Military veterans often face unique financial challenges. The good news is that there are a number of loans, discounts and financial products available to vets to help them ease their money lives. (See also: 4 Financial Readiness Tips for Military & Veteran Families)
Army & Air Force Exchange Service
Starting this Veterans Day (Saturday, Nov. 11), all honorably-discharged veterans will be able to shop tax-free at shopmyexchange.com, the website of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service. The 122-year-old organization serves as the retailer for the armed forces, operating department stores, restaurants, movie theaters, convenience stores and the aforementioned online shopping site.
Congress approved the change 11 months ago. Before this month, only active duty, reserve, National Guard and retired military members could use the site, which sells everything from apparel to home goods. According to CEO Tom Shull, the exchange tries to offer national brands at 25% to 30% below department store prices.
VA Home Loans
The VA Home Loans program is one of the most powerful tools available to active military members, veterans and surviving spouses who need to finance a primary residence. The loans, which are made through a private lender, don't require a down payment or mortgage insurance, because are partially guaranteed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
The interest rate on VA loans is typically lower than conventional mortgages, as well. According to Ellie Mae, a software company that processes a quarter of all US mortgage applications, VA loans have averaged the lowest interest rate on the market for the past 41 months. The average rate on a 30-year-fixed loan in September was 4.26% for conventional mortgages and 4.23% on FHA loans. Meanwhile, the average rate on a 30-year fixed VA loan was 3.99%.
For more information on applying for a VA Home Loan, visit benefits.va.gov/homeloans.
Custom Banking and Credit Products
There are several banks and credit unions that offer military discounts, bank accounts and credit products at favorable rates for veterans, including services like free checking and premium savings account rates. USAA, for example, is a financial services organization available to active-duty military members, veterans and their families. Its military checking account has no monthly fees or minimum balance requirements.
There are several credit unions available to vets that offer attractive credit cards. PenFed Credit Union's Promise Visa Card comes with zero fees: There are no late charges, annual fees, balance transfer fees, cash advance fees or foreign transaction fees. The Navy Federal Credit Union's Visa Signature Flagship Rewards card offers 2 points back for every dollar spent, points never expire and there's no limit to how many you can earn.
The VA's Aid and Attendance program helps elderly veterans or widows with assistance for home care, assisted living or nursing home care. Qualifying veterans and their spouses can get up to $2,800 a month to help cover the costs of elder care. Applicants must meet an income and asset test, along with a medical needs test in most cases. According to Ryan Guina of The Military Wallet, only 4.7% of those who could be eligible for the program take advantage of it.
For more information, visit benefits.va.gov/pension.
Military vets are eligible for a slew of discounts and premium rates on everything from electronics to wireless plans to hotels. For example, many car companies offer veterans within one year of discharge special savings and incentives. You can get a $500 bonus at Ford; Hyundai offers an additional $500 eligible 2016, 2017 and 2018 model year new vehicle through Jan. 2, 2018.
With a free Veterans Advantage membership, vets can gain access to exclusive benefits and deals negotiated by the organization. For a full list of discounts, visit the organization's Military Discounts Marketplace.
Many discounts are often not advertised. The rule of thumb when shopping at a retailer or eating at restaurant? Simply ask if there's a veterans discount, says Heather Sweeney of military.com. More often than not, they will offer something.
For an updated list of free meals and discounts offered on Veterans Day, visit The Military Wallet.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.