The Atlantis Resort Bahamas: The Worlds Best Military Discount

What’s better: A Caribbean vacation, or not paying for the hotel? Fortunately, service members can have both with a free multi-night stay at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. Here’s how to do it, so you can start planning your trip to one of the best resorts in the Caribbean.

How to Get the Atlantis Bahamas Military Discount

1. Go to one of the Caesars Casino locations.

2. Sign up for the Caesars Rewards Program and show your military ID.

3. Service members automatically get the Platinum tier rewards level. One perk of this is a complimentary Atlantis trip.

4. Call Casino VIP services (888-877-7592) to book.

 You will be able to get a complimentary 2 or 5 night stay dependent on whether it is off season or peak season. This is an annual perk– so it’s worth the trip to your nearest Caesars location to sign up.


If this sounds too good to be true, that’s understandable. The good news is that it is a legitimate offer with no catches. I personally know people who have done this and I am currently planning a trip to the Bahamas using these steps. Here’s how it works.

How the Military Discount Works

This discount is actually run through the Caesars Casino Rewards Program. The program offers lucrative perks to encourage people to spend money in their casinos. It is not a credit card or financial account, it simply allows you to earn rewards as you spend. There are six membership levels that are (typically) based on how much you spend per year.


You can sign up for the program by going to the Rewards Program window at any Caesar’s location and showing them your military ID. You will receive a Salute to Service card which is equivalent to the Platinum Tier. This gives you complimentary access to the lucrative perks available to Platinum Tier members.


You can sign up at any location that is owned by Caesars. Some notable locations are:


I recently got my Salute to Service Card at Harrahs Cherokee Casino in North Carolina. It took me about 10 minutes and the attendant at the rewards desk knew about the program and the vacation perk.

Platinum Tier Benefits

The Platinum Tier is the second Tier of the Caesars Rewards Program. It’s most unique perk is the aforementioned stay at the Atlantis Bahamas but it also includes other perks such as:

For insight on just how good this military benefit is you would typically do the following to earn this Tier:

Instead, you get all these perks for free through the salute to service program. So now you have access to a complimentary Caribbean vacation every year among other solid perks. 

How to Book Your Trip to Atlantis Resort

Booking this trip is as simple as calling casino services (888-877-7592). The process is straightforward though the wait can be longer than you might experience with other travel companies such as American Express travel.  A couple of tips on what to expect:


1. If you just opened your rewards card they may not have it on file yet. The attendant will need to set it up and then you will need to call back the next day.


2. It is prudent to schedule the trip at least 3 months out because the Atlantis Resort is such a popular destination.


3. You should plan a trip during off peak months to get a 5 night stay instead of a 2 night stay. The hotel you stay in is also affected by availability and when you choose to go.

2 Nights in Coral or Royal Hotel

5 Nights in Coral Hotel (Non Peak)


You also have the option to extend for an additional 2 nights at a guaranteed rate of $100/night. Depending on the time of year your stay also includes a $50 or $100 free slot play voucher.


There are resort fees of roughly $60/night that are not covered by this perk. However, this is still a significant discount compared to paying this fee and the average room rate ($550).

Now that you understand how this discount works, let’s cut to the fun part and explore what you can do at the Atlantis Resort and how to plan your flight. And if you want to learn about more military discounts like this, then you can support us by subscribing!

The Atlantis Resort

The Atlantis resort is known for its incredible waterpark and beaches. The waterpark is around 141 acres and is free to guests who are staying at the resort. The most famous slide is the Maya temple which is a 60 foot near vertical slide into a pool surrounded by sharks.

The beaches are also incredible and range from Atlantic beaches to inland side beaches that are popular family spots and are known for snorkeling. 

Access to all of these amenities, the casino, and pools is complimentary. That being said, Atlantis also has some compelling experiences if you’re down to spend some of the money you’re saving.


The Atlantis Resort has a Marine life rehabilitation facility that focuses on sea lions and dolphins. It is centered in the Dolphin Cay which is a private lagoon. You can book experiences here ranging from lounging on the beach, to paddleboarding or snorkeling for the more adventurous.

This 18 hole par 72 golf course has breathtaking views of the Caribbean throughout. If you’re  into golfing, this is a must. With a 5 night stay, a round of golf is complimentary.

Sea glass is the main casino and has any table game you can think of, restaurants, bars and a 9,000 square foot nightclub.


The Cove Pool is an adults only pool that features its own poolside casino.


The airport for Atlantis Resort is Nassau International Airport (NAS). All major airports on the East Coast, Texas and Denver have direct flights to Nassau.

Source: Flight Connections

Orlando and Miami are the cheapest direct flights and will cost on average $300. Here is a hypothetical trip during May (an off-peak month).

New York City, Atlanta and DC area flights will generally cost around $550. Here is the same hypothetical trip from those locations.


Flights are going to be the most significant expense when planning this trip. Over my years in the military, I have used CheapOair for my travels. I generally find them to have better search results than google flights and very affordable trip insurance. They also don’t charge any cancellation, refund, or ticket change fees to military or veterans. Between that and the trip insurance, they greatly reduce anxiety when planning a trip with an unpredictable work schedule.

Combining Military Discounts to Reduce Airline Cost

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has an annual $300 travel credit that can be applied towards airfare. This card is free for military members and that $300 credit will come off the cost of the flight. This is an annual credit which resets on the date you opened the card.


 You could use this in conjunction with the annual Bahamas perk from Caesars and greatly reduce the cost of this trip while taking it every year. 



I often use this travel credit in combination with other perks. For example, I used it with the Ritz Carlton military discount and saved an additional $300 on room rates that were already 50% off. 




Take Aways

The Atlantis Resort Bahamas is a top tier vacation spot. Generally, it can be a fairly expensive location when you consider flights, rooms and the fact that it is not an all inclusive resort (although meal plans are available).


The military discount offered through Caesars Casino rewards makes it a lot more affordable to have an incredible vacation by saving you the room cost. That being said, there are still flight and meal cost, though you can work the first one down by smartly combining this with other military perks. 


For most people, particularly those who are looking for a family vacation, it still makes sense to plan and budget for this trip. 

This discount is best viewed not as a free trip but as an upgrade to your normal vacation.

For the price of a weeklong trip almost anywhere, you can have the vacation of a lifetime. And the best part, is you can do this year after year.

Other Military Discounts Like This

Ritz Carlton

Many locations offer military rates of up to 50% off. Here's how to do it.

Key West

3 Bedroom Townhomes in the heart of Key West for less than half of an average hotel room.

How to Invest Your Deployment Money to Build Long Term Wealth

Deployments are tough…


Often, they’re characterized by long hours, time away from home, and missed holidays with family and friends. However, they do present an opportunity to build financial security for yourself and your family.


Quite literally, deployments pay off…


When you get home, you may be wondering what to do with all that money in your bank account.  By investing as much deployment money as you can, you will be able to turn the sacrifice and hard work from deployment into long lasting wealth for you and your family. 


Here is how to determine how much to invest and some simple, diversified options to invest in.

In This Article

Determine How Much Deployment Money to Invest


Determining how much deployment money to invest sounds difficult, but its actually fairly simple. Here is a rule of thumb (principle) to help guide this decision.

As the principle suggests, the first place to direct your deployment money is ensuring you have sufficient savings. The peace of mind this gives will reduce a lot of financial stress. Critically, it will also allow you to avoid using the credit card or touching your investments to cover an emergency expense.


How Much is Enough?


In todays inflationary environment, savings is more important than ever because unexpected expenses will cost more. The general guidelines in the personal finance category is 3-6 months expenses. That’s a good start, but determining where you fit on that spectrum is more tricky. It is primarily driven by your life style and comfort level. Here are some guidelines for different life situations.

Havings sufficient savings is a critical first step. To quickly determine your exact savings number you can use our calculator below.

Savings Calculator

Quickly determine the exact amount of emergency savings you should have.

Once you have your number, set it aside! The next thing to tackle is any credit card debt.

Using Deployment Money to Pay Down Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is stressful and quite common. It is also difficult to eliminate because the high interest rate quickly works against you. Fortunately, you can use the money you saved on deployment to eliminate any credit card debt you have. 

Once you have set aside your savings amount, pay off all credit card debt.

Paying off credit card debt is an exciting thing, and it’s worth celebrating. But it’s also crucial to address the spending habits that got you into that situation in the first place. Remember to always pay your entire balance every month. If you are  spending too much, set a limit on the card or use a debit card.

What about other high interest debt?

If you have other debt that is at a high interest rate (5%>) it may be worth paying that down before investing. You can use this calculator to determine how much you will pay in interest on any debts you have. 


Deciding to pay down high interest debt is a matter of personal preference. Your loan amount, interest rate and monthly payment are all considerations. 


Paying down credit card debt is a must because you will not earn more off investments than credit card debt will cost you. But with respect to other debt, remember that all the investments shown in this article will offer you a 8-10% return over the long term. So you might be better off investing your deployment money and then working on your loans going forward.

Now that you have sufficient savings, paid off credit card debt and possibly other debts, lets get to the fun part- investing your money.

Why It's Worth Investing this Money Differently

Chances are, you already have a TSP or retirement account. This probably makes up the largest portion of your net worth and investments. Most TSP funds (including lifecycle) are invested  in the following stock indexes.

If you have a TSP (or retirement account) you are already heavily invested in these two indexes.

When you return from deployment, you have a lot of money that is separate from your retirement accounts.  You can diversify this money into similar performing long term assets instead of putting more money into the S&P 500.  When your TSP is down, this money will be invested in a way that will protect you from the volatility you’re already exposed to. 

This leads to higher returns in the long run than if you had just invested it into a single investment (even if it’s the S&P500). 

The investments in this article (Fundrise, Golden Butterfly and ETF’s) will help you generate stable returns regardless of stock market volatility.


What is Fundrise?

Fundrise is a real estate investment trust (REIT). An REIT is a company that specializes in buying and operating commercial real estate. 


They buy apartment buildings, single family homes and commercial properties throughout the country. They then organize their properties into different funds. The funds are divided by what the properties offer- cashflow, appreciation or a geographical area. 



How Does Fundrise Work?

You can buy shares of these funds -which in practice- is as easy as buying a stock. Although simple, what you are actually buying is an ownership slice of the real estate held in that fund.  For example, here is the information page for shares of one of their funds, the Income Real Estate Fund.


Buying these shares gives you ownerships in over 35 projects such as:

Therefore, Fundrise allows you to easily and affordably buy real estate. This gives you an easy way to invest your deployment money in a high performing asset that is not influenced by the stock market’s performance.

How Has Fundrise Performed?

Performance is determined by the fund you are invested in. But overall, Fundrise has done an excellent job of offering an investment that offers competitive returns and low volatility. 


Besides the asset class, one of Fundrise’s key advantages is that it is not traded on the stock exchange like other REIT’s. This means it’s share price is not affected by market movements.  This summary of returns for Q1 22 show just how much this small detail can affect your investments. 


Useful Info to Know About Fundrise

Interested in real estate?

A low cost, high performing asset that allows you to diversify your investments. Made simple with Fundrise.

Golden Butterfly Portfolio

What is the Golden Butterfly?

The golden butterfly is a portfolio (group of investments) that was designed by an anonymous contributor at portfoliocharts.com.


It’s goal is to offer a competitive return from diversified asset classes. Compared to similar portfolios such as the permanent portfolio it is skewed towards growth by including small cap stocks. 


It is equally invested into the following 5 asset classes:

So how has this balanced portfolio performed?

Golden Butterfly Performance

As of this writing, the Golden Butterfly has a 7.93% return over 30 years. For 2022 YTD ending July 31 (time of writing) it is down 9.5%. 


For comparison, the total stock market index is down 12.6% and the S&P 500 is down 12.5% for the same period.  

How to Invest Your Deployment Money into the Golden Butterfly Portfolio

There are two simple steps to build a Golden Butterfly in less than 5 minutes.

1. The Lowest Cost ETFs

An exchange traded fund (ETF) is a basket of assets that you can buy like a stock. In short, it’s how you buy the total stock market or any other type of asset without having to build them yourself by buying every single one. 


Companies such as Vanguard charge a small fee to maintain these baskets. You’ll want to look for the lowest fee possible since your fee will drag on your investment returns. Fortunately, for the Golden Butterfly Portfolio there are ETFs available with very low fees. 


Here are the lowest cost ETFs for each asset class:


2.Build The Portfolio

M1 Finance is a commission free brokerage that allows you to build portfolios (pies). You can select any stock or ETF and then divide it into the weighting you want. M1 will then automatically divide every dollar you invest by that amount.


Build Your Golden Butterfly Portfolio

This is the Golden Butterfly on M1 Finance using the low cost ETF's discussed earlier. You can use this prebuilt pie and start investing now by clicking below

Index Funds

As mentioned earlier, you are probably already invested in the S&P500 and other common indexes through your retirement account. 


You can use your deployment money to invest in low cost index funds that are concentrated in certain sectors you think will be successful in the future. This is called thematic investing and will put your money to work in areas you think will produce market beating returns in the future.


Some common themes are biotech, AI, and cyber security. Here are low cost ETFs for those sectors:



Biotech is an exciting industry that has performed very strongly in the 21st century. If you are into emerging technologies, the companies in this space are generally on the cutting edge.


One of the most popular indexes in this sector is the Vanguard Health Care ETF (VHT). It is designed to match the Spliced US IMI Health Care 25/50 index. This index is composed of health care companies equally weighted in the small, mid and large cap sectors. 


VHT has a 10 YR performance of 15.09% and an expense ration of .10%. 


Another popular index is SPDR S&P Biotech Index (XBI). This is a concentrated index of all the health care stock in the S&P 500 (which means they are only large cap).


XBI has a 10 YR performance of 10.04% and an expense ratio of .35%.



The Global Robotics and Automation Index ETF (ROBO) seeks to track the index of the same name. It focuses specifically on companies that are developing intelligent systems and are capable of sensing, processing and acting on that information.


ROBO was established in 2013 and has a 5 year return of 11.84%. It’s expense ratio is .95%.


Cyber Security

Cyber Security is a high growth recession resistant sector that will only continue to gain importance. There are many ETF’s that will allow you to own the highest quality cyber security companies out there.


ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK) tracks the index of the same name. 


HACK has a 5 YR return of 9.42% and an expense ratio of .6%.


The Ishares Cybersecurity and Tech ETF (IHAK) tracks the NYSE FactSet Global Cyber Security Index. 


IHAK was established in 2019 and has a 3 YR return of 11.64% and an expense ratio of .47%.


Building a Thematic Portfolio

Side by side comparison of the ETFs

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the themes or ETF’s that are available. Thematic investing is exciting because you support industries or movements that are important to you.

Regardless of what you invest in there are two principles you can use as guidelines.

1. Stick to index funds. Investing in individual companies in emerging sectors carries a very high risk. With the amount of money you are investing, you don’t want to invest it in a way that could produce a total loss. It’s much safer to bet on the sector overall.

2. Watch the fees. Many investment companies have developed ETF’s in trending or emerging sectors. Unfortunately, a lot of them have higher fees. Fees will drag on your returns and should always be minimized. Sticking with more well known low fee companies such as Ishares or Vanguard will also help.

Once you find a few ETFs you are interested in, you can quickly create a pie using M1 Finance that will automatically allocate money to your preference. For example, here is a 50/50 between VHT and IHAK.  

You also have the option to set up recurring monthly contributions, so you can continue to build your investments. This also leads to higher returns over time through dollar cost averaging.

You've worked hard for your deployment money. Now make it work hard for you.

Coming home from deployment is always an amazing feeling. As a nice bonus, your bank account will probably reflect the hard work and sacrifice you put in. 


It’s definitely tempting to spend it, but if you invest it instead, you will put that money to work building a brighter future for you and your family.


Once you square away savings and debt, Fundrise, Golden Butterfly or Thematic Investing are perfect ways to invest this money. They are low cost, easy to set up and diversified. Most importantly, they preserve your wealth from a total loss while allowing you to consistent returns. 





If you’re returning from a deployment, thank you for the sacrifice and hard work you’ve put in. Both of us have been out there and understand how much it affects your life. We hope that this article will help you capitalize on this unique financial opportunity.


If you know someone who could benefit from reading this article we appreciate if you shared it with them. 




Money Gouge



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.





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


  • 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:


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


  • 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.


Yale endowment fund allocation in real estate.


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.


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


  • 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.


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.


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

Want to get started in real estate? VA Loan Entitlement is your key to success

The VA Loan is one of the most powerful financial tools available. Many service members and veterans (ourselves included) have used it to become homeowners. If you know using the VA loan is in your future, it pays to understand how VA loan entitlement and funding fee work. Understanding how these affect the properties you can buy allows you to make the best decision when making your purchase with the VA loan.

In This Article

What is VA Loan Entitlement?

Entitlement is different from eligibility.


Entitlement is how much of the VA loan benefit the service member has available.


Eligibility refers to who is able to use the VA Loan. Active Duty and Veterans are eligible.

The VA loan is backed by the VA. They guarantee to pay your lender 25% of the loan if you default. The amount they’re willing to back determines the amount you are entitled to. Your entitlement is the amount you can purchase without a down payment.

You are fully entitled if:

1. You’ve never used the VA Loan.


2. You sold a property that had a VA Loan (or refinanced), therefore “resetting” your entitlement to full entitlement.

What is full entitlement?


The rules for the VA Loan changed in 2020. If you are purchasing a home with full entitlement there is no limit. You can technically buy as much house as you qualify for with zero down payment.

To check your entitlement right now, follow this link to the VA website. You can check your Certificate of Eligibility (requires CAC to access). It is also required from your bank when applying for a VA loan, so keeping it for your records will save you time down the road.

Buying a Home With Full Entitlement

In today’s market, homes go quickly and bidding wars are common. It might seem that having full entitlement to your VA Loan is the perfect way to compete with other buyers.


But there’s a catch.


The home price you agree to pay still needs to be certified by the appraiser. This is someone who inspects the property and makes an independent assessment of whether the price you pay is a fair market value.


If the appraisal comes in below what you are offering, the VA will only back the amount determined by the appraiser. 


Any amount over the appraisal the VA will not back. You will need to come up with a 25% down payment on that difference. 

The home you are trying to buy appraises for $500,000.


Due to a competitive market and multiple bids you need to offer $600,000 to get the house.


The difference of those two is $100,000. You will now need to come up with a $25,000 down payment for that amount. This is independent of and in addition to any other part of closing costs or the home buying transaction.

If you’ve previously used a VA loan, you can use it to buy more than one property. Once again, entitlement will drive what this looks like for you.

You can buy more than one home with the VA loan. The catch is that VA will only back a certain amount- basically your entitlement is now capped. This limit is set by the FHA annually, and you can view the 2022 limit here.


You can still buy a home that cost more than this, but you will have to put 25% down of the amount that exceeds the FHA limits.

To find your remaining eligibility:


1. Find your eligibility amount for the county you currently live in, and for the property type you’d like to buy.

2. Subtract the amount you already used (how much your loan was) from that amount.

3. The remaining amount is how much you can buy without a down payment. Any amount above that will require you to put 25% of the difference down.

4. Your Certificate of Entitlement should reflect this number; you can check that here.

You are PCSing to Norfolk and want to buy a home in Newport News County. The 2022 limit for that county is $647,200. You already bought a home where you currently live for $250,000.


$647,200-$250,000= $397,200


This is the amount you are entitled too, so the purchase of a new home at this price or less will not require a down payment. Any cost more than this will require a down payment of 25% of the difference.

Even if you can buy a second home without putting any money down, it’s important to consider the funding fee. Understanding this is why I chose to put 5% down on the second home I bought with my VA loan.

The VA Loan Funding Fee

Although the VA loan is an amazing financial tool, it is not free. The price you pay is known as the funding fee. The funding fee can be either included in the loan amount or paid at closing as part of closing costs. Its structure is shown below.

It is easy to forget about the funding fee, because you can add this and other closing costs to the loan and still put no money down. It’s important to realize that this may be risky, because you can easily close with a loan amount that is greater than the value of the house. 


As you can see from the rates, putting no money down on an additional home will incur a relatively large funding fee.

Smart Ways to Use the VA Loan

The VA Loan is an excellent financial tool for becoming a homeowner.

Understanding how it works allows you to use it as part of a larger financial plan.


For example, you can use it to buy multi-family complexes, or collect rental properties as you move across duty stations. More articles on these topics are coming soon, and you can subscribe to get them delivered to your inbox.

Whether you are just getting started or buying your next place, here are the key takeaways to help you make the best financial decisions.

1. Entitlement drives the VA loan. Any amount outside your entitlement will require you to put 25% of that amount down.


2.The VA Loan is not free. The funding fee is an expense unique to the VA loan. You can control this fee through your down payment.


3. Pay closing costs where it makes sense. It is worth putting some money down to avoid negative equity in a home.


4.Using the VA loan should be part of a larger financial plan. When you are unsure of a factor such as to sell or rent your home, leave both doors open by choosing a house that can work for both. Future moves, family planning and desire to be a landlord should all be considered. 

Did you know?

  1. I Bonds are a risk free government bond that are currently yielding 9.62% You can use them tax free for educational expenses.
  2.  These two investments have both beaten the market this year (one has had positive returns). But then again, they were designed to be low volatility long term investments.

Everything You Need to Know about I Bonds

Long Term Investments for a Volatile Market

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


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.


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.


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


  • 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


  • 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




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


June 15th, 2021

June 15th, 2021


June 7th, 2023

June 22nd, 2023


Capital Gains

Long Term


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.


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. 


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.


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.

Some links on this page may be affiliate links. When you use an affiliate link we may be compensated at no cost to you. Affiliate links help keep this site ad free and compensate the time required to execute our mission.

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.


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.


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:





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?


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 connections because it is significantly larger. It also has a Centurion Lounge for Amex Platinum Cardholders.

Here are the flight prices for a hypothetical 5 day visit in May. The airports shown are Washington, San Diego, NYC and Dallas .