Veterans deal with financial learning curve

By Leslie Mann

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Published: Monday, June 9 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, June 9 2014 9:04 a.m. MDT

In their books, Phillips and Glass list state, federal and private groups that walk vets through financial planning. They define basic insurance terms that are gibberish to many vets, Phillips said, especially younger ones who counted on their parents to handle such matters before they enlisted.

Phillips’ book explains private sector salaries and negotiations.

“In the military, your salary is simple, based on rank, time in service and special skills such as parachuters getting ‘jump pay,’” he said. “In the civilian world, you negotiate. Then, unlike the military, where it’s public knowledge, your salary is now a big secret.”

Phillips also defines “benefits.” “In the military, they’re all the same — vanilla — but paid for,” Phillips said. “In the service, you can take your base salary and basically double it when it comes to all the benefits you get. But in the civilian world, you pay for things like health care yourself. Veterans have to budget for that.”

The authors urge vets without college degrees to take advantage of the GI Bill, which provides free tuition, plus living allowances.

“The post-9/11 GI Bill extends benefits to dependents too,” Phillips said. “More and more, colleges and universities have veteran service centers. That’s a good place to start asking questions.”

Many groups pave the way for veterans who want to become homeowners. Through “VA loans,” the Department of Veterans Affairs guarantees part of mortgages from private lenders, so vets get lower interest rates.

The Yellow Ribbon Registry Network ( www.yrrn.org ) matches donations to vets having a hard time making ends meet. Through USACares (usacares.org), donors help cover vets’ lost wages.

USAA (usaa.com) is the AARP of vets’ services, with discounts on insurance, credit cards, banking, travel and products from engagement rings to home-security systems.

State departments of veterans’ services provide an array of financial perks, from free fishing licenses to property tax exemptions to income tax credits. See their websites for details, because they vary from state to state.

“Every vet should go to (the) local Veterans of Foreign Wars (vfw.org) office too,” Desens said. “They will be your advocates.”

One of the upsides of being a vet, Phillips said, is having a government-issued Veterans Identification Card, which is your ticket to discounts with retailers, restaurants, insurance companies, mortgage lenders, and state and federal services.

“I carry mine everywhere, especially Home Depot, where I get a discount,” he said. “I got my license plate for only $10 and my driver’s license for free. I saved $700 on my car insurance. It’s like getting senior discounts — they’re out there, but you have to remember to ask.”

But the veteran’s greatest asset is intangible, Phillips said.

“You’ve learned to look at the problem and find a solution,” he said. “So you don’t know how to get car insurance? You’ve survived dangerous situations. You can figure this out.”

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©2014 Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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