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The Importance of Financial Literacy for Veterans

female soldier with American flag in the background

According to a recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), veterans are almost twice as likely to have debt carried over from month to month (58%) than civilians (just 34%). Nearly the same percentage of veterans (55%) believe they are ill-prepared for a financial emergency. Is this because veterans are poor and/or uneducated? No.

When comparing civilian pay to military pay, there isn’t a clear winner in all comparisons. And veterans are actually more likely to have completed high school and are more likely to have completed some college or obtained an associate’s degree than civilians.

Adjusting to Civilian Life

Man transitioning out of military in both civilian clothing and a military uniform

If you’re a veteran adjusting to civilian life, it can be difficult. In relation to finances, the government has made most financial decisions for you. This makes sense because you have needed to concentrate on protecting our freedom. But now is the time to manage your own finances.New veterans must get new health insurance coverage, increase their credit score (in many cases), learn about new taxes, apply for civilian jobs and, if they so choose, create a post-military budget. There are many more expenses in civilian life. But don’t let any of this get you down. After all, less educated and less disciplined civilians do this stuff every day.

Securing Health Insurance

Protecting your health is essential. If you’re leaving service after 20 or more years, you’ll qualify for a decent level of government healthcare. But most tenured veterans still get supplemental insurance.

If you’re retiring with less than 20 years under your belt, you’ll need to make getting healthcare coverage a priority. Aim to get a job that will cover you, or get coverage through a spouse’s plan. If you don’t get a job right away, consider signing up for the Continued Health Care Benefit Program. This will give you 18 months of coverage while in-between jobs.

It’s especially important for veterans to be covered with health insurance. Injuries could act up, or you may have an injury you aren’t even aware of yet. It’s best to get insured as a civilian ASAP.

Increasing Your Credit Score

You may not have worried about a credit score while in the military, and who could blame you? But now that you’re a veteran, a credit score will be extremely useful. After all, you’ll probably want to buy a home soon, or you may need a loan for some other purpose, and a higher credit score will help you secure better terms.

There’s a rumor that you must carry a balance on a credit card in order to improve your score. That’s false. Instead, consider getting one or two credit cards and paying your balance in full each month. Your score will get a boost from this, all else equal. For starters, aim for a credit score in the mid-700’s. That should get you the lowest interest rate on a mortgage, though you can (and should) keep improving your score.

A credit score is the closest thing we have to a financial report card. If your credit score is high, chances are you’re doing the right things with money. It’s also motivating to watch a score climb.

Respecting Taxes

Civilian salaries usually look phenomenal – until you realize much of that money goes to pay taxes. This is a wake up call since you’ve been receiving a tax-free housing allowance and you may have not been paying any state income tax while you were on active duty. Use this military-to-civilian pay calculator to see how your pay will differ now.

Applying for New Jobs

Man on job interview has a list of the top 35 employers looking to hire military veterns. These are companies like Amazon, General Electric and USAA. Keep in mind many military veterans become government contractors. A lot of money can be made by going that route.

Creating a Post-Military Budget

Most people think budgets are boring. That’s fine. You don’t necessarily have to create a physical budget. But you do need to keep a few spending categories in mind as a veteran:

Health Care: primary care, dental care, specialty care, medications, medical devices, etc.Housing: mortgage, rent, property taxes, HOA dues, repairs, utilitiesFood: gummy bears, sour patch kids, steak – anything but MRE’sEntertainment: games, eating out, spontaneous giving, vacations, Netflix, etc.Vehicles: (you’ll likely do a lot more driving)Emergency FundCivilian ClothingInsurance: renter’s insurance, homeowner’s insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance, etc.Education: anything not covered by the military

Also, consider one of the many online budgeting tools available to help you stay organized. We love this one.

Defending Yourself

The stats about financial literacy among veterans are out there. and they’re bleak. Many have made poor decisions due to both a lack of literacy and an abundance of predatory lenders. But for you, those stats can be motivating. You can use them as motivation to rise above all the companies that are out to get you. Be on alert for predatory lenders; they are everywhere. It’s important to stay away from them at all costs. Those companies rope you into a cycle of debt which is nearly impossible to escape.

Taking Action

We’ve covered a lot of the basics you’ll need to know as you pursue a stable financial situation stateside. The most important thing is to be proactive and to seek expert advice and help if you don’t know the answer to a question or the potential consequences of a financial decision. we can help, through our Reconnect program, or we encourage you to take advantage of the resources mentioned in this article. Good luck as you adjust to life as a civilian. If you made it through the military, you can make it through just about anything.

Will Lipovsky is a webmaster and personal finance freelance writer. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft Executive, “I’ll just Google it.” You can read more about Will at

This post was first published by Clearpoint. To speak with a Clearpoint Credit Counselor, call 888.808.7285 or learn more about their Military Reconnect Program.

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Ron Rivera (Head Coach) sends military veteran to the Super Bowl

Teaming up with USAA and the American Veterans, Rivera is sending military veteran LeCheton “Omar” Settles to Miami. The Redskins head coach tweeted about it on Wednesday.

Thanks @usaa and @amvetshq for allowing me to show my & our nation’s gratitude to @usmc SGT Omar Settles. 2 tix to seems like a great way to say “thanks” for his sacrifices.

View image on Twitter

Rivera comes from a military background himself and is using this as a way to reward one military member for his service.

“Inspired by my father’s military service, we always had a strong military appreciation in our team’s culture during my time in Carolina and I plan on continuing that now with the Redskins in Washington, D.C.,” Rivera said in the release. “To kick that off, I am privileged to partner with USAA and AMVETS to award a trip to the Super Bowl to Sergeant Omar Settles in recognition of and for his service to our country.”

He will meet with Settles on both Friday and Saturday of Super Bowl week at the USAA Salute to Service Lounge in Miami.

Interviewing can be scary, but with a little practice, you can knock their socks off.

Even though most jobs don’t require smooth talking skills, getting through the interview often does. You don’t have to answer every interview question perfectly, but you can improve your interview skills. Here are 10 interview skills that will help you land the job.

1. Do your background research.

This may not seem like an actual interview skill, but it is. If you walk into an interview saying, “Now, what do you do again?” and “Do you guys have funding yet?” you’re doomed before you begin. No matter how sparkly your personality is, you have to do the background research.

2. Be polite to everyone.

You may have heard stories of people who were rude to the receptionist, cut someone off in the parking lot, or yelled at the barista at the coffee shop around the corner and then didn’t get the job. These things happen, and they can ruin your chances. I will never, ever, not in a million years hire the person who is rude to the receptionist or barista. Many recruiters and hiring managers feel the same.

3. Watch your body language.

This one is a bit harder. My Inc. colleague Minda Zetlin listed 21 body language mistakes that people make. Some of them are especially important in an interview. For instance:

  • Lean in or sit up straight to show you’re interested.
  • Keep eye contact so you look honest, but don’t just lock in a stare, because then you look aggressive.
  • Don’t nod too much. Yes, you want to show agreement, but too many nods and you start to look like you don’t truly care.

4. Watch your real language.

If you have a potty mouth, save it for your friends, and not for the interview. If the interviewer is letting the f-bombs fly, you can feel more comfortable doing the same, but otherwise, use words that express your actual feelings and ideas.

5. Review your own resume.

You know what you did, right? Are you sure? I once got caught off guard in an interview when the hiring manager asked me a specific question about an accomplishment on my resume. I had to stumble for a minute before my brain latched on to what she was talking about. Don’t make that mistake. Refresh your memory, especially old jobs.

6. Prepare for standard questions.

Lots of interviewers are going to ask you to “tell me about a time when …” followed by something appropriate for your field and this particular job. You should have great answers prepared for this. Brainstorm a list of possible questions and work on your answers. Another Inc. colleague, Jeff Haden, just listed the 27 Most Common Job Interview Questions and Answers. Definitely, review these questions before arriving at a job interview.

7. Prepare your wardrobe.

Yes, people judge you by what you’re wearing. Most interviewers aren’t going to care the brand of your jacket, or if the heel of your shoe is scuffed, but you should be dressed appropriately. Generally, for most professional jobs that means a suit, or one step lower. If you’re concerned, go to their parking lot before the interview and watch people come out. If their style is business casual, you should wear a suit. If they are wearing jean and flip flops, you’re probably fine in business casual, but better to be overdressed than underdressed, in most industries.

8. Prepare your questions.

Don’t ask questions that could be answered by looking at the company website. Do ask questions about the challenges of the position, what success looks like, and how this position fits in with the organization’s goals. Remember, you want to look like you’re really interested in succeeding in this position, and you need this information to do so.

9. Don’t badmouth your former employer.

You’re most likely going to be asked why you’re looking to leave your current job (or why you left your last job if you’re unemployed). Don’t lie, but don’t be super negative either. “My boss is a huge jerk. She is nit-picky, plays favorites, and smells like tuna fish.” These things may all be true, but you don’t come out looking good. Figure out how to explain why you’re leaving, why you got fired, what you learned from it, and how this all means this new job is a great fit.

10. Don’t forget the thank you card.

It doesn’t have to be a card anymore; an email will do just fine. You can get hired without one, but it’s a nice gesture to send a quick follow up email to the hiring manager and recruiter. It keeps you in their minds and shows your politeness, which brings this full circle. You begin by being nice to everyone, and you end the interview by being nice to everyone, and you increase your chances.

Don’t panic at the thought of your next interview. Prepare and in advance, and you’ll do a great job.


By Megy Karydes, Next Avenue Contributor

When making New Year’s resolutions, some people choose to set an intention or goal and some choose a particular word to help them stay focused. Others, like Chicagoans Tracy Marks-Seglin, founder of Strategic Words Communications, and her urban planner husband Dave, think about what they want less (and more) of in the coming year and write those things down.

Regardless of how you approach the start of a new year, you’ll likely reflect on the past year and how you can make the coming one better. Since we’re entering a new decade, this type of reflection can take a bigger meaning in 2020.

So, here are 20 questions that can help you reach your goals in 2020 and beyond:

1. How do I define success? This may differ each year, so think about your definition for 2020.

2. What am I most proud of in the last year — or the last 10 years? Start 2020 by celebrating your wins, says Amy Throw, president and chief encouragement officer with Amy Throw Group, a Saint Charles, Ill.-based coaching firm for women.

3. What did I enjoy doing the most in 2019? And what didn’t you enjoy? Don’t waste those learnings. “If you jump into 2020 without taking a moment to reflect, you can’t leverage 2019’s lessons and insights,” says Cathryn Lavery, productivity expert and founder of BestSelf Co., a personal development firm in Austin, Texas.

4. Whom do I want to become? “This is a deeper question that once answered, allows you to set up a lifestyle, and consistently improve to get closer and closer to your goal,” says Jody Michael, executive coach and founder of Jody Michael Associates, a coaching and consulting firm in Chicago.

5. What are my nagging regrets or unresolved issues from this year or earlier? Michael Hyatt, author of Your Best Year Ever and former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, encourages people to write these down. Then, he says, consider what you can do in the coming year to address them.

6. What do I want more of in my life? Tracy Marks-Seglin and her husband, who are 54 and 58 respectively, write the answers on strips of paper on New Year’s Eve. Then, they hang the strips in a triple-ziplocked bag (to protect them from the elements) from a backyard tree and open them the following New Year’s Eve to see how many came to fruition. “At that point, we’re either really happy or mildly disappointed,” Tracy laughs.

7. What do I want less of in my life? Marks-Seglin and her husband repeat the above exercise of writing these things down on strips of paper. But rather than hang these from a tree, they burn them in the fireplace. “Burning the things we don’t want is so visceral and feels so freeing,” she admits.

8. What do I want to focus on? That’s a question suggested by Rebecca Kiki Weingarten, a professional and personal development coach at New York City-based TradeCraft Coaching and Consulting.

9. What can I stop procrastinating? Create a list of the “I SHOULDS” that you keep delaying and ask yourself what’s holding you back, says Throw.

10. What goals do I want for my own life, not for others? “A lot of the time, we set goals to please other people: a spouse, family member or colleague,” says Hyatt.

11. What support systems do I have in place to help me reach my goals? And, conversely, figure out the roadblocks to plan for; note these so you can think through strategies to deal with setbacks and slumps, says Weingarten.

12. What is one new thinking pattern I can discipline myself to use in 2020? Throw says that knowing this will require developing new habits.

13. What is one good habit that I have? Look for ways to better profit from it.

14. What is one habit I want to change? After you come up with this, determine how you can fix it.

15. What is one behavior or activity I will say NO to in 2020? Coming up with the answer will make it easier for you to say YES to an activity that will get you closer to your big bold audacious goal, Throw notes.

16. How can I parlay what I love doing into other opportunities? Marks-Seglin takes a hard look to identify what makes her happy personally and professionally. Then she works backward to think of ways she can incorporate these into other parts her life.

17. How can I be 1% better today than I was yesterday? For Jennifer Wisniewski, a certified life coach in Chicago, New Year’s resolutions seem to be more about the goal than the process. “If your concentration is only on the outcome, you will probably give up before that goal is reached,” she says. Use the “1% better” marker to focus on the present rather than looking at the future for your happiness, she advises.

18. When am I most relaxed to properly give myself the time I need to go through this process? Schedule the time, so it’ll happen.

19. What is the one big, bold audacious goal that gets me most excited? Throw says: Think how can you employ your natural skills, experience and successful behaviors to work toward this goal.

20. What can I do right now or in the next day, week or month, to help reach my one big goal in 2020? The hardest part for some people is getting started. “It can take longer than you thought it would to make real changes happen,” Weingarten says.

These 20 questions might be too many — or too few — for you. But you can use them as a starting point to help identify what makes you happy and what you need to put into place to help reach your 2020 goals. Good luck!


Quickly Achieve Your Career Goals With 10 Proven Techniques

A number of techniques make the challenge of achieving ambitious career and job search goals easier. Here’s a list of those that have either helped me or my clients to overcome obstacles to goal achievement. May they give you the boost you need to reach your goals.

Picture your goal to get motivated: Use physical pictures or imagery you conjure up in your imagination. The reason this works – visualization connects the goal with your emotions, and emotions are the key to memory. You’re essentially experiencing the result before you’ve reached your goal, which makes you want it more. Closely related to visualization is the Picture Superiority Effect, which says that images are way more powerful than text or words in getting an idea to stick.

For example, if you’re looking to find a more enjoyable job, imagine what it feels like to get up in the morning actually looking forward to going to work. Or if you’re seeking more money, find a picture that represents the nicer vacation you’ll be able to take.

Be specific: If your goal is vague, it’s hard to know where to start; stating your goal clearly can help drive action. I’ve used the SMART Goals framework to gain the specificity needed to drive action: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound. For example:

Overcome mental hurdles hindering goal achievement: The most common mental hurdles include:

Procrastination — Sometimes you can overcome procrastination by simply understanding what’s driving it. And here’s the key insight: procrastination is not a time management problem, but rather an emotion-management problem. You procrastinate to cope with challenging emotions or moods caused by the goals you’ve set.

When understanding isn’t enough, try this: take any tiny action towards your goal, even if only for just two minutes. For example, instead of saying “Today I need to figure out what I want to do next in my career,” say to yourself “I’ll spend just two minutes brainstorming career options.” You’ll often find that just by getting started in this way, you’ll be able to keep going way beyond the two-minutes you originally allocated.

PREcrastination — the opposite of procrastination, precrastination involves the tendency to move forward too quickly without taking a step back first to optimize your efforts. I see precrastination all the time with jobseekers. Many just start applying with dismal results; they don’t pause to strategically plan and organize their job search campaign before diving in. The same goes for my clients looking to move up in their organization.

Fear — for many fear is the action-killer, the key reason goals fall by the wayside. One excellent approach to overcoming fear comes from Tim Ferris. He flips goal-setting on its head to create “Fear Setting,” which involves getting your fears down on paper in a way that enables proper assessment (are they really warranted?) and mitigation. Check out his Ted talk on the subject, it’s well worth it, and download my Fear-Setting worksheet to help you get started.

Another way of overcoming fear and taking action: Tell other people about your goals, to create accountability (for my clients, I often serve as one of the people they’re accountable to).

Feeling overwhelmed – these two steps will usually do the trick:

  1. Break up big goals into smaller ones that are each more easily achievable. For example, a client wanted to land a new job that was more fulfilling. We broke this big goal up into: a) conduct a self-assessment to understand motivations and strengths, b) identify job targets based on assessment and research, c) write promotional materials (resume, LinkedIn profile, pitch), and so forth. We also made sure each of these smaller goals were SMART goals.
  2. Then take those goals and enter them into your to-do list. Creating to-do lists offloads the tasks from your brain onto the list, almost magically releasing you from that overwhelmed feeling. The list also helps you to be organized and efficient with your time. Plus, it’s well known that we humans enjoy checking things off lists! This enjoyment will help to counteract any fear that might be holding you back (there are many great free and paid online to-do apps). The key to success with to-do lists is to a) not be overly ambitious when scheduling your SMART to-do’s for a given day (just the ones you think you can really get done), and b) revisit your to-do list every day to reschedule items as necessary.

Perfectionism – You may have heard that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” From research, you’ll feel more satisfied if you just get it done, whether a decision or work you need to do, than if you had agonized over the task in the pursuit of the very marginal improvement you equate with perfection. Plus, you’ll have achieved your goal!

Personally, I live by the “80/20 rule” to prioritize, set goals, and combat perfectionism, and it’s served me well. The rule essentially says to focus on the 20% of your effort that will get you 80% of the results, and let go of the remaining 80% of effort that will get you only 20% of the results (search for “80/20 rule” and you’ll find countless entries documenting its effectiveness, here’s an example).