Money management tips for those who serve.
Serving your community or your country comes with unique financial challenges. Many First Responders and Military Service Members struggle to manage their finances effectively. However, there are specialized programs and relief options that can make that task easier. It’s important to know what resources are available to you and how they can help you save.
Helping Those Who Serve: First Responders and the Military
Okay, we’re going to go ahead and get started, and again, welcome. Thank you to everyone for joining us for today’s monthly webinar titled “Helping Those Who Serve: First Responders and the Military. They keep us physically safe, so let’s keep them financially safe.”
If you wear a certain uniform – as a first responder or a military service member – you can earn more than just the respect and appreciation of your fellow citizens. You can also earn some financial benefits as well. Not all of these are well known, and even those that are, they’re often misunderstood. So today, we’ll quickly review the most powerful benefits, then show you where to get more information.
First the first responders
If you’re a police officer, paramedic, or firefighter, you’re known as a first responder. For the risks you take being first on the scene to help people, both the government and private businesses have traditionally offered special benefits to those just like you. In fact, there are too many to list here, so we’re going to review them in groups.
Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Program
Let’s start with one benefit we hope you’ll never use. The Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Program, or PSOB, is an example of the federal government’s efforts to recognize the dangerous work you do. Your spouse and children, or your designated beneficiary, can receive a payment that’s exempt from federal income tax.
The PSOB doesn’t just cover the awful circumstances of a death. It also offers disability benefits if you’re injured so severely you can’t work even in another field.
Of course, this is a government program, so there are more rules than we can list here. But you can check out Benefits.gov or email [email protected] to learn more. That will be a common theme today: We’re only scratching the surface so you know what’s out there. To take full advantage of these benefits, you’ll need to follow up.
HUD: Good Neighbor Next Door
The U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development, better known as HUD, runs a program called Good Neighbor Next Door. First responders qualify for it. You can buy a HUD home for half of its appraised value, which is a huge savings. There’s a catch, though.
The home you buy for 50 percent off the appraised value must be located in a specified area. These are neighborhoods that the government and local leaders want to be up-and-coming. So they’re not already the best neighborhoods, but will soon be among them.
You can email [email protected] for more information, or you can stick around to the end of this presentation, and we’ll tell you how to get answers to everything you hear today.
State Benefit Programs
It’s almost impossible to list all the benefits a first responder can receive, because many of the programs are run by states, and they vary a lot. Many states offer extended workers compensation benefits for first responders.
Workers comp for first responders
For example, Florida allows first responders to recoup lost wages if they were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Check your own state’s workers comp site to see what extra benefits you might be eligible for.
Private enterprise helps first responders
The good news is, many private businesses realize it’s good morals and good business to support first responders. The bad news is, there’s no single place to find that very long list. Your best bet is to simply ask when you’re making purchases in person and search the websites for “first responder” when you’re buying online.
By the way, first responder discounts don’t stop with federal help for homes and business discounts for sneakers. A new car is a huge expense, and most auto dealers offer enticements. One example is General Motors, which offers up to $500 on most models and up to $1,000 on Cadillacs. But other carmakers have their own discounts, and don’t forget to ask your local dealership, because some offer even more.
Cars for military personnel
This is a good transition into the second part of our discussion today. Just as first responders can choose from a slew of government and private programs, so can military personnel. In fact, carmakers offer special military programs, too. One example is Ford, which has a program called “Ford Salutes those Who Serve.” Like a first responder program, it offers $500 “bonus cash” on specified models.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
Military personnel share many of the same private-industry perks that first responders do, for one simple reason: This nation appreciates their service. And like first responders, there are government programs. But that’s where the similarity stops, because only military personnel have the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA. Let’s review what it does…
The SCRA is federal law that’s so wide-ranging that it can get a little complicated. So let’s start with a list that we’ll dive deeper into. We’ll talk about how the SCRA can reduce your interest rates, postpone a foreclosure, defer your income taxes, prevent your eviction, protect you against default judgments, delay a civil court case against you, and even end various contracts you signed.
SCRA can reduce your interest rates
The SCRA’s first protection is one of its most widely used. Basically, when you go on active duty, all your debts are capped at 6 percent interest. That credit card with a 16 percent interest rate? That car loan with the 8 percent interest rate? That mortgage at 7 percent? All of them drop to 6 percent while you’re away. That also applies to some student loans, as well as service charges and renewal fees.
SCRA can postpone foreclosures
This protection isn’t widely used. But if you need it, it’s a lifesaver. The SCRA requires a court order before your house can be sold in foreclosure. That gives you time to work out a deal with your lender. It also gives your lender an incentive to negotiate, too. Why? Because going to court is expensive. Your lender doesn’t want to go there if they don’t have to.
SCRA can defer income taxes
The SCRA is even powerful enough to take on the IRS. If military service “materially affects” your ability to pay income taxes, the Internal Revenue Service – as well as any state and local taxing authorities – are required to defer those taxes. Not only that, they can’t charge you any penalties or fees for the deferment, either.
SCRA can prevent eviction
If you’re renting an apartment and your landlord wants to evict you for nonpayment, he can’t – not without a court order. And that stands even if your lease says he can evict you without a court order, or if your local ordinances give him permission to evict you without a court order. Remember what we said about foreclosures? Same thing applies here. Most landlords don’t want to mess with courts. They’re expensive and time-consuming.
There are, of course, rules. Among them, your rent must be below a certain amount, and your nonpayment must be for that term I mentioned just a moment ago: Your military service “materially affects” your ability to pay.
What does “materially affects” really mean?
Let’s pause for a moment and talk about what we mean when we say something “materially affects” your ability to pay. There’s no single definition, because everyone’s circumstances can be different. But generally speaking, it means you don’t automatically get many of the benefits we’ve discussed so far, as well as the ones we’ll be chatting about in a moment. You must prove some financial hardship, so be prepared to show bank statements and other records that demonstrate how your military service is making your financial life difficult.
SCRA can protect against default judgments
OK, back to our regularly scheduled program! So we’ve talked about how you can’t be foreclosed on or evicted without a court order. But what if you’re already in court? If you’re on active duty and then a civil action, a civil proceeding, or an administrative proceeding is filed against you, the SCRA protects you.
Here’s how that works: A judge appoints a lawyer to represent you in your absence. The judge must grant a delay, also called a stay, of at least 90 days if they determine your defense can’t be adequately presented without your attendance. This protects you against some very unethical business people. They wait until military personnel are deployed before they take you to court. This stops that.
SCRA can postpone civil court actions
By the way, the same thing applies for other civil court actions. We’re talking now about divorce proceedings and child paternity and support cases. Those can’t just happen while you’re away defending our country. But keep in mind: None of this applies to criminal proceedings. So don’t break the law!
Other amazing SCRA powers
The SCRA has many other provisions, too. For instance, your property can’t be repossessed for nonpayment during your military service without a court order. Life insurance companies can’t terminate your coverage or require payment of additional premiums if you’re in military service, although you should still expect any increases based on your age that would happen anyway. And if you own a small business, your non-business assets and military pay are protected from creditors while you’re on active duty. This applies to all business debts or obligations.
Like we mentioned earlier, the SCRA is powerful but it’s not automatic. To take advantage of one or more of its powers, you need to apply. Luckily, that’s easy to do. Just speak with a VA counselor or call 877-827-3702. You might be able to ask your bank or credit union representative. Many are trained in SCRA procedures.
You can also go to this website to get an SCRA certificate, which is the document used as evidence of your active duty status in the U.S. Military, Reserve, or Guard. It’s also known as the “Status Report Pursuant to Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.” However you decide to do it, explore the SCRA. You have so much to gain and nothing to lose by inquiring.
Other military savings
We’ve spent a lot of time on the SCRA because it’s the most comprehensive financial program for military personnel. But there are two others we want to quickly mention: The Military Savings Deposit Program (or SDP) and the Military Lending Act (or MLA).
Military Savings Deposit Program (SDP)
The SDP is a savings account on steroids. According to Bankrate, if you open a savings account at any bank or credit union today, the average interest rate you’ll earn is less than 1 percent. We’re talking point-zero-nine. Meanwhile, SDPs pay you a whopping 10 percent interest. All active duty guard and reserve members are eligible for an SDP during deployments whenever they receive Hostile Fire Pay/Imminent Danger Pay.
Military Lending Act (MLA)
Now let’s talk about the Military Lending Act. It says that you can’t be charged an interest rate higher than 36% on most types of consumer loans. That includes payday loans, vehicle title loans, and tax refund anticipation loans. But it doesn’t apply to everything. For instance, it doesn’t protect home loans, auto loans, or open-end credit – which includes credit cards, for example. And the law doesn’t apply to veterans or military retirees.
We briefly mentioned that your student loan payments can be deferred while you’re on active duty, but there are also programs to get your loans forgiven. You can get free tax preparation on base, and you can put an “active duty” alert in your credit reports so no one ca scam you while you’re deployed.
Obviously, we’ve just scratched the surface today. We could be here for hours if we wanted to list every financial program for our first responders and military personnel. And that’s actually nice to know, because you deserve all of those and more. Thanks for your time today, and please use this as a jumping-off point for getting every benefit you deserve!
So, we thank you all for joining us today. We also would like to mention that Consolidated Credit may be able to assist you in getting out of debt faster than you would on your own. I’d like to invite you to visit us on our website at www.consolidatedcredit.org to see what we have to offer and learn more about us. Again, thank you so much for joining us today. May the rest of your day be the best of your day. Until next month’s webinar, take care everyone.
If you’re facing financial challenges, we can help. Contact us today for a free debt and budget evaluation.