A Financial Education Event

A Grounded Pilot and A Flying Wife

Being married to “The World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot” has its ups and downs, and one of the things I discovered about my man is: His feet are restless while on the ground.

He flew fighters for a decade before I met him and eventually accumulated 4500 flight hours in seven different jets. There’s one phone call that a pilot’s wife always waits for, but hopes will never happen. I got that call two years ago when I was in NYC on business and at a Broadway show. The five minutes it took to check my voicemail during intermission forever changed our lives:

Bob had been in an accident and broken his back.

He punctured his lung, broke four vertebrae and four ribs on a gas and go in Abilene. He had just flown his last sortie: a fluke accident that happened during a routine delivery of a jet.

Bob did recover his health and is able to maintain a pilot’s license, but his back will not sustain an ejection seat aircraft. While he enjoys “flying” the Global Hawk as a civilian contractor and Cessnas as a pilot, but he always gets a sad look in his eye when a fighter flies by. I didn’t understand the depth of his loss until something amazing happened to me.

I got to fly in a fighter.

After bringing the “Heroes at Home” message to military families in 7 countries, at 100 venues, and traveling 300,000 miles to do this, with 500,000 military families reading my work and 1,000,000 military families having seen my presentations and work…the Air Force rewarded me with an incentive ride.
Bob and Joshua were also invited to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, home of the 4th Fighter Wing and the world’s most lethal tactical fighter: the F-15E Strike Eagle. They flew the simulator, but I was to fly the real deal.

I went to the flight surgeon, egress training and physiology. At the 333rd FS Lancers squadron, we were met by LTC “Rosie” O’Donnell, who took us to briefing that was led by Captain Ryan “Goat” Roper, he told me to think about the mission and how we would fly over Kitty Hawk at 1000 feet and view it from the back seat of an F-15E. His Weapons Systems Officer, Captain Sriram “Fuze” Krishnan, told me to drink a bottle of water after I asked my pilot if I could take off my air mask so I wouldn’t get sick.
Then the big man himself, Colonel Pat “Moon” Doherty, the 4th Fighter Wing Commander, could have been “Cool Hand Luke” because his demeanor was both calming and compelling. He said he knew I’d be fine and I believed him. But when we got ready to step to the jet I noticed something that surprised me about Moon. In fact, I noticed it in all the air crew for our two ship sortie—there was an excited gleam in their eyes. It was as if they were little boys but instead of being excited about playing baseball, their collective countenance said, “we get to go fly jets today!” It was the same look I’d seen on Bob’s face when I watched him launch out into the wild blue yonder.
I put on my g-suit and harness, grabbed my helmet and air mask, tucked in those pesky air sickness bags into my flight suit and we were ready. Excitement overtook me as I realized I was truly going to do this thing—I was going to fly in a no kidding, real world, operational fighter with the second best fighter pilot in the world (Bob always has to be the first).
We signed out the jet, stepped to the hanger, met the amazing maintenance crew, pre-flighted the aircraft, strapped on 30 tons of sheer power, and taxied down the runway. At the end of the runway, while we waited for clearance to takeoff, Bob and Joshua met us in a truck and took a gazillion pictures. There was a wistful look on the World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot’s face. He never would have dreamed that his wife would fly in the one fighter he had always wanted to pilot, but never did.
Moon and I were cleared for takeoff and we watched Goat and Fuze roar down the runway and head into a vertical climb. Then it was our turn, no going back now! As we blasted down the runway, the afterburner screaming, we took off on the wildest ride I’ll ever had this side of eternity. We pulled about 5 g’s in a straight vertical climb and then a sharp turn out to sea. The one hour car drive to the coastline took 8 minutes. It gave a whole new meaning to the bumper sticker that says, “If I were in my F-15E, I’d be there by now.”
Fuze snapped photos of us airborne as we rose above the clouds. Moon asked what I wanted to do as he didn’t want to push me. But I was game for low levels, aileron rolls and what I call the loop-de-loop. I battled airsickness by doing every I’d been trained to do to avoid it—and Moon was right, I was fine.
We flew a formation approach (ten feet from the other airplane), then flew back out in the traffic pattern for a couple more approaches. After 1.7 hours of flight time, we could say, “The Eagle has landed.” I was beyond euphoric to have flown in this premier jet with a big time pilot and not get sick. We taxied back to a cheering crowd and when Bob learned that I held down that wonderful breakfast that Dee Dee Doherty made us earlier in the day, he gave me the highest praise that could ever come from a fighter pilot when he declared in all seriousness, “Beloved, I am as proud of you today as I was every day that you gave birth.”

I learned some things on the hot tarmac on that humid North Carolina day. For one thing, we have the finest group of military professionals in the world. Each team member I met that day was very secure in their place on the team and performed their duties with pride and professionalism.
I learned that big boys still act like little boys when they get to do what they love.
I also learned why Bob loved his work for 30 years and how hard it was for him to have his feet on the ground.

But most importantly, I learned that as much as my man suffered from clipped wings, his love for his wife and excitement over her living out a bucket list dream was greater than any thing else.

Back to College – Debt Free (part 1)

Back To College—Debt-Free (part 1)

When Bethany was four years old, she came running in the house sobbing uncontrollably. I smoothed her blond curls and held her, “What’s wrong, Bunny?”
“I don’t want to leave you and go to college!” Her chubby arms held my neck tight.
“Um, well, Bunny, you don’t have to go to college any time soon!” I soothed, while rubbing her back.
She sat up straight, “I don’t?”
Wiping away her tears, she sniffed, “Good! Can I go back to Julie’s house and play again?”
I figured out later that all the drama was because Julie’s older brother was leaving for college and her friend’s family was sad to say goodbye. She thought she was going to have to leave us and it made her sad.
Fast forward the better part of two decades and she’s now a rising senior at Moody in Chicago, majoring in media communications. She’s not crying when she goes back to school, although we miss her. The good news is that she, along with all our other kids, are graduating debt-free! We don’t have any student loans and we didn’t have to refinance our house. Here are a few quick tips to pay for college. For more info, email assistant@elliekay.com and ask for the “College Crunch File.”

1. Make the Right Choice – Choose a school not because it’s the best, but because it’s the best value. Change the conversation from “I’ll go to the best college that I can get into” to “I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.” Our son, Daniel, chose the University of Texas (Arlington) over the scholarship he got to Syracuse and TCU because he would still have 60K in student loan debt after the scholarships ran out. He graduated with honors and a degree in journalism. He’s a working writer in Texas and doesn’t regret his college choice.

2. Save Big on Books by Renting – The average student pays more than $600 for course materials – the largest expense after tuition and room and board. I’ve recently partnered with Follett and found that by renting textbooks through their Rent-A-Text program, students can cut costs by 50 percent or more. CafeScribe’s digital textbooks are another great way to save, and both options are available to purchase at more than 800 Follett bookstore locations and online through efollett.com. Students at non-Follett schools can also purchase their digital textbooks on CafeScribe.com. I ordered Joshua’s textbooks this week and saved 52%!!

3. Make Scholarships a Part-Time Job – Millions of dollars of scholarship money go unclaimed every year. This is free money that parents or prospective students who are willing to do some detective work may find more quickly than they think. Go to www.collegeboard.com or www.salliemae.com to find scholarships that might be a fit for you.

4. Create a Budget, and Stick to It – As a parent of a college student, your love for your student is unconditional, but your money is conditional. That’s what we’ve always told our kids. To ensure students are making the most of their money, set a budget for spending and manage it by loading funds on a campus card to help track spending. And determine which on-campus retailers accept financial aid to be certain you’re making the most of your college dollars.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert

Your Questions about 401(k) Loans & Withdrawals

On ABC News Now and KLOVE this past week, I answered YOUR questions!

Q. It seems like every other friend of mine is taking the loan option on their 401(k). How many people are doing this?

Samantha Jones from Pennsylvania
Submitted via twitter

ELLIE: The second quarter report we talked about earlier also noted an increase in 401(k) loans. If you want to go the loan route, you need to know that workers are required to exhaust all other sources of fund—including a 401(k) loan—before they can take a hardship withdrawal. During the past 12 months 11% of plan participants initiated a loan, which is up from 9% during the previous 12 month period. 22% of plan participants had outstanding loans during the second quarter vs 20% a year earlier.

Q. If you want to take a loan on your 401(k) what kind of a reason do you have to give?

James from Fort Worth, TX
Submitted via facebook

ELLIE: A loan option is not a hardship option. For a hardship, you have to have specific reasons that fall within a certain criteria established by the IRS and/or the company. But for a loan, you don’t have to give a reason. You can take up to $50,000 or 50% of the amount in your plan, as long as it is vested by company rules, whichever of these is less. Since you are required to take a loan before you can apply for a hardship, this means that you will have little to nothing left in that account by the time you are done raiding your 401(k).

Q. If you take a loan against your 401(k), then what kind of a percentage point do you have to pay when you pay it back?

ELLIE: Most plans charge 1 to 2 percent above prime, which means currently 401(k) loan rates are as low as 4.25%. Loan payments are deducted from your paycheck. You can still contribute to your 401(k) plan while you’re repaying the loan, so you don’t have the issue of lost opportunity, but you do have to pay that interest.

Q. Since taking out a loan on your 401(k) doesn’t impact your ability to contribute to the fund and since interest rates are so low right now, why shouldn’t we take out a loan for our son’s college education?

Stephanie from El Paso, TX
Submitted via online contact form

ELLIE: There are a number of reasons you should avoid a loan including the fact that it could leave a considerable and even permanent dent in your retirement plan. Most borrowers reduce their contributions or discontinue them so they’ll have enough money to make repayments—it’s just what happens. Also, if you’re laid off or quit your job, the entire balance become due, which could be a double whammy if you suddenly become unemployed. Most employers require repayment within 60 days of leaving a job.

Q. I may be losing my job and I have a loan on my 401(k). I’ve been told I have to pay it back and I don’t see how I can possibly do that. What will happen and what recourse do I have?

Ted Thompson from Denver, CO
Submitted via blog

ELLIE: So sorry to hear about your job situation. If you cannot repay the loan, it becomes a distribution, which means you’ll have to pay taxes on the money, plus a 10% penalty if your under 59 ½. You should go see a free credit counselor at nfcc.org in order to see about paying all your creditors while unemployed.

Q. I’m not real knowledgeable about investing and the stock market. Right now, I’ve been offered two different jobs and part of my consideration includes their respective 401(k) plans. How do I know if a 401(k) plan is any good?

Robert Kavanowsky
New Jersey

ELLIE: Your plan should offer a well diversified mix of low cost investment choices. An employer match is a plus because employees tend to save more when their company kicks in money. So check the amount they are offering on the match. Investment guidance and regular, personalized report cards to show you whether you’re on track are important parts of a great 401(k) plan. Look for a company that is holding the total fees in their plans to well below 1% of assets each year. It’s important for you to choose the managed portfolio in your plan that not only offers low cost index funds, but also suits your retirement plan. If you are a younger worker, under 30, then you might want to go with an aggressive growth fund that is heavily tilted toward stocks, but remember that it also has more risk associated with it. If you are over 55, then you will want to select a fund that is income heavy in order to assume less risk.

Q. How much of my salary should I be putting away each month?

David Johnson, Biloxi, MS

ELLIE: Probably more than you are socking away now! Most employees are saving 7% a year or less and employers that offer matching contributions typically kick in 3$ of pay. That isn’t enough. The old rule of saving 10% of your gross pay was designed in the days when ore people had access to traditional pensions and employer provided retirement savings. In today’s world, you’re pretty much on your own for retirement and should be putting away 15% of your gross salary, including any employer contributions. Workers are permitted to put up to $16,500 in retirement accounts in 2010 and those 50 and older can squirrel away an extra $5500 in catch up contributions. You should have about 11 times your annual salary, on top of Social Security benefits if you want to maintain your current standard of living. So if you make 50K, then you need to save 550K by the time you retire.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

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