the down payment. In exchange, you get ownership in proportion to the amount you put in. An example would be Upward Capital.

The problem is that down payments or syndications can easily require over $30K. These are great investments to work towards, but not a good place to start investing.

Fundrise offers you the same high quality properties in an affordable way. Buying shares offers you an affordable way to get similar cash flow and appreciation from your dollars without the large upfront savings.

Passiveness

One of the purposes of investing is to allow you to enjoy and take control of your time. This is why passiveness is an important goal when choosing which assets you will invest in.

Real estate is very involved if you are working on closing on a rental property. In addition, even with a property manager in place you will still need to deal with occasional maintenance or tenant issues. I have personally experienced this many times with the two rental properties I own.

Large commercial properties have a full time property manager who works onsite. This removes you from the management side of real estate. Fundrise removes you even further because their staff manages the acquisition of properties.

As an investor, all you need to do is select a fund that fits your investment goals. There is even an option to have your dividends deposited directly to your bank account.

Fundrise’s Income eReit
Fundrise’s East Coast REIT

A Third Party Review of Fundrise

If you are interested in Fundrise, here is a third party review. This video was one of the most helpful we’ve seen.

Fundrise

Passive real estate investing in high quality commercial real estate. Start creating wealth and passive income with as little as $10.

FAQ

What is the minimum holding period?

Fundrise is a long term investment. This is because you are buying illiquid real estate properties. Generally, five years is the minimum holding time. However, you can request to withdraw prior to five years and the early withdrawal fee is currently 1%.

Can I sell my shares?

If you sell your shares after the initial five years there is no withdrawal fee. You have the opportunity to sell as many shares as you want at quarterly intervals.

What is Fundrise’s Fee?

Fundrise has a 1% fee. It’s broken into two parts:

  • .15% advisory fee: This fee goes towards running your account.
  • .85% fund fee: This fee goes towards management and acquisition of the real estate in their funds.

How does this compare?

1% may sound like a lot for those of us who are use to low fee index funds. However, in the real estate world this is quite competitive. If you want to buy a rental property, closing costs are typically 3-6% of you entire purchase price, and property management is around 10% of your annual rent.

For a syndication, generally there is a 1-2.5% acquisition fee and management fee of 1% of monthly rent. This is the closest comparison because this is really the only other way to buy commercial properties like Fundrise offers.