A Financial Education Event
 

Car Buying Do’s and Don’ts

Financial Readiness equals Military Readiness and whether you are a civilian or a service member, one of the top financial mistakes most Americans make has to do with how they buy their vehicles. But if you’re smart, you can avoid this mistake and eventually drive your cars for free.

Our Heroes at Home Financial Event just completed a tour where we gave 27 presentations at 17 bases in 4 countries. In fact, you can contact us about whether we are coming to YOUR base later this year.

McConnell AFB Heroes at Home Financial Event. One of the main topics that is: What is the smart way to buy a vehicle?

Let me start by asking you the question we ask our audiences: How do you lose around $8000 in 8 seconds?

Did you get the answer yet?

The answer is: you drive your brand new car off the lot.

Yes, the average new vehicle will depreciate $8000 in the first year. Since most folks finance that new vehicle, it’s more like losing $10,000 in 8 seconds!

So WHY oh WHY do you continue to buy NEW?

Some folks answer, “for the warranty.” But if you bought the vehicle a year old, you could do two things to make up for that 12 months of warranty you lose over buying new:

  • Warranty Purchase – you could purchase an extended warranty, which (depending on the car you drive) is only $800 to $1500 per year. This is WAY LESS than the 8K–10K you are losing by buying new. Plus warranties are negotiable. When I had to renew the warranty on my Mercedes 280SLK, the dealership gave me their best price. Then I called USAA, telling them the best quote I got and they beat the price by $800. Plus, instead of the $200 deductible I had with the other quote, the USAA deductible was $0! I used that warranty at my local Mercedes dealership (world’s best service department) and paid $0 deducible and got the same excellent service that I normally get.
  • CPO or Certified Previously OwnedIf you get a vehicle with a CPO on it, then part of the deal is that the dealership extends the warranty a year and this is a full manufacturer’s warranty. Plus, there are more stringent inspection standards and additional roadside assistance. Once, I had a shady salesperson who told me the car was CPO, “All our cars are CPO” she said, but she never presented me with CPO paperwork to sign at the deal’s closing. You guessed it, the vehicle was NOT CPO and she lied. Be sure you get CPO paperwork if you are told it is a genuine CPO. It costs the dealership anywhere from $800 to $2500 to CPO your vehicle, depending on the year, make and model. You HAVE TO sign CPO paperwork that is dated from BEFORE the date you buy the car or it’s not valid. Remember that asking a dealer to make a vehicle CPO is part of the negotiating process and this will increase the value of the deal anywhere from $1000 to $2500.

A couple years ago, I was on my way to Disneyland to meet another author friend and a careless driver made an unprotected left hand turn right into my vehicle (about 5 feet off the bumper). I had NO TIME to react or even take my foot off the brake. The fact that Mercedes are so well built and the fact God sent his angels to protect me are the only reasons I walked away from this terrible crash with only a few cuts and bruises.

This accident put me back in the market for a vehicle. So this time I decided to try USAA’s car buying service. Since we had an extra car at home, I could take my time to find the best deal. The car buying service told me the price, the discount, gave me free access to a CarFax report, showed me a chart of similar cars purchased in my area to indicate an average, good, or great deal, and more. I compared the prices I saw on the site to Kelley Blue Book and did all my research. Then I followed the same three steps we teach in our Heroes at Home Financial Events.

Step One: Negotiate Price First

Negotiate the price of the car at a dealership apart from the value of the trade-in. Tell the salesperson you want to determine the price of the car without the trade-in. The reason you want to do this is because salespeople will often give you far more for your trade than you expected—thus hooking you on the deal. However, this higher-value-for-the-trade-in shtick can be part of the technique they use to get you to purchase the car. If a higher value is given to the trade, then they will give a lower discount on the price of the vehicle, because all the discounting went into the value of the trade.

Step Two: Negotiate the Value of the Trade-In

Now that you’ve determined the price of the car, ask what the dealer will give you for your trade-in. Most likely, you will get more for your car if you sell it yourself. A little elbow grease and some top-notch detailing can net you hundreds of dollars more than a dealer can give you, if you can find a buyer. Some people (like military families) don’t always have the time to sell their car because of moving schedules and so forth. So if you are going to try to trade in your car, look up the value of your existing car at Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds, then print the page (or screen shot it), and bring it with you to the car lot to negotiate the price. Bottom line: try your best to gather enough facts beforehand so that you make a wise decision.

Step Three: Secure Your Own Financing

The F&I (finance and insurance office) is where the lion’s share of a dealership’s profit is made. In this office, you will have to navigate interest rates, payments, terms, additional services, and warranties. Unless you put miles on your car for business or you are purchasing a car that will cost a lot to repair (and you intend to keep it longer than the warranty lasts), extended warranties are usually not a good value. When it comes to vehicle financing, you can generally do better on interest by selecting your own creditor unless the manufacturer is offering a lower APR. Keep in mind that the .99% APR offers only go to the top 10% of those who are the FICO score elite, chances are good that you will not qualify. The credit life insurance that dealers offer is more expensive than raising your regular insurance premium by twenty thousand dollars to cover this expense. And don’t forget to research the price of insurance on your new car so you can afford both the payment and the insurance.

By following my own advice, I talked to my sales representative and I was able to:

  • Negotiate the best price on the vehicle.
  • Get the USAA discount added to the deal.
  • Get a car that had less than 3K miles on it.
  • Get CPO added to my vehicle.
  • Drive a vehicle that is now under warranty until 2022.
  • Get a like-new car that had only been in service officially for a mere three months.
  • Save $9K off the brand-new-plus-CPO price.
  • Pay cash for my car (stay tuned for next week’s blog on how to pay cash for cars).
  • Get the year, make, model and color of the car I wanted.
  • Walk away feeling good about the deal and the value I got.

When are you in the market to get a vehicle, which of these tips will you follow to get the best deal?

Ellie Kay

Honor and Celebrate our Veterans With #HonorThroughAction

In an effort to serve those that serve us, Heroes at Home and The Money Millhouse work to provide free financial education to our service members and their families. In the past, USAA has partnered with us and they continue to celebrate Veterans Day as a very specific occasion during which we can honor and celebrate those who’ve served and continue to serve our country.  Both of our organizations believe that celebrating our veterans encourages them to tell their stories about how and why they served in the effort to educate our public about our military community. Veterans Day stands as a reminder to celebrate the 20 million veterans (6 percent of our population) who have and continue to defend our country each and every day. We hope you will join us by taking a moment to honor veterans through a very simple action, share this with your followers, and invite them to participate as well. See the photo and this video to see who we are honoring from our families and why.

 

#HonorThroughAction

Celebrate veterans by following these quick and easy steps:

  • Draw a V on your hand, and the initials of a veteran you personally would like to honor
  • Snap a selfie – or have someone take the picture – showing your hand with the V
  • Share the photo on your social channels tagging and mentioning #HonorThroughAction, along with a message of appreciation for our veterans
  • Invite others to do the same as we head into Veterans Day… even tag and call out 2-3 you feel should act on this
  • For more background on this campaign to honor those who have served, go to www.usaa.com/VeteransDay

 Here’s a hint (from Ellie) about the veterans I’m honoring: I married one and gave birth to three!

Here are some more quick facts about Veteran’s Day:

  • Many Americans confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day; Veterans Day is meant to give thanks to our living veterans while Memorial Day is a day to remember those who gave their life while serving our country.
  • One hundred years ago, peace came to the battlefields of Europe with the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. This officially ended World War I – the war to end all wars.
  • In commemoration of the war’s end, Armistice Day was first observed on Nov. 11, 1919.
  • U.S. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance and Nov. 11 became a national holiday in 1938.
  • In  954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a proclamation that changed the name to Veterans Day to honor everyone who took the oath in service to America and served honorably during war or peacetime.
  • “On that day, let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us re-consecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • All around the world, countries commemorate Armistice Day which is also called Remembrance Day.
  • Traditionally, two minutes of silence are held at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 in reverent remembrance of those who gave their lives for their country.
  • The Royal British Legion sells poppies from October through Nov. 11 as a symbol to help honor and remember those who’ve fallen in service.

It’s Academy Time! (#USAFA, #USNA, #USMA) – Part 3

The Resume and Essay

In the first two parts of this blog series, we talked about the steps you need to take to help your student maximize their opportunity to get into a service academy. In the third and final part of this blog series, as promised, we are sharing some additional examples of a resume and an essay that helped to successfully secure multiple nominations to multiple academies.

 

The Resume:

Once in high school, the resume fodder begins. Keep in mind that these schools are looking for the “whole person” approach and the resume will need to show accomplishments in academics, athletics, community involvement and leadership. Here is a sample of one of our son’s winning resume that garnered one million dollars in college scholarships from USNA ($425,000), USAFA ($425,000) and UCLA ROTC ($180,000).

Experience:

Lancaster City Youth Commission Chairman (this is legitimate, sworn-in commissioners for Lancaster City. It was after and application process, an interview, and a popular vote to get to chairman out of at least 50 top youth in the region)

Assistant Manager and tutor for Math Magicians in Quartz Hill  (July 2010-present)

Blockbuster Video (August 2009- August 2010)

Intern at the Honorable Buck McKeon’s office in Palmdale, (Summer of 2009)

Captain for DCHS Varsity Volleyball team for 2 years

Captain for DCHS Varsity Mathletes

Current Class Rank: 2 of 107

Cumulative, Unweighted GPA: 3.97, Weighted: 4.2

Over 1250 hours of volunteering since 9th grade

Summer of 2010

–  Attended the United States Air Force Academy Summer Seminar

–  Attended the United States Naval Academy Summer Seminar

2009-2010: Junior, Desert Christian High School

–  ASB, Activities Representative (Coordinator)

–  Vice President of CSF (California Scholarship Federation)(VP of 80+ members)(Is a position for a 12th grader, achieved in 11th grade)

–  Member of NHS (National Honor Society)

–  Varsity Cross Country (Runner, and Manager)

–  Varsity Soccer

–  Varsity Volleyball (Team Captain as Junior)

–  Varsity Mathletes (Starter)(year round)

–  Worship Team, Leader (In charge of 13 musicians), at Desert Christian High School, at The Highlands Christian Fellowship, and at Central Christian Church (playing Guitar, and Bass Guitar)

– Approved Tutor: Chemistry, Biology, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Physical Science, Math A, English 9, English 10, English 11, Spanish I, Spanish II, Spanish III

– Attended RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards)(Recommendation from School Administration, then accepted through application process)

Awards for Junior Year:

–  United States Achievement Academy: National History and Government Award in AP United States History

–  United States Achievement Academy: National Leadership Merit Award in Leadership

–  United States Achievement Academy: National Leadership and Service Award for being an All American Scholar

– ACSI Distinguished High School Student for outstanding Achievement in both Academics and for Leadership

(Note: All of these awards are based of raw data [grades, service hours, activities, demonstrated leadership] as well as multiple teacher recommendations. During this awards night, I was one of 3 people, of 400, to receive the last two awards)

2008-2009:, Sophomore, Desert Christian High School

– Varsity Volleyball

– Junior Varsity Mathletes, (Team Captain)

– Worship Team

– Honors English 10, Algebra II, Chemistry (All advanced courses, the only ones offered)

– World History, Spanish II

– California Scholarship Federation, Cabinet, Sophomore Class Representative (3.5 GPA and above)

– National Honor Society (3.2 GPA and above)

– National Honor Roll Award

– Chemistry, Biology, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Physical Science, Math A, English 9, English 10, English 11, Spanish I, Spanish II

2007-2008:, Freshman, Desert Christian High School

– JV Volleyball

– JV Mathletes

– National Honor Roll Award: Academics, Honor Roll

– Honors English 9, Geometry, Biology, Advanced String Ensemble-Cello (All advanced courses, the only ones offered)

– Spanish I, Freshman Studies (Speech and Health)

– California Scholarship Federation

– Worship Team Member

Education:

– Graduate, Desert Christian Middle School, 4.0 GPA (All A’s, no weighted classes offered)

-Student, Desert Christian High School. Expected graduation: June 2011

Special Awards/Recognition:

– National Honor Roll Award: Academics, Honor Roll

– International Foreign Language Award: Spanish

– Presidential Award for Academic Excellence

– Mathletes, Team Captain, 2007-2008, 2008-2009

– Student of the Month: Leadership (Freshman and Sophomore Year)

– Student of the Month: Genuineness (Junior Year)

– Desert Christian High School Letters:

-Varsity Cross Country, Soccer, Volleyball (2 years)

-Fine Arts (Advanced Strings Ensemble)

-Academics (3.5 or higher) (6 of 6 possible Semesters)

-CSF

-NHS

-Clubs

-Principle’s List: Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years

The Essay:

It’s never too early to begin to think about what you would like to write in your admissions application essay. These are very important and should be well thought out before submitting. Be sure to have you liaison officer review it before you submit it or ask an academy graduate to help. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a faculty member from your school review it as well. More eyes on the project can mean a broader perspective, but it still needs to be your own voice, so you will have the final word on the essay.

The following is an essay that garnered another one of our son’s appointments to both USNA ($425,000) and USMA ($425,000) .

The Essay – Following in a Father’s Footsteps

In the military lifestyle, heroes beget heroes. There are so many families that have a history of military service, and oftentimes, military “brats” will grow into adults who have the desire to serve, as well. Here’s is Philip’s essay:

Growing up in a military home, I saw very little of my father at times. As an officer, he was often gone taking care of his troops, performing his duties, and faithfully serving his country. I never truly understood why he did what he did until his dream became mine. When I walked on the campus of the Naval Academy this past summer during the Summer Leadership Seminar, I saw greatness. I saw an institution that taught men and women to be leaders, thinkers, and people of character. But most important, I saw my cadet commanders as men of high leadership with a servant’s heart. They put our comfort ahead of their own, as my father did with his men.

All my life I have dreamed of one day leading hundreds or possibly thousands of men and women. I have sacrificed much in the process of becoming a competitive candidate for the academy. It was not Summer Leadership School that made me want to be in the military, it was my father’s integrity and service. However, it was the midshipmen that I met that made me determined to attend Annapolis. It was my goal to become an officer; now it is my goal to become a warrior and a gentleman, in the finest sense of the word. To learn “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.” I desire to carry on the legacy of the service academies and to achieve a sense of accomplishment that no other college or career can offer.

Many nights I would stay up late, wondering if my father would come home or be deployed. I wondered if he was okay, or if it was his life that had been taken in one of the plane accidents that occurred in his various Air Force squadrons. However, these experiences did not make me turn against the military—it was quite the opposite. I began to see my father as someone very different from my friends’ fathers. I saw him as a warrior and a true hero. So many times I read about or see the actions of evil men. These are men who would not hesitate to strike down those whom I have come to love and cherish. I knew there was only one thing standing between me and those men—it was my dad. It was men like my father and those with whom he served that rose to stand up to people who seek to destroy everything we hold dear. I knew that I was called to be one of those men who took a stand, and I know it is the service academies that will teach me to stand, and to stand strong and proud.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s Academy Time! (#USAFA, #USNA, #USMA) – Part 2

In part one of this series, we looked at the process and requirements to get into a service academy. This is the second part of a three part series on how students can get into service academies shared from the perspective of a mom of three Academy appointees (#USNA-2011; #USAFA 2015, #USMA 2017) and also a woman who happens to be an Admissions Liaison Officer for the United States Air Force Academy. 

Nominations and Appointments 

Admission to one of the service academies requires both a nomination from one your nominating authorities and an appointment from the academy the child wishes to attend. I would strongly suggest that the child also contacts your Congressman and Senators to request a nomination and contact the academies to express their interest. There are also Vice-Presidential and Presidential nominations available. If the student is the child of a retired military member or an active duty member currently serving with at least 8 years of service, then they should also contact the academy directly to apply for a Presidential nomination. Furthermore, a child would also qualify for the Presidential process if their parent is currently in the reserves serving as a member of a reserve component and credited with at least eight full years of service (a minimum of 2880 points).  Both of our sons competed to receive these nominations. They are limited in number and highly competitive, but well worth the effort.

To apply for a nomination through a congressional office, you will be required to completely fill out an application packet (see your representative’s website). To be eligible for appointment, you must be an American citizen, at least 17 years old and not yet 23 years old on July 1 of the year you enter an academy. Also, you must have no legal obligation to support children or other dependents.

All applications are usually due in October. Then the offices will conduct interviews during the months of November and December. The nominations will be announced in January.

The Interviews

If you are a prospective candidate for any of the military academies, you can anticipate two of the most important interviews you will ever have in your life: the Congressional or Senatorial Interview and the Liaison Officer interview.

Come to these interviews in a suit with short hair if you are a male and a conservative hairstyle if you are a female. Sometimes the interview can make or break a candidate’s chances of garnering an appointment if all other aspects of the competitive field are equal. A good interview can make you stand out or fall out—it all depends upon the amount of work you put into it.

As an ALO, I advise my candidates to write out answers to the following questions and practice them by themselves in clear, direct, brief answers. The next step is to go over the Q&A with a parent and solicit their inputs on how to improve the interview skills. Ask the parent to count the number of “uhs” and “ums” and “likes” to remove these from your vocabulary.

Next, ask your school counselor or Scout Master to set up a mock interview with teachers and administrators (or JROTC commanders) to go over these questions. Then, you’ll be prepared to knock it out of the park in your real Congressional or Senatorial and Liaison Officer Interviews.

Interview Practice Questions

These are not necessarily the interview questions you will receive in your evaluation interviews. But if you know the answers to these (especially those highlighted), then you’ll be well prepared for a panel of interviewers as well as a one on one with your Liaison Officer.

Why do you want to go to the Air Force academy?

Why do you want to serve in the military?

What are your greatest strengths?

What are your greatest weaknesses?

What accomplishment are you the most proud of?

What do you want to do in the Air Force and what is your backup plan if you cannot fly?

Who is your favorite leader?

Define integrity.

Define leadership.

Rank the service academies. Why do you rank them this way?
If not an Academy, how about ROTC? Why or why not?
When and how did you first get interested?
Describe your typical daily schedule.
How does your family feel about this?
Which parent or other adult has the most influence on you?
Have any relatives or friends of the family attended one of the academies? Who do you know in the military? What have you learned from them?

What will be your career? Why?
How long do you think you’ll remain in the military?
What’s the importance of integrity in the service? Examples?
Favorite subjects in school?
Describe your extracurricular activities.
What do you read for enjoyment? Why?
What community service do you do? Why?
How would your best friend describe you?
Who motivates you the most?
Describe your leadership style.
Are you a good follower?

What is your best leadership example?

Your worst? Your hardest leadership experience?

Explain the Academy’s Honor Code.*

*Look this up online to know the Honor Code.
Describe your sports participation.

What are your major life goals?
What have you done to research more about the Academy? The Service?
What is the best thing you have to offer to the Academy?
Describe a time you tried to lead but failed. What did you learn?
Describe your worst stress situation.
Give examples of how you’re a self-starter.
To whom do you look for good advice?
How do you manage and organize your time?
What’s the purpose of the US military?
What changes has the US military been through recently?
What changes will the US military soon have to adjust to?
What would your harshest critic tell us about your potential at an Academy?

If you could do one thing over in your life, what would that be? Why?

The Liaison Officer

Each military academy will assign an officer to assist you in the process of applying.  The McCormick brothers featured in the picture were two of my candidates as an ALO. Each Academy has a different title for their respective liaisons:

USNA: Blue and Gold Officer

USAFA: Admissions Liaison Officer (ALO)

USMA: Military Academy Liaison Officers (MALO)

Merchant Marine Academy: Admissions Field Representatives

Coast Guard Academy:  Military Fairs Liaison Officer – (Please note this academy does not require a congressional nomination.)

In addition to having to meet certain physical requirements, you will also have to be interviewed by this intermediary. I would encourage you to attend service academy nights that are hosted in your community and where you can speak with these officers. Our son’s “Blue and Gold” representative, LTC Jerry Geil, USMC (Ret), was an outstanding inspiration as he interviewed Philip for his candidate requirement. Make good use of your liaison. One will be assigned to you and should contact you once you have applied as an applicant.

Summer Leadership Seminar – For High School Juniors

In the summer between a student’s junior and senior year, each institution hosts an excellent program that provides an “up close and personal” view of the academy. These seminars are where your hero at home can compete to attend that will give them an idea of what life is like at that institution and it will also look great on a resume.  These applications are usually available in January at the academy’s website and should be turned in as early as possible. The applications are so involved that some have said they are an excellent precursor to the final academy application. Also, you will be in the system and a lot of this information will transfer over into that directory. Two of our sons attended two different academy summer seminars and it actually changed the mind of one of our son’s as to where he would attend. So feel free to look at more than one option. You will have to pay transportation to/from the academy as well as a camp fee ($300 to $400).

Join us next time for part three of this series, which will feature samples of the essay and the resume.

Please feel free to share this with a bright young person who might want to attend a service academy and please don’t forget to share your insights of what worked for you or your student when they got into a service academy!

It’s Academy Time! (#USAFA, #USNA, #USMA) – Part 1

This is the Academy time of the year—no I don’t mean the heat of summer, although this time of year is lovely in Southern California. But I mean it’s the time of the year when students begin to fill out applications to compete to get a little piece of paper in the mail worth more than $425,000. This would be an appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, the Naval Academy in Annapolis, West Point in New York or the Merchant Marine Academy and the Coast Guard Academy.

As both an ALO (Admission Liaison Officer for the Air Force Academy) and a mom of three sons who went to academies, I’m here to say that this is a VERY exciting time for applicants to work toward their appointment! I remember when my sons received theirs, we ate on “Happy Plates” (a Kay family tradition when we celebrate a family member achievement). If someone in your world is interested in pursuing this kind of a dream, then share the following insiders tips with them to maximize their opportunities to succeed.

 

Service Academies and Military Funded Education

A couple of our sons garnered one million dollars in scholarship offers, and in both cases two of those offers were from federal service academies.  These are highly competitive and look at the whole person. So it’s not enough to be a brainiac, they are also looking for students who are exceptional in the area of athletics, community involvement and leadership.  In return for this amazing education valued at $425,000, your student will be required to serve in the military for their “commitment” period. The commitment is a minimum of 5 years of service and can be longer, depending on a number of factors in regards to additional training after graduation. For example, our Air Force Academy grad owes 10 years of service because he went to pilot training to fly the F15E Strike Eagle.  If you have a “hero at home” who wants to go to a service academy, there are several things to keep in mind.

One of the first places to visit is your service academy’s admissions site:

USAFA – The United States Air Force Academy

USNA – The United States Naval Academy

USMA — The United States Military Academy

USMMA (Merchant Marine)

Coast Guard Academy (does not require a congressional nomination)

From Prospect to Appointee:  

  • Prospect:  A student who has filled out the initial response form showing interest. This means they are essentially on an admissions mailing list. You can fill this out as early as middle school by going to the academy’s website.
  • Applicant: The individual has filled out a pre-candidate questionnaire and provided initial info on PSAT/SAT/ACT scores, grades and extra-curricular activities. This is usually done NO LATER than the spring of their junior year. This is also the time to contact your congressman and senator in regards to a nomination. In addition, if the student’s parent is qualified for a Presidential nomination, (see nominations and appointments below) then the student can contact the academy directly to pursue this nomination as well.
  • Candidate: To move from applicant to candidate indicates that you have cleared your first competitive hurdle. This step is decided by the Academies admissions staff in the early summer of a student’s Senior year. Not all students will get to this point, but this is when they will be interviewed by the Academy Liaison Officer (or the equivalent). It is from this list that appointments will be offered as early as the fall. For example, one of our sons was offered an USNA appointment by October.
  • Appointee – This means that the candidate has been offered an appointment into the Academy. They can choose to accept it or turn it down, but it means they have not only received an official nomination, but they have also been approved by the Academy’s admissions board and offered an actual appointment.

Basic Requirements

It’s important to check the specific military academy website for updated information on your desired academy, but in general, here are the basics that you will need before you even consider applying:

  • A United States citizen
  • Unmarried with no dependants
  • Of good moral character
  • At least 17, but not past your 23rd birthday by July 1 of the year entering.

Recommendations

Because it is so incredibly competitive to gain entry into a service academy, the following high school courses will help make the applicant more competitive:

  • Four years of English
  • Four year of college-prep math
  • Four years of lab science
  • Three years of social studies
  • Two years of a foreign language
  • One year of computer study

Character

One of the academies defines character as “One’s moral compass, the sum of those qualities of moral excellence which compel a person to do the right thing despite pressure or temptations to the contrary.” (USAFA) They also define leadership as “The process of influencing people and being responsible for the care of followers while accomplishing a common mission.”  These academies are looking for future leaders with the highest moral character possible.

Diversity

Academies are looking for people from a wide variety of life experiences and the word “diversity” at these institutions no longer applies exclusively to race or cultural background. USAFA defines diversity as: “a composite of individual characteristics that includes personal life experiences (including having overcome adversity by personal efforts), geographic background (e.g., region, rural, suburban, urban), socioeconomic background, cultural knowledge, educational background (including academic excellence, and whether an individual would be a first generation college student), work background (including prior enlisted service), language abilities (with particular emphasis on languages of strategic importance to the Air Force), physical abilities (including athletic prowess), philosophical/spiritual perspectives, age, race, ethnicity and gender.

Join us again for part two of this blog series when we will cover nominations and appointments, The Liaison Officer, and Summer Leadership Programs. Please share this blog with someone you know would love to attend a service academy and who has the potential to be among the best and brightest in our nation who will be offered appointments.

Memorial Day and National Poppy Day

Gold Star Family

Being part of a gold star family is like being part of an honored and exclusive club—but one that no one wants to join. The gold star indicates that a member of that family died while serving their country. We are a three-star blue star family, which means that we currently have three family members serving with sons in the Marines, Air Force and Army. We’ve weathered deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq—praying our way through each day they were there. We never want to add another gold star to our family.

Yes, our family is a gold star family because of my Grandfather, SSGT Walter Rawleigh, a bombardier on a B-24. He was on his 47thmission in Madang, Papua New Guinea. Fully gassed and loaded with bombs, the “Cisco Kid II” had an engine malfunction on take-off and crashed into an encampment of Seabees having breakfast. Ten members of the crew and 165 Seabees suddenly died that day. Obviously, I never knew my grandfather and my dad was a young child when his father perished. I know that my father, Chief Master Sgt Rodger Rawleigh, USAF (Ret) was inspired to serve because of the fact his dad never came back from war.

 

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is about gold star families and should not be confused with Veteran’s Day. The latter is a day which honors all who have served in the United States military. A memorial is a remembrance of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It’s not a day to say, “Happy Memorial Day,” even though many Americans have a day off. Many will use that time to picnic and enjoy their families and friends. In fact, the original tradition of this day was to eat a picnic while sitting on the grounds of a cemetery.

This national holiday was first recognized by Congress in 1971 and before that time it was known as Decoration Day, which originated shortly after the Civil war. Besides my Grandfather’s tragic accident, 645,000 Americans have given their lives in defense of our freedoms. What can we do to appropriately honor those who died? I’m glad you asked.

 

The Poppy

 Honoring our fallen with a poppy is a tradition that was inspired by the poem crafted in 1915
entitled, “In Flanders Fields.” It was written by Lt. Col John McCrae after he lost a friend during WWI.  McCrae’s poem inspired Moina Michael, an American professor and volunteer for the American YWCA, to write a response poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith,” vowing to wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

Michaels campaigned to have the red poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance and, with help from Anna Guerin and the 1920 National American Legion Conference, the poppy became the official symbol of remembrance.

But it’s not limited to our country, the poppy is used as a symbol of remembrance all over the world. In fact, Friday, May 25, 2018, is National Poppy DayTM, which was first recognized on May 26, 2017. Along with the American Legion, we encourage people to wear or display a poppy on this day to remember those who lost their lives in battle.

 

Virtual Poppy Field

I invite everyone to join the conversation online using #honorthroughaction and share your story. What does Memorial Day mean to you? Who are you honoring? You can visit www.poppyinmemory.com to dedicate a digital poppy to a fallen hero or as a gesture of appreciation for those who have sacrificed all. It only takes minutes to participate and I want to thank USAAwho are sponsoring this initiative and for all their help in Heroes at Home.

Honor the fallen today.

Financial Education Month – How to Resolve a Credit Dispute


In our Heroes at Home Financial Event tour, we work with military members to make sure their credit history keeps them flying high! Even pilots can get grounded if they can’t hold a Top Secret security clearance and they can’t hold a clearance if their credit is awry. There are some pilots with one million dollars in training assets invested in them. It would be terrible for them to have to fly their last sortie because of this important issue. But security clearances are something that every military member has to protect. That could be an expensive mistake. Thankfully, some of these issues are able to be resolved with the help of Airman and Family Readiness, but it still had an impact on military readiness.

You may not have a million dollars in national security assets invested in you, but you’re still a valuable person to your family, friends and community. Whether you are a military aviator or a mom who works from home–it’s important to regularly check your credit report from all three providers (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). You can get a free copy at Annual Credit Report where federal law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report from each of these reporting bureau once every twelve months. The law also allows you to ensure that all the information on your credit reports are accurate and up to date.

One of our financial education speakers is the ever knowledgeable presenter, Rod Griffin, from Experian. We recently discovered something new going on

at Experian regarding  enhancements to its dispute center that make it easier and faster to file a dispute.  Many people do not understand how to correct mistakes on their credit reports – so financial literacy month is a good time to help educate them on the process and take away the fear that it’s a daunting or complicated task.

Here are some of the highlights of the dispute center where consumers can:

  • Use their smart devices as it’s mobile-optimized
  • Upload photos of supporting materials directly from their smartphone
  • Get a free Experian credit report
  • Follow contextual links designed to help them better understand and access various sections of their report
  • Receive timely alerts updating them on the current status of their active disputes
  • Sort and view the accounts listed on their credit report by alphabetical order, date opened or status, and filter by categories such as collections or installment loans.

Be sure you share this with anyone you know who may have a credit report dispute and be sure that you check the credit reports on everyone in your family. Hopefully, you won’t find a credit history on your four year old daughter or 1 year old son, but identity theft is knows no age!

Knowing your options will help you with your credit report spring cleaning–especially if you find anything out of place! Once your work is done, sit back, make yourself a cup of coffee and don’t forget to join me and my co-host, Bethany Bayless in The Money Millhouse podcast for our interview with Rod Griffin, Gerri Detweiller and other credit financial experts.

 

Driving Cars for Free

In our Heroes at Home Financial Event Tour, one of the most popular segments deals with “how to drive a car for free.” The concept is fairly simple, but less than 10% of Americans actually follow the steps to experience debt free living when it comes to transportation. We love our military audiences because even though some military members are “ordered” to attend our show, by the time it is over, they are laughing, they’ve learned something and they realize how much fellow Americans loves them.

So how do you do it? Just follow three steps:

  1. Start with a Debt Free Car – This is usually going to be the car you just paid off. Or, it might be a vehicle a parent or someone else gave you (it might even have seen better days). In our lives, we were “given” one car and we gave away 8 cars. It might be that you agree to be a one-car family for 18 months instead of a two-car family. This is how the Kays did it to start with. If you don’t absolutely have to drive a car (you are a one car family, public transportation, driving someone else’s car, etc.), then you can go to step #2.
  1. Pay Yourself – The monthly payment for your car that you used to pay before it was paid off is a payment you will now pay to yourself instead of to the lienholder. So let’s say your car payment was $300. You will pay yourself $300 every month for 18 months. At the end of that time, you take the $5400 you have saved and then sell your existing vehicle for as much as you can get for it. You will get more money for your vehicle if you detail it, get everything running as well as possible (without a huge investment) and then sell it yourself. Go to KBB for 10 steps on how to sell your car yourself.  Let’s say you sell it for $8000. Now you have $13,400 to work with.
  1. Pay Cash for Your Next Car – Follow my steps from my previous blog on Car Buying Dos and Don’ts – Even if you aren’t a USAA member (for an additional military discount), you can still follow the steps listed to pay the least price possible for your next vehicle. Make a special note: You cannot do this with a new car! It has to be a used car. The average new car depreciates $8000 in 8 seconds (when you drive it off the lot). So you have to buy a car that is slightly used (or real used until you trade up). The example in my blog shows how I traded up consistently until I was driving a modest Mercedes. (Is there such a thing as a modest Mercedes? I believe there is).
  1. Trade Up Until You’re Satisfied – After you’re in a new-to-you “paid for” car, then start with step number two all over again and start paying yourself. Let’s say you bought a car for $13,400 and you got into it low (as I showed you how to do in my previous blog), then in only 18 months a used car won’t depreciate that much (if you take care of it and try to keep low mileage on it) and you can sell it for close to what you paid for it. You sell it after 18 months for $13,000 and add the additional $5400 that you have saved by paying yourself every month. Now you have $18,400 going into step #3 and you can trade up your vehicle.

Does this work? It absolutely does. Not only do I do this in my own family, but I have children who do it as well. When my kids ask for my advice (sometimes it’s nice having a mom who is America’s Family Financial Expert ®), I advise them to not be wasting money on expensive car interest payments or crazy expensive leases. The difference is enough money saved over the course of five years to be able to put money down on a house instead of having to rent. It truly adds up!

Keep trading up until you are satisfied with your car and you can trade up into a car with a substantial manufacturer’s warranty (or negotiate that warranty). I do practice what I preach, and I did this to get my 2014 Mercedes, which is under mfg warranty until 2022. The only perceived downside is that my dream car is red and I thought that red cars get more speeding tickets than other colors. But good news! That’s a myth. Pedal to the metal!

What can you do today to drive your cars for free tomorrow? Let me hear from you!

Ellie Kay

Car Buying Do’s and Don’ts

Financial Readiness equals Military Readiness and whether you are a civilian or a service member, the number one financial mistake has to do with how you buy your vehicles. But if you’re smart, you can avoid this mistake and eventually drive your cars for free.

Our Heroes at Home Financial Event is in the midst of a tour where we are giving 25 presentations at 17 bases in 4 countries. In fact, you can contact us about whether we are coming to YOUR base later this year.

McConnell AFB Heroes at Home Financial Event. One of the main topics that is: What is the smart way to buy a vehicle?

Let me start by asking you the question we ask our audiences: How do you lose around $8000 in 8 seconds?

Did you get the answer yet?

The answer is: you drive your brand new car off the lot.

Yes, the average new vehicle will depreciate $8000 in the first year. Since most folks finance that new vehicle, it’s more like losing $10,000 in 8 seconds!

So WHY oh WHY do you continue to buy NEW?

Some folks answer, “for the warranty.” But if you bought the vehicle a year old, you could do two things to make up for that 12 months of warranty you lose over buying new:

  • Warranty Purchase – you could purchase an extended warranty, which (depending on the car you drive) is only $800 to $1500 per year. This is WAY LESS than the 8K–10K you are losing by buying new. Plus warranties are negotiable. When I had to renew the warranty on my Mercedes 280SLK, the dealership gave me their best price. Then I called USAA, telling them the best quote I got and they beat the price by $800. Plus, instead of the $200 deductible I had with the other quote, the USAA deductible was $0! I used that warranty at my local Mercedes dealership (world’s best service department) and paid $0 deducible and got the same excellent service that I normally get.
  • CPO or Certified Previously OwnedIf you get a vehicle with a CPO on it, then part of the deal is that the dealership extends the warranty a year and this is a full manufacturer’s warranty. Plus, there are more stringent inspection standards and additional roadside assistance. Once, I had a BAD salesperson who told me the car was CPO, “All our cars are CPO” she said, but she never presented me with CPO paperwork to sign at the deal’s closing. You guessed it, the vehicle was NOT CPO and she lied. Be sure you get CPO paperwork if you are told it is a genuine CPO. It costs the dealership anywhere from $800 to $2500 to CPO your vehicle, depending on the year, make and model. You HAVE TO sign CPO paperwork that is dated from BEFORE the date you buy the car or it’s not valid. Remember that asking a dealer to make a vehicle CPO is part of the negotiating process and this will increase the value of the deal anywhere from $1000 to $2500.

A couple years ago, I was on my way to Disneyland to meet another author friend and a careless driver made an unprotected left hand turn right into my vehicle (about 5 feet off the bumper). I had NO TIME to react or even take my foot off the brake. The fact that Mercedes are so well built and the fact God sent his angels to protect me are the only reasons I walked away from this terrible crash with only a few cuts and bruises.

This accident put me back in the market for a vehicle. So this time I decided to try USAA’s car buying service. Since we had an extra car at home, I could take my time to find the best deal. The car buying service told me the price, the discount, gave me free access to a CarFax report, showed me a chart of similar cars purchased in my area to indicate an average, good, or great deal, and more. I compared the prices I saw on the site to Kelley Blue Book and did all my research. Then I followed the same three steps we teach in our Heroes at Home Financial Events.

Step One: Negotiate Price First

Negotiate the price of the car at a dealership apart from the value of the trade-in. Tell the salesperson you want to determine the price of the car without the trade-in. The reason you want to do this is because salespeople will often give you far more for your trade than you expected—thus hooking you on the deal. However, this higher-value-for-the-trade-in shtick can be part of the technique they use to get you to purchase the car. If a higher value is given to the trade, then they will give a lower discount on the price of the vehicle, because all the discounting went into the value of the trade.

Step Two: Negotiate the Value of the Trade-In

Now that you’ve determined the price of the car, ask what the dealer will give you for your trade-in. Most likely, you will get more for your car if you sell it yourself. A little elbow grease and some top-notch detailing can net you hundreds of dollars more than a dealer can give you, if you can find a buyer. Some people (like military families) don’t always have the time to sell their car because of moving schedules and so forth. So if you are going to try to trade in your car, look up the value of your existing car at Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds, then print the page (or screen shot it), and bring it with you to the car lot to negotiate the price. Bottom line: try your best to gather enough facts beforehand so that you make a wise decision.

Step Three: Secure Your Own Financing

The F&I (finance and insurance office) is where the lion’s share of a dealership’s profit is made. In this office, you will have to navigate interest rates, payments, terms, additional services, and warranties. Unless you put miles on your car for business or you are purchasing a car that will cost a lot to repair (and you intend to keep it longer than the warranty lasts), extended warranties are usually not a good value. When it comes to vehicle financing, you can generally do better on interest by selecting your own creditor unless the manufacturer is offering a lower APR. Keep in mind that the .99% APR offers only go to the top 10% of those who are the FICO score elite, chances are good that you will not qualify. The credit life insurance that dealers offer is more expensive than raising your regular insurance premium by twenty thousand dollars to cover this expense. And don’t forget to research the price of insurance on your new car so you can afford both the payment and the insurance.

By following my own advice, I talked to my sales representative and I was able to:

  • Negotiate the best price on the vehicle.
  • Get the USAA discount added to the deal.
  • Get a car that had less than 3K miles on it.
  • Get CPO added to my vehicle.
  • Drive a vehicle that is now under warranty until 2022.
  • Get a like-new car that had only been in service officially for a mere three months.
  • Save $9K off the brand-new-plus-CPO price.
  • Pay cash for my car (stay tuned for next week’s blog on how to pay cash for cars).
  • Get the year, make, model and color of the car I wanted.
  • Walk away feeling good about the deal and the value I got.

When are you in the market to get a vehicle, which of these tips will you follow to get the best deal?

Ellie Kay

Smart Money Habits for Millennials (and Their Mamas)

The Kay Family had five babies in seven years. That roughly adds up to 3 kids in diapers at once, 10 years of not sleeping through the night, 4 teenage drivers at the same time, 3 kids in college at once and today, we have 5 millennials in their 20’s simultaneously.

Fun .

But the good news is that they eventually slept, pottied, drove, graduated and even mastered money habits in the journey. Here are the habits we helped teach our millennials to make sure they didn’t have to move home, they could remain financially independent, have a great start for their families, and still buy their mama nice birthday gifts.

Habit #1 – Create and Live By a Spending Plan

Many millennials have heard of the value of creating a budget and even have apps that help. But it’s of little use if they don’t know how to stick to it. Here are my favorite apps to help:

  • Mint Budgeting App – I met the founder of Mint, Aaron Patzer, in a green room, years ago, when we were both going to be on ABC News in NYC. At the time, he was building his success with Mint. I just remember him being (as he says in the video) “full of myself.” Ha! But his budgeting app is probably the best out there because it makes it easy to create a budget. You connect the Mint app to your bank and the app uses your details to help create a personalized budget.
  • PocketGuard Budget App – This app also connects to your bank accounts and shows you what you currently have in your pocket. It tracks your money to show what you are spending and automates where you’re going off budget and where you need to cut back.
  • You Need a Budget – This app’s claim to fame is that it creates a budget you can stick to based on the info provided in your bank accounts and spending habits. It even teaches you what to do if you overspend and how to live on last month’s income. This is the only app that cost money in my list and it’s $50 for the year, but there are hoards of devotees that say this app helped them to finally live on a budget.
  • GoodBudget – Back when dinosaurs roamed the financial space, there was an “envelope system” where you put the money you needed in each envelope labeled with expenses such as gas, food and entertainment. It helped Bob and I get out of 40K in consumer debt in only 2.5 years when we were first married. This app is the digital version of that system, making sure that everyone knows how much is left in the “envelope.”

You might need a money buddy to stay on track, too. Tiffany Aliche, The Budgetnista, talks about her journey on our fun podcast The Money Millhouse and how she went from broke to anything-but-broke through techniques that kept her on track.

Habit #2 – Cook Creatively and Consistently

Money evaporates when you order out for lunch or dinner more than one or two meals a week. Bob took leftover dinners (the

re’s a microwave and fridge at work) for our entire marriage and we calculate that he’s saved $20,000 by doing this! Make Pintrist your pal or watch The Food Network to learn easy ways to create nutritious and tasty meals. Ask for an Instant Pot for your next birthday and make more than you need for dinner so you’ll have leftovers for either lunch or dinner later in the week. Or freeze the leftovers. My daughter lived with roommates for a few years and they would assign different nights for each of them to cook to simplify the work. Cook more and your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

Habit #3 – Care About Your Retirement

When we take our Heroes At Home Financial Event on the road, we teach young service members the miracle of compounding interest with the mantra: start early, start small and stay committed. Be sure to start with funding a Roth IRA and take advantage of your company’s matching portion of your 401(k). Lacey Langford, an Accredited Financial Counselor gave some great tips on a segment called “I Aint Afraid of No Money.”  She discussed retirement planning from her experience in working with the military (but many tips apply to civilians as well.) If you’re military, be sure to go into your Family Readiness Center to discuss the Blended Retirement System and what your options are for your situation. It’s free and a benefit you can use early and often.

Habit #4 – Count the Cost of Debt

The average millennial college grad owes 37K in student loan debt and the average household owes $8500 in credit card debt. Work on minimizing the debt you accrue and pay off the debt you have so that you’ll have the flexibility to move or wait on the right job. One of my sons worked for JC Penney, and they eliminated his entire department. Most employees were freaking out because they had student loan debt, consumer debt and car debt—but not our son. He made a practice of living on less so he wouldn’t accrue debt and he was able to have less worry in the process of finding a new job.

Be sure you also pay attention to your credit score. Rod Griffin, from Experian, came over for a discussion on coffee and credit. He works with us on our tours and he teaches that if you have bad credit, you’ll pay an average of 360K more (over your lifetime) for the use of basic credit, than the person who has a good score. Improve your score by paying on time, paying more than the minimum balance due and make sure you never use more than 30% of your available credit.

Habit #5 – Choose Contentment

This is a tricky habit because it’s a mindset that you choose. There will always be something to spend money on to make you go off budget or get into financial trouble. There’s the new phone, tablet, car, vacay, boyfriend/girlfriend, baby, or a plethora of other reasons to want to spend more and have more. This is where your friends, family and even faith come into play. Coveting what others have or do is a lesson in futility and discontentment. Your friends either contribute to this mindset or they keep you focused on what matters most. If keeping up with their lifestyle is an important platform in your friendship, then you may want to find new friends. Remember that this financial journey is a marathon not a sprint. I’ve always said, “you can have it all—just not at the same time.”

What is one habit you are good at? What is one habit you want to improve upon? Share it with us, a friend or even a money buddy, so that you can be fiscally healthy in 2018 and for a lifetime.

 

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