Military Academy Cadets MLA Benefits | Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 69

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Military academy cadets get MLA benefits on their credit cards. Learn more about the MLA database, best credit cards for Air Force Academy Cadets, and the Military Lending Act.

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 69 Links

Outline of Episode:

  • Students attending any of the US Military academies are officially eligible for Military Lending Act benefits on their credit cards
  • Eligible credit cards
  • Important points from Limitations on Terms of Consumer Credit Extended to Service Members and Dependents-Military Lending Act Database; Notice of Database Update
  • Are ROTC cadets eligible? 
  • How to verify eligibility 
  • Where to find more information and resources
  • Advice for responsible credit card use

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 69 Transcript

[00:00:00] Spencer: So students attending any of the US military academies are officially eligible for Military Lending Act benefits on their credit cards.

Hello podcast listeners. Welcome to the first episode. We are recording in 2023. I'm Spencer from militarymoneymanual.com. Here with my co-host Jamie. 

Hey, Jamie. How's the year started out for you?

[00:00:44] Jamie: Hey, Spencer. It's pretty good so far. I'm definitely a little tired in my new role teaching a new course that I was not teaching in the fall.

But we're also looking forward to PCS in the summer and hopefully finding out real soon, maybe even this week, where we're going. So we're starting the prep for that downsizing junk, selling off stuff we don't need anymore, and starting our savings. So we'll probably talk more about that later, but pretty good start so far.

[00:01:07] Spencer: Thanks. Yeah, that's awesome. I love PCS season to clear the mind, clear the body, clear the soul, and clear all that junk that just accumulates right whenever we end up being anywhere for a long time. One housekeeping thing that I'll mention about the show for the podcast is that we have show notes now for almost all of our episodes, so you can go to militarymoneymanual.com/(ep#).

So this one's going to be episode 69, and so you can go to militarymoneymanual.com/ep69, and then you can find the beautifully transcribed show notes for the episode there and this is going to be true for all of our previous episodes, and hopefully all our future episodes as well. You can also just go to militarymoneymanual.com/podcast and it'll have links on there to all of the show notes. You can also Google the name of the show, plus show notes or links and the search engine of your choice, and then that'll deliver the page to you as well. 

So Jamie, in today's episode, I've got some exciting news in the world of military travel hacking. This has now been confirmed by multiple data points from cadets at the Air Force Academy.

Thanks for reaching out on Instagram @MilitaryMoneyManual. What they're telling me is Military Academy cadets and midshipmen. So students attending any of the US Military academies are officially eligible for Military Lending Act benefits on their credit cards. So that's awesome news. That's going to include the Amex Platinum, the Amex Gold, Hilton Honors Aspire, the Amex Marriot Bonvoy Brilliant, as well as great cards like the Citi Premier, the US Bank Altitude Reserve, and then all the personal Chase cards. So Chase Hyatt, Chase IHG, the Chase Southwest Cards. The Chase United cards, like the United Club Infinite Card, which is going to give you access to the United Club Lounge. If you're in Colorado Springs, you're flying out of Denver, that's a great lounge to have access to.

Then finally, the one card to rule them all is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You're going to be able to get all these cards and not pay any annual fees. 

[00:03:06] Jamie: This is huge news, Spencer. I feel like we need a like late breaking news alert jingle in the background or something, but my memory's a little fuzzy. But couldn't cadets get annual fees waived before? 

[00:03:12] Spencer: Yes. It's hard to parse the history, but the myth and the legends of annual fee waivers because the credit card companies don't do a good job of talking about this and other websites out there that will rename nameless, but start with the and end with the points guy.

They don't really talk a whole lot about military benefits. So it appears that cadets and midshipmen from, West Point, the Naval Academy, Also the Coast Guard Academy, and the Merchant Marine Academy, though, so we can't forget those guys and the Air Force Academy were getting annual fee waivers on American Express cards previously, probably before January 2020.

Now in January 2020, and again, it's hard to get good data on this, but American Express switched from lumping everybody under SCRA or Service Members Civil Relief Act benefit they transitioned to more of an MLA system, military spouses, active duty troops, guard and reserve who are on active duty orders, could get their annual fees waived on cards.

They just had to be verified that they were eligible for MLA benefits by checking the MLA database. So there's this two-year gap, basically between January of 2020. Then February of 2022, so almost a year ago now, where the cadets weren't in the MLA database. So when they applied for these premium American Express cards, American Express was just charging annual fees and it was really confusing.

So in December 2021, the Department of Defense, that's the agency that implements the Military Lending Act, published a note to the Federal Register. The Federal Register is like this newspaper where the government agency publishes updates to their rules and policies. So it's officially noted and then everybody can keep track of it.

It's not a great read. I wouldn't recommend it, but the title of the document is Limitations on Terms of Consumer Credit Extended to Service Members and Dependents-Military Lending Act Database; Notice of Database Update

It's a very thrilling title. I'm surprised that not more people know about this with a sexy title like that, but here was the meat of the notice. The Department of Defense, AKA, the department, is providing notice to the public of a scheduled change to the Military Lending Act MLA database.

The update adds cadets and midshipmen attending military service academies of the Armed Forces who are covered borrowers under the MLA to the population of covered borrowers identified in the MLA database, thereby correcting an error in the database's original development. So when I read that, I was super excited because it means that cadets and midshipmen at West Point, Annapolis, Coast Guard Academy, Merchant Marine Academy, and USAFA in Colorado Springs are all eligible for fee-waived cards now.

[00:06:03] Jamie: So cadets, were always on Title 10 orders, and this is just a mistake in the ELA database that the DOD is now correcting. Is that right?

[00:06:11] Spencer: Yes, that's right. Cadets and midshipmen at the service academies have always been active duty Title 10 orders. So it was always confusing when they were applying for these cards and the credit card companies were saying, no, you're not eligible for MLA databases when they're like, but I have active duty orders.

I'm on Title 10 orders. You know when Cades and Midshipman would go on, web forums and ask “Hey, how come their credit card companies aren't acknowledging that I'm on active duty?” It was confusing for everyone, and a lot of the cadets were getting flack like, oh, we'll just wait until you're on active duty or actually commissioned.

It's technically they are on active duty. They are on Title 10 orders, and the MLA database did not reflect their active duty status. So that was a mistake on the part of the DMDC or the Defense Manpower Data Center, that's the agency at the DOD that runs the MLA database, and that has since been.

[00:07:00] Jamie: Okay. Spencer, any big updates for ROTC cadets because they contract, they kind of have a similar model sometimes, but not quite active duty. Any news for ROTC Cadets? 

[00:07:07] Spencer: As far as we know, there's no MLA protection for ROTC cadets, even those who are on contract. I don't have any data points about ROTC cadets getting fees waived or any other MLA protections.

But if you have firsthand experience with this, please reach out. Podcast@militarymoneymanual.com or on Instagram @militarymoneymanual. Let us know, but as far as we know, there are no MLA benefits for any ROTC cadets before entering active duty. I think that's because we joined the Inactive Ready Reserve instead of being on Title 10 Active Duty orders.

[00:07:44] Jamie: Okay. That makes sense. I see the difference there. 

Good news for the Academy cadets and midshipmen. How can they confirm they're good to go for these MLA benefits on these cards before they start applying and then get erroneously charged a fee?

[00:07:57] Spencer: Sure. So I've got an article on my website called “Military Academy MLA Benefits Explained”.

So you can just Google that or go to militarymoneymanual.com/military-academy-mla. I know it doesn't, it's hard to say, but just “Google Military Academy MLA benefits”. The first thing you're going to want to do is to create an account on the MLA database website. Again, you can just Google “MLA database”.

It might kick you over to the MLA citation format. So just add military MLA. Then you can check the database with an account and confirm that you are a covered borrower. That is a borrower who is covered by the Military Lending Act, and you are eligible for MLA benefits. If you're not in the MLA database and you are a contracted official cadet at one of the service academies, make sure that you go and talk to your personnel office and get it fixed.

Your social security number should be in there and you should be eligible for the benefit and if you're not, then that's something that you should fix now, especially if you're interested in military travel hacking, it's possible to apply for SCRA benefits if you already opened the card. But it's going to be much more difficult and much more of a painful process if you just confirm that you're in the MLA database.

And then eventually, if you get married, if you can confirm that your spouse or partner is in the MLA database, then they will get annual fee waivers. You will get annual fee waivers. Everybody will be happy. Credit card companies will be happy because it's much easier to verify. Once you've confirmed that you are in fact eligible for the MLA benefits, I would recommend starting with my Ultimate Military Credit cards course.

That's at militarymoneymanual.com/umc3. I've also got two articles on my site, the best credit card welcome bonuses this month, and then the best credit cards for the military, and it just walks you through the optimal order in which to open up the cards if you really want to maximize your benefit. I know the academy's going to be busy, but if you have free time, learn about travel hacking when you're in college, and then once you come onto active duty, it's much easier to start implementing.

And a lot of these things take time. Like some of my buddies have started travel hacking in the last couple of years and they're just like, “Man, I wish I had started this when I was a lieutenant” or even earlier. Because it just takes time to accumulate a portfolio of cards over the years.

Two fee wave cards I would recommend starting with though are the American Express Platinum Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. If I was a senior at the Air Force Academy and then I was planning on having 60 days of leave after I graduated, I would definitely start building a stash of Amex and Chase points in my senior year or even earlier so that I could travel hack my way around Europe and Southeast Asia when I graduated.

Maybe fly to yacht week for free. You could definitely have a lot of great travel benefits before you enter the real Air Force, so to speak. How would you play it?

[00:10:44] Jamie: A couple of things first, before I answer that, Spencer, I want to just make sure everyone understands you need a pretty decent credit score to get some of these premium cards, usually over a 690 or so or higher to be approved for a card like the American Express Platinum.

So if you're at the service academies, there's a chance you might not have a credit score at all. If you've been staying in the dorms, you've never had an apartment or any kind of loan. So if that's true, go ahead and open up a no-annual-fee card from USAA or Navy Federal or a similar military-friendly bank like that.

The credit limit is usually very small, like maybe $500 or $1,000, but this will allow you to build your credit history, make some small purchases, pay it off in full every month, never carry a balance, and within six to nine months you'll have a decent credit score then you'll be able to apply for the more premium cards like the Amex Platinum, and then for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, usually a previous relationship with Chase is necessary, so a lot of people will open a Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited card.

Wait a few months and then apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Another thing, I think it's important to mention is that you need to make sure you can meet the minimum spend requirements to earn the welcome bonus on these cards. For instance, if a card is offering a 100,000 American Express points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months, you need to make sure that you can naturally cover or exceed spending of $4,000 over three months.

In that case, that's about $1,300. You don't want to miss out on these welcome bonuses, and if you're not spending that much naturally, you don't want to take on unnecessary spending, and unnecessary debt and open the card to not get the signup bonus, because that's such a big win to get all those points. 

Then lastly, do not under any circumstances allow credit card debt to build up.

Pay the statement balance in full every month or make payments every week to pay down the card to zero balance. Also, put your card on auto-pay so you'll never forget. All of the benefits of travel hacking we talk about are not worth it, they're null and void if you pay any interest to the credit card companies, to banks, or to lenders. So be very diligent about that. 

If you can't handle the responsibility and power of a premium credit card, then travel hacking just isn't for you right now, and that's okay. You can maybe try again in a couple of years. You can still achieve financial independence without travel hacking. Travel hacking is just the little bit of spicy add on top of the meat and potatoes of spending less than you earn.

Investing early and often and making money decisions aligned with your personal values.

[00:13:01] Spencer: Excellent rant, Jamie. Thank you for those words of wisdom. 

Hey guys, before we sign off, a couple more resources for cadets and midshipmen at the military academies. First of all, I wrote my book, The Military Money Manual, A Practical Guide to Financial Freedom, literally for you.

It is the book that I wish someone had handed me when I was in ROTC as a cadet. Extremely relevant to any military academy cadet or midshipman in any of the service academies. It's on Amazon and Audible. It's on my website. It's going to be released in paperback very soon, which I'm excited about.

And it's got 4.7 stars out of 5 on Amazon, so mostly 4 and 5-star reviews. One guy left me a one-star review because it just wasn't for him. That's okay. 

Episode number 2 is another resource for you. Our most popular podcast episode walks you through the Thrift Savings Plan or TSP, which is the 401k kind of this investment account that you'll have access to when you graduate from the academies. 

Then episode 9 covers the Career Starter Loans from USAA and the Navy Federal Career Kickoff Loan. That's extremely relevant, especially if you're a junior or senior at one of the academies.

Episode 12 talk about building your financial foundation in the military for cadets and midshipmen.

Episode 19 covers how to get annual fee waivers when you're on active duty or if you have a spouse. 

Then finally, episode 24 introduces financial independence and retiring early or fire FIRE.

[00:14:36] Jamie: Hey podcast listeners. Thanks for joining us today. If you found this episode valuable, the easiest way you can say thank you to Spencer and me is by leaving us a five-star review on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you listen to our show. Thanks for all the great reviews over the years, and I want to highlight one we recently got.

From BeParadoxic on Apple Podcast, they said “This podcast is a wealth of information, both literally and figuratively. I first found it when searching for information on how to use circuitous travel for our family's upcoming PCS move. Their podcast on that topic alone was enough to prompt me to give a five-star review, but then I started listening to some past podcasts and was impressed with the knowledge they share for military members and their families. Hitting subscribe was an easy choice. We've long been Amex platinum users and it only scratched the surface of that benefit. We're now utilizing that card and others to a much higher potential. Thanks to Spencer and Jamie for sharing their knowledge. Thanks, guys.”

Thank you for that review as of the time of this recording, we have over 72,000 downloads, which is incredible.

56 apple reviews with an average of 4.9 stars and 129 reviews on Spotify, all five stars. So we're very proud of that and are grateful. If you do have any questions or feedback, you can always message us on Instagram @militarymoneymanual or via email at podcast@militarymoneymanual.com. We'll catch you next week.

[00:15:55] Spencer: Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of the Military Money Manual Podcast. If you are enjoying the show, please feel free to rate, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. This helps others find the show and we really appreciate it. Thanks again for tuning in and we'll catch you in the next episode.

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