After the TSP, I invest my money in Betterment and Vanguard. I track all of my investments with Personal Capital. I also wrote a short, 2 hour book summarizing this site. You can buy it here.
American Express offers a tremendous benefit to their military customers: no annual fees on all of their credit cards, including their most prestigious Platinum cards. AMEX does this under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act law, or SCRA. The most popular article on this site is about the AMEX SCRA benefit and has been featured on multiple news outlets including ABC and Yahoo! News.
While AMEX’s interpretation goes above and beyond the requirements of the SCRA law, all servicemembers are grateful for their tangible financial support. It’s one thing to say “thank you for your service,” it’s another to waive a $450 annual fee. You can request SCRA benefits online or over the phone. Details on American Express’s website here.
AMEX Hilton HHonors Surpass Free for Military
Recently I acquired the American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass card. They were offering 100,000 Hilton HHonors reward points in exchange for $3000 of spending in the first 3 months of card ownership. (As of Dec 30, 2016 the offer is 75,000 points. The highest I have seen is 125,000.)
Meeting minimum spends on credit cards used to be stressful and I went for several years without opening a new credit card account. I did not want the stress of finding ways to meet the minimum spend! Now, I use Plastiq.
Plastiq lets you pay bills that normally only accept checks with a credit card. They charge a fee, usually around 2.5% on the total transaction to cover the fees they have to pay the credit card company. If you are trying to meet a minimum spend, it can be worth paying the 2.5% processing fee.
My rent is $1450 per month, so meeting a $3000 minimum spend in 3 months was pretty easy. I simply scheduled 2 months of rent payments on the AMEX card through Plastiq and then paid off the card with my normal paycheck a day or two after the payment posted. Now I have 100,000 extra Hilton HHonors points that I can use for a future vacation.
After trying to use the online SCRA benefits inquiry tool on the AMEX website and getting an error two days in a row, I gave up and simply called the number on the back of the card: 1-800-297-1000. Mandy asked me a few standard SCRA questions and said AMEX would get back to me in a few days regarding my SCRA application. I should see the $75 annual fee that was charged on my first billing statement returned in the next few business days.
Hilton Military Discount
The AMEX Hilton HHonors Surpass card gives you automatic Gold status with all Hilton branded properties. That means when you check into any of the 13 Hilton brands, you get perks like free breakfast or a welcome gift like a cookie and a bottle of water, which is always a treat after flying all day! Hilton properties include:
- Hilton Hotels and Resorts
- Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts
- Conrad Hotels and Resorts
- Embassy Suites
- Hilton Garden Inn
- Homewood Suites
- Home2 Suites
- Hilton Grand Vacations
When you are TDY or TAD anywhere in the world, there’s a good chance that one of the 4600 Hilton branded properties is close by. They usually offer a government or military rate, equal to or lower than the per diem rate for that locale, even at their luxury or high end properties like Waldorf Astoria or Conrad.
It’s always worth checking the Hilton website or giving the property a call to see if they are offering military rate rooms. You may be required to show a CAC card or other form of military ID when you check in.
Have you used your American Express SCRA benefit? How much are you saving a year? Between my 3 AMEX cards I’m saving at least $275 a year in annual fees.
2 Websites I Use to Achieve Financial Independence Faster
I have investment accounts all over the place. To keep track of all of them in one place I use Personal Capital. It combines all of my accounts, shows me where I may be overpaying in fees, and provides beautiful charts showing my overall asset allocation and performance.
I use Personal Capital to track my Roth and Traditional TSP, Vanguard IRAs, banking accounts, SDP, and my Betterment taxable account, all in one place. It's free, secure and presents me with a one-stop dashboard so I can see all my money on one site.
Read my full review of Personal Capital and see how easy it can be to manage your investments in one place. Trust me, once you try it, you'll love it.
P.S. - If you have over $100,000 of assets and a 401k, you really need to run the Personal Capital 401k Fee Analyzer.
The best way I know to achieve financial independence is to keep your investments simple, diversified, automatic, and low-cost. Costs eat into your returns like you wouldn't believe! A 1% difference in expense ratios can mean $100,000s lost to fees over a lifetime of investing.
Even if you're a DIY (do-it-yourself) investor like I am, you need to check out Betterment. You can read my full review here, but the bottom line is for only $250 per $100,000 invested (0.25% expense ratio) you get simple, diversified, and automated investing. In addition every account now gets free Tax Loss Harvesting+ features, which should increase returns for the average investor more than the minuscule management fee.
If you're not a DIY investor or are just getting started with investing, then you definitely need to check out Betterment. It's what I recommend to my family and friends who aren't strong investors or don't care to learn about asset allocations, diversification, or rebalancing.