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When you join the military, it’s usually more for love of country and the honor and pride of serving than it is for the money. It’s no secret that the pay isn’t great. But there are valuable perks for members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families — from movie tickets to retirement savings plans.
Whether you’re already serving, or considering it, check out the many financial benefits and discounts that may be coming to you and your clan.
1. Movie theater tickets
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Everyone needs some R & R occasionally, and if anyone deserves to relax and take in a good flick, it’s people in the military. Major movie theater chains, including AMC, CineMark and Showcase offer military ticket discounts. Be sure to ask so you can get the best possible deal for you and your family. (Also, check out “15 Super-Easy Ways to Save Big Bucks at the Movies.”)
2. Low rates for financial products
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The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects servicemen and women in different ways, including an interest rate cap of 6 percent on credit card and other types of loans for those on active duty. There are also opportunities for savings and benefits on financial products with military-friendly institutions such as USAA, not only for those in the service, but their families as well. Their products include cash-back rewards credit cards, mortgages, car loans, rental insurance and more.
3. Family health care
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Health insurance has become one of the most valuable benefits offered by any employer — and the military is one major employer that boasts excellent and affordable medical benefits. The U.S. Military Health System provides coverage called Tricare through the Defense Health Agency for active duty personnel, retirees, reservists and National Guard members called to active duty, along with certain family members and survivors.
4. Housing allowance
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Military personnel typically receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) through the Department of Defense to help cover rent or mortgage payments. This benefit can apply for family members, regardless of where they choose to live, if the service member is stationed somewhere the family can’t go, such as a hardship duty assignment. Usually, this housing allowance covers as much as 98 percent of your housing costs, less any renters insurance. (Check out the BAH calculator to get an idea of the amount, which varies depending on location, dependents and pay grade.)
5. Disney tickets and hotels
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Have you been dreaming of taking the kids to see Mickey and the gang at Disney World? You may be better able to afford the trip through Disney’s discount program for service members. This program offers discounts on tickets for Disney theme parks for service member and up to five other family members or friends. Disney also offers preferential room rates for military members at Disney Resort Hotels.
6. Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and more
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If Disney isn’t your thing, check out other amusement parks such as Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, and Sesame Place, which also offer military families cut-rate admission. If you have an amusement park in your area that isn’t named here, look into military discounts anyway. Try to find out before you go, though, because some discounts are available only in advance, not at the door.
7. Military shopping benefits
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Military servicemen and servicewomen and their families are also able to take advantage of an array of shopping benefits including savings on groceries at the military commissary, department store items from the exchange and gas. Plus, most items purchased in military base exchanges are tax exempt, which is another way to save.
Outside the base, too, there are discounts and deals for men and women in uniform. Major warehouse stores Costco and Sam’s Club offer special membership deals for military members and veterans. Retailers from Cole Haan to Cabela’s offer discounts too, so be sure to ask wherever you shop.
8. Child care assistance
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One of the benefits that can come in handy for everyone in the family is military child care. Most military bases include full-time or hourly daycare centers. Payment for military day care services is based on the entire family’s income. And although there are usually long waiting lists, another military benefit allows you to use subsidized in-home day care as long as they have been officially approved. If you don’t live near a military base with day care facilities, the cost of care at a civilian day care site can be subsidized.
9. Dining-out discounts
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While you might expect these special prices on holidays such as Veterans Day, you can get a discount at many restaurants any day of the year. This blog lists many restaurants that have offered military discounts in the past, but notes:
Many restaurants that give a military discount don’t advertise these discounts. You’ll need to ask for them. They also vary by location, so make sure to call ahead to find out what is available at your local restaurant.
10. Recreation benefits
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The military provides arts and travel programs and facilities — including gyms, pools, bowling alleys and even horse stables and golf courses and more — through Morale, Welfare and Recreation centers on military installations.
11. Space-available flights and discounted airfare
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Space-available or Space-A flights are offered for service members, retirees and family members to fly based on available seats on Department of Defense-owned or controlled aircraft. These flights require time and flexibility. If you prefer discounted airfare, military personnel, spouses and dependents can get discounted airfare with airlines such as Southwest. To get the military discount, you might have to call and speak directly with a representative when you book.
12. Military lodging and hotel stays
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When you travel, lodging can be just as important (and as expensive) as airfare. Fortunately, there are many opportunities for discounts on military lodging. There is space-available lodging on military bases, but you can also get luxurious accommodations at a discount at Armed Forces Recreation Centers, hotels owned or operated by the U.S. military, often at top vacation destinations. These include the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo, the Hale Koa Hotel in Honolulu and the Shades of Green Resort within Walt Disney World. Also major chains, including Hilton and Best Western offer discounts and savings for military and family members at participating hotels.
13. VA home loans
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Military personnel and family members have access to Department of Veterans Affairs home loans and other help for buying a home. Some options include loans without a down payment or private mortgage insurance. You can also get lower interest rates when refinancing with a VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan, and adapted housing grants help disabled veterans purchase or build homes that accommodate special needs.
14. Car discounts
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If you’re looking at purchasing a new vehicle, many car dealerships offer military discounts or incentives. Military.com lists some bonuses and rebates here worth as much as $1,000. These deals come and go, but it’s always worth checking to see if there are any special offers for military and dependents before you buy this big-ticket item.
15. Motorcycle discounts
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If you prefer two wheels for getting around, you might be able to get a motorcycle discount as a service member or family member. For example, you can get up to 40 percent off motorcycle and motocross gear with AXO. Harley-Davidson offers a special financing terms for military and a discount that you can apply to financing, parts and accessories.
After you park those wheels, you should check out “10 Ways to Slash the Cost of Motorcycle Insurance.”
16. Car loan assistance
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In addition to the discounts provided by individual car, truck and motorcycle dealerships, you can also get assistance with your car loan if you go through a military credit union. As an example, when I wrote this, Navy Federal Credit Union was offering 36-month loans with rates as low as 2.89 percent.
17. Education benefits
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Among the most valuable financial perks for military servicemen and servicewomen and their family members are the education benefits. You can get help paying for your education while you are in the service or after you leave. Benefits also include tuition and educational assistance for spouses and other family members. As the son, daughter or spouse of a service member who has died, is missing or permanently disabled, you also could qualify for Survivors’ and Dependents Educational Assistance.
18. Cellphone savings
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Cellphone service companies have an array of programs for accommodating active duty military members as they deploy and return to civilian life, and the major providers offer discounts on plans for service members and family. Here is a sampling:
19. Spouse career development
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The military not only provides spouses with access to free resources for career development and employment, but also other assistance for them to develop a career. For example, the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) Scholarship provides as much as $4,000 in tuition assistance for pursuing licenses, certificates and other professional degrees.
20. Employment assistance
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Spouses and family members of military personnel who have left the service in the past 180 days get access to the Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program, which offers online career tools, job fairs and other resources to help you get a job. For spouses and family members who have been unemployed for long periods of time or have gaps in work histories because of the military, these services can make a significant difference in finding work.
21. Legal assistance
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Everyone knows legal assistance can become costly, whether you need help drafting a will, preparing other types of legal documents, or representation in a lawsuit. U.S.military personnel and their families have access to free legal assistance services, which in many cases could be worth thousands of dollars.
22. Retirement savings
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Spouses and family members of service members can also get savings on retirement accounts. Thrift Savings Plans (TSPs) are among the lowest-cost plans available and help you save for retirement with lower annual fees and expenses. You can also get a 10 percent guaranteed return on your savings with the Savings Deposit Program, which lets military members serving in designated combat zones invest up to $10,000 and earn annual interest rates of up to 10 percent while they are deployed
23. State tax breaks
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Service members may benefit from state tax breaks, depending on where they live. For example, in Minnesota, veterans’ retirement pay is exempt from state taxes. Combat pay is free of state taxes in every state except New Jersey. Some states provide tax breaks on military pay if you are active-duty military or a reservist.
24. Emergency loans and resources
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No matter which branch of the service you’re in, there are emergency relief funds available to help you with no fees and no interest. Services include grants, loans and scholarships for active and retired personnel and their family members. For emergency loans, check your community service office, like the Army Emergency Relief. Credit unions may also offer loans at lower interest rates and without credit checks for members of the military and their families.
25. Business loans
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If you’re starting or running a business, there is an array of ways you can get favorable financing as a military service member, including no-fee loans with reduced rates from the Small Business Administration.
What’s your impression of the pay and benefits provided to U.S. military members? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.