I am absolutely kicking myself for not getting an American Express Platinum card sooner. Why is this card so awesome? It gives you a boat load of benefits that are perfectly suited for military that travel, but the hefty $550 annual fee is WAIVED for active duty military due to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. So you get all the benefits with no fees!

Here are some of the benefits this card offers:

  • Free access to many airport lounges (Delta Sky Club, Amex Centurion)
  • $15 in Uber credit each month, with $20 in December
  • $200 per year in airline fees covered for free (food on flights, baggage charges, change fees, etc)
  • $100 credit for TSA Precheck application (allows spouse to apply for free)
  • Immediate Gold status with Starwood Preferred Guest and Hilton Honors
  • Complimentary access to more than a million Boingo wifi hotspots

Now here is the other cool program they offer that I am using this weekend. It’s called Fine Hotels and Resorts. We are PCS’ing shortly and will be staying at hotels along the way. I was able to book the Four Seasons in Atlanta for $219 for one night. But guess what comes with that one night stay?

  • $100 food and drink credit
  • Free breakfast for two in the morning ($64)
  • Early checkin at noon (if space permits)
  • Complimentary room upgrade (if available)
  • Late checkout at 4PM

Couple Caveats

First, this is a ‘charge card’ so you have to pay the balance in full each month. Honestly, that is why I’m more comfortable recommending this card to fellow military. From reading other posts on this site, you can probably tell I’m anti-credit card. Being forced to pay off the card each month ensures you will not build up a large balance.

Make sure to apply for the SCRA benefits right away. It can take up to 60 days to process. Once applied to your account, you are good for the life of your account and will not see annual fees on any statements.

I’ve been reading the Bogleheads forum lately. For those not in the know, it is an outstanding personal finance and investment web site based on advice from Jack Bogle. One thing that caught my eye is that most military personnel are using a certain trio of banks once they grow beyond basic checking and saving account requirements. I realized I have done the same.

Where USAA Shines – Banking and Insurance

I joined USAA in 2003 and was impressed with their outstanding customer service. Their checking and savings accounts are free. The ATM rebates are nice. Their customer service when dealing with insurance claims is amazing. I still have USAA today for checking/savings/insurance.

As I added accounts, my first hunch was to always go with USAA. Over time, I realized that is a mistake. I first learned that when shopping for a mortgage for my first home. Other banks were easily beating the rates quoted by USAA.

Shop Around for Home/Auto Loans

When it comes to home mortgages and auto loans, you really need to check Navy Federal and Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Their rates almost always beat USAA. These banks have very good reputations and quality customer service. One thing to keep in mine is the ‘customer service’ aspect is not as important when it comes to loans. Once the deal is done, you pay it back at the agreed upon rate.

Use Vanguard for Investments Beyond TSP

One thing you will learn on Bogleheads is to avoid USAA for investments. Of course, you should always max out TSP first. But if for some reason you are looking outside TSP (like me with my wife’s retirement fund), then you want to look at Vanguard. Why? USAA’s mutual funds have high expense ratios.

For example, the USAA First Start Growth Fund has an expense ratio of 1.44%. The Vanguard Retirement Target 2050 fund has an expense ratio of 0.16%! USAA takes much more of your money to run their investment fund as compared to Vanguard. That is money that will slow down your returns over the long haul, likely taking thousands out of your retirement fund.

I will not dive into returns in this post, but overall Vanguard has a sterling reputation as compared to other mutual funds when it comes to performance.

You can read more about why expense ratio is important here.

Which Service has the Easiest PT Test?

July 5, 2016

Let’s say you are a 22 year old male in the military and you’re not great at PT. Which branch of the service would give you the easiest chance at passing the PT test? Let’s compare each branch and see what it would take to complete the bare minimum. US Army Standards are found here. […]

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How to Calculate a Second VA Loan Entitlement

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I’ve long held the assumption that you could only have one VA loan. I assumed you had to sell your first home or refinance before moving to a second. Well as a current holder of two VA loans, I can definitely tell you that you CAN take out two VA mortgages! Why Two VA Loans? […]

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Delta’s New Pricing Model is Terrible for Military Families

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Military families need to watch out when booking flights through Delta, as their new default pricing ‘Basic Economy’ sets you up for a nightmare on the aircraft. Basic Economy Explained When browsing Delta.com, the lowest prices displayed are now ‘basic economy’ fares. With these fares your seats are not assigned until check-in. That would typically be […]

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My Biggest Mistake as a Landlord

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My wife and I have been landlords for about six years. The biggest and costliest mistake we made during that time is renting to a subpar tenant. What do I mean by subpar tenant? Story time! We were fortunate to have a great renter during the first three years of renting out our home. Our tenant got […]

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Should You Sign Up for a Military STAR Card?

June 24, 2016

No. No you should not sign up for Military STAR card, ever. Every time I see a promotion for Military STAR card at the BX, a part of me dies inside. I was once a young Airmen shopping at the BX, naively thinking a STAR card would be ‘good for me’ and allow me to grow […]

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The Best Portable Phone Charger

June 23, 2016

Have you every been on a long plane ride and had your phone die? Or had to search for plugs in airport only to find half of them don’t work? It’s happened to me many times and is very annoying! I now have a Jackery Giant portable phone charger and am able to charge my […]

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The Best Water Bottle

June 22, 2016

Carrying a water bottle to PT, on flights, a deployment, or even around the office is a great way to keep fresh water at your fingertips. In this post I will compare three water bottles I’ve owned over the past 10 years in the military and show why I feel the Hydro Flask is the best […]

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Should You Attend College Online?

June 19, 2016

Too many of you are attending online degree programs. I know you are thinking ‘but Casey attending college is a good thing and I’m getting my degree while working around my crazy military schedule.’ Guess what, you have something other people want that is of great value: tuition assistance and the GI Bill (aka $$$). […]

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