Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions

If you’re like 82% of the US population, the time for making New Year’s resolutions is upon you. Unfortunately, most Americans will abandon their resolutions after a few weeks. They key is setting realistic and achievable goals and then setting a specific schedule to reach them. Take a look at these top 10 New Year’s resolutions and some tips for keeping yours:

Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions People Make

Some of the most common resolutions

  1. Maintain a healthy diet. Halloween is followed by Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving is closely followed by Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. What do they all have in common? A lot of big meals and sweets. It’s only natural that after the scale tips a bit, people make goals to eat healthier in the new year.
  2. Lose weight. Many people are looking to get that perfect body or run their first marathon. So, in January, gyms across the nation will fill to capacity with exercisers running the wrong way around the track or trying to figure out how the newest weight equipment works. By February, people get lazy and gym attendance dips a lot. To avoid falling out of habit, grab a workout buddy and schedule regular workout times. Be sure to hold each other accountable for getting in that workout.
  3. Quit smoking. Smoking comes with a long list of unpleasant side effects: yellow teeth, cancer, and the smell gets into everything. Quitting this habit will take a lot of time and effort. Statistics show that only about 15 percent of those who attempt to quit will actually hold strong months later. If you are serious about quitting, you can be part of that 15 percent.
  4. Enjoy life to the fullest. This goal comes in many different forms. For some, it might mean cutting out stress in their lives. For others, it might mean becoming more outgoing and taking every opportunity that comes their way. However it is achieved, enjoying life will be a big priority for Americans as they set their New Year’s resolutions.
  5. Get out of debt and save more. After spending all that money on Christmas presents, big meals for visiting family, and that family winter vacation, many consumers will pull the emergency brake on spending for 2017. For saving serious money in the next year, financial advisers suggest you make a specific budget that accounts for the occasional wants, not just the needs.
  6. Spend more time with family and friends. Key moments in our lives teach us that people are far more important than things. Will you spend more time with family and friends this year?
  7. Get organized. Clutter builds up. If you’ve moved recently, you probably found a lot more clutter than you thought you had. With all of this clutter, and even important items, collecting everywhere, it can be difficult to find needed items in a timely manner. But with good organization, your house and your mind will be clean and feel stress free.
  8. Learn something new. Whether you want to impress your friends or simply feel that amazing sense of accomplishment, you’re not alone in wanting to learn something new this year. You might think about learning Italian or how to play the guitar or how to juggle 5 bowling pins at the same time. Whatever the case, stick to it! You’ll thank yourself later.
  9. Travel more. The world is made up of 149 million square kilometers of land and 361 square kilometers of water. You’ve probably visited only a minute fraction of that amount. Just think about what amazing sites are waiting for you across the globe. This year, don’t be afraid to add an exotic destination to your agenda.
  10. Read more. The benefits of reading every day are endless, and I’m not talking about reading your Facebook news feed. When was the last time you finished a full-length book cover to cover? Add some new books to your list and be sure to get in the habit of reading every day in order to stimulate your mind, expand your vocabulary, improve your memory, and reduce stress.

How Can I Keep My New Year’s Resolutions?

Thinking of a resolution (or, if you’re like many of us, a long list of resolutions) is the easy part. Actually keeping the resolution is where things get much more difficult. We’ve got a few tips for that, however.

1. Make a Specific Daily Plan

Most resolutions fall by the wayside because they are not specific enough. For example, if you set a goal to “get in shape,” that can easily be overlooked by next week. That’s why it’s best to specify a plan of how exactly you’ll work toward your measurable goal. Here is what a plan could look like:

Goal: Get in shape (Lose 20 lbs.)

  • Exercise for at least 45 minutes 6 times a week
    • Monday: Run on the treadmill
    • Tuesday: Lift weights
    • Wednesday: Play tennis
    • Thursday: Ride my bike
    • Friday: Day off
    • Saturday: Sit-ups and Pushups
    • Sunday: Swim

A daily plan can go a long way to helping you reach your goals. Daily and frequent reminders of the ultimate goal give individuals a much better chance of actually achieving it.

If the plan needs adjusting after a while, don’t be afraid to do so, but just make sure to at least start with one.

2. Write Down Your Goal and Keep It in Sight

We are all constantly bombarded with things to distract us from our main goals. Write down your goal (and plan) and keep it somewhere you’ll always see it. Here are some suggestions for where to keep the goal to ensure it isn’t forgotten:

  • Cell phone background
  • Fridge/Microwave
  • Desktop/Tablet background
  • Dashboard in your car
  • Bathroom mirror

Find a place that works for you, and you’ll have a constant reminder of your New Year’s resolution.

3. Share Goals with a Loved One

I’m not talking about just telling a friend or family member about your goal, but actually sharing the same goal. There is strength in numbers. Sharing a common goal with someone close to you can provide a nice support.

If the goal is to eat a healthier diet, find a friend or family member that wants the same thing and conquer it together. On days when the goal seems too hard to conquer, your goal partner can lift you up and help you through it. You can also remain accountable to them—you could even work out a deal where if one of you doesn’t keep your goal one day, that person has to pay the other or make them dinner. Keep it fun and creative!

Happy New Year to US Veterans

No matter what is on our list of resolutions, let’s keep in mind those who have sacrificed their time and their lives for our privilege to achieve our goals and dreams.

To all veterans and military service members, we at Low VA Rates would like to say Happy New Year!

Gun Control Statistics: Arguments from Both Sides

In the early 1980s, Chicago enacted gun laws that basically banned handguns. Unfortunately, while the murder rate in Chicago declined, the percentage of Chicago murders that were committed using handguns rose by 2%, to about 40%. More seriously, while the percentage of murders from 1968-2010 using handguns was 48%, the percentage of murders by handgun during the ban was 59%.

The ban didn’t stop murders. Citizens were still able to use handguns illegally, keep handguns from before the ban, or legally buy them in other cities or states.

Gun control is a very complex issue with strong feelings from both camps—those who want to reduce gun sales and ownership and those who want to promote gun ownership. Let’s review the gun control statistics and gun violence facts that each side uses.

Anti-Gun Arguments

The US has suffered 1,363 mass shootings, in which four or more people were shot or killed, since 2014. Since 2013, the US has suffered 291 school shootings. In mass shootings over the last three decades, shooters purchased 82% of the weapons used legally.

When the Second Amendment was written, people had muskets that could fire one round per minute. Today, people have access to some firearms that can shoot 60–100 rounds per minute.  Machine guns can shoot hundreds of rounds per minute (though they’re difficult to get).

There are 89 guns for every 100 people in the US, according to some estimates. But it could be as high as 113 guns per 100, using one of the highest estimates of 357 million firearms in the US.It is believed that less than 1% of all civilian weapons are registered.

In 2013, there were about 10.6 deaths by firearms per 100,000 persons in the US. That breaks down to:

  • 11,208 homicides
  • 21,175 suicides
  • 505 accidental deaths or deaths due to negligence
  • 281 deaths because of “undetermined intent”
  • 467 deaths in legal intervention or war

There were also 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries, which is 23.2 injuries per 100,000 persons. In total, about 107,141 Americans are shot every year.

Private sellers at gun shows don’t have to follow federal regulations that commercial sellers follow. There are about 5,000 gun shows every year in the US, and about 1,000 firearms are sold in 2 days at the largest gun shows. So, some of those sales are through unregulated private sellers (although most are through large commercial sellers).

Pro-Gun Arguments

The Second Amendment states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The gun violence facts in America are true even with 300 or more gun laws already on the books. So, it doesn’t make sense to create even more laws just to make people feel safe, when the 300 gun laws haven’t worked.

Part of the reason gun laws don’t reduce crime is that criminals will always be able to get guns on the black market.

There are stand-your-ground laws in more than 21 US states, which have been passed by the state officials and the votes of the citizens. These allow citizens to use deadly force with a firearm without attempting to retreat. Citizens can do this in self-defense when threatened.

Many times per year, citizens use firearms to deter criminals or to directly defend themselves. Firearms also prevent crimes just by being present, even when they’re not discharged. Justifiable homicides, when people use firearms to fight a criminal in the act of a felony, rose between 2005 and 2010.

Legal substances kill far, far more people per year than guns do:

  • Cigarettes kill about 480,000 Americans per year
  • Alcohol leads to about 88,000 American deaths per year
  • Firearms caused 33,636 American deaths in 2013

Firearms caused less than half the number of deaths than alcohol caused and far, far less than the number that cigarettes caused. Cigarettes and alcohol are legal but are not particularly useful, whereas Americans can use firearms for self-defense.

Guns in themselves are not the problem. Criminals are the problem. We need more education, more law enforcement, and more people who know how to defend themselves and use guns lawfully in other ways.

A Balanced View on Law

Laws are meant to limit the use of firearms by people who are underage and to prevent criminals from obtaining weapons. However, many criminals buy firearms on the black market. Therefore, laws should not take away from law-abiding citizens their ability to obtain firearms, because they may still need them for self-defense against criminals.

It’s possible that a standard background check is enough to reasonably deter criminals from obtaining weapons legally. At least, it can make us as safe as we can possibly be in this world in which firearms are a reality and are not going away.

At the same time, anti-gun folks have legitimate reasons to want laws and strict enforcement of laws, because firearm deaths can be very tragic and terrifying. Having no laws at all would lead to chaos, and of course both sides agree that less unnecessary violence is the goal of every American.

Concealed Carry Tips

Education may increase the safety of law-abiding citizens. After learning gun violence facts, a good education includes learning to handle a gun safely. If you want to carry a concealed weapon, it’s vital to do it in a lawful way.

Be sure you’re following federal laws and the laws of the state you’re in. In every situation, follow the four cardinal rules of carrying a concealed weapon:

  • Always treat your weapon as if it’s loaded.
  • Only put your finger on the trigger when you put your sights on a target and decide to fire.
  • Be sure of your target, always.
  • If you point your firearm at anything, you have to be willing to destroy it.

Second, when you’re in public, don’t take your weapon anywhere it’s not allowed, even if you have a CWP: the Post Office, other government buildings, airport security, and some school campuses (without written permission). Even some places of employment outlaw weapons.

Third, make sure your weapon is truly concealed. Even if you can carry legally, many states outlaw unnecessarily frightening other citizens by displaying a weapon openly. You need a holster that lets you carry comfortably, safely, and invisibly. Plan your clothing and activities around these needs.

We don’t believe you can twist gun control statistics to “say anything you want.” For example, the fact that thousands of Americans commit suicide every year with a gun is just true. We can’t use those numbers to say just anything we want.

Many of those suicide deaths are veterans—our American heroes. So, we need to take better care of our veterans. We need to help them get the benefits they deserve. We need to examine the legal drugs and other substances they’re given. We need to support them. We need to help them get into good groups they can belong to in civilian life.

We live in a reality in which guns exist and some people want to use them, some for criminal acts and others for defense and lawful recreation. Should we pretend we can just make all guns stop existing because they’re frightening?

Of course not. We need to build gun laws on a realistic view of gun violence facts and to strive for what is best for all of our citizens. Learn more about VA loans and other veteran issues on our blog.

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The Army Pay Chart

Many people are curious about military pay. The men and women who serve our country are truly selfless, but no one can deny that monetary compensation is still important to consider because you need to know how much you’ll have to live off of. This can affect the house you get, the food you buy, if you let your kids join sports teams, and the list goes on. Find out how you’ll be compensated for your service.

Military Basic Pay


Calculating Military Pay ChartThe compensation a person receives includes more than just money. Listing and explaining every benefit and service military personnel get would take several pages. The biggest portion (and the part people are probably the most interested in) is basic pay. Basic pay is the base amount of money each military member gets, and it’s distributed bimonthly on the 1st and the 15th.

Understanding the Army pay chart really isn’t too difficult. It’s formatted using rank and amount of service time. It’s split into two major categories of rank: enlisted and officer. The rank code is the same from branch to branch but titles vary. If you don’t already know, the codes range from E-1 to E-9 and O-1 to O-9, depending on what level of promotion a military member is at.

The basic pay actually doesn’t vary from branch to branch. No matter which branch of the military you’re looking at, they all receive the same basic pay, meaning someone in the navy can look at the same official chart as someone in the Army. You can find many of these charts on various sites, and they will show you what the monthly pay is for the rankings and lengths of service for anyone in any branch. Some even show money allowance for clothing and similar items.

So Many Military Benefits!

Military Pay and BenefitsMilitary pay is made up of more than just basic pay. The Army is specifically predicted to offer the average active duty member up to about $99,000 altogether in compensation. More than half of this isn’t cash and includes everything from medical insurance to special housing programs through the VA. This sounds very attractive to many people who are considering joining the Army. Any variance you’re going to see between branches is going to come from these added benefits, many of which depend on an individual situation. Some members of the national guard, for example, receive special pay for an overseas extension, hardship, flight duties, hostile fire and imminent danger, diving duty, and much more. The list is quite long for circumstances that warrant special pay and each of these even includes more details to understand what acts really count towards special pay.

Out of all these benefits, the one we deal with specifically is the VA loan (for purchasing and refinance), which is offered to all retired or active military personnel. Beyond this, there are more things to consider that might make one branch more financially appealing than another. However, even these benefits are more or less the same across the military. The most variance you’re going to see is between rankings and service time. To see how these compare, check out the military pay chart. Download the chart, and discover the kind of future a military career offers you!

 

Information for this article was gathered from the US Army website.

Honoring Memorial Day and Our Fallen Soldiers

Memorial Day is a sacred day for our country, and it holds particular significance for many of our fellow Americans. A widow might pause to recall the moment she realized why the servicemembers had come to her door, a father might sit at a quiet piano where his daughter used to play, and a child might make a poppy poster in honor of a grandparent.

But even if you don’t have a loved one to remember, every person in the United States is affected by the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for our country. Memorial Day is a time for all of us to take a step back and honor these lives through remembrance.

One way to honor these soldiers is to learn more about their sacrifice and participate in the traditions surrounding Memorial Day. The infographic below includes some information we hope you find compelling.

Memorial Day Infographic 2016 with Memorial Day Facts

The Beginnings – Decoration Day

In early May of 1868, Civil War veteran General John A. Morgan declared that May 30th should be “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Though many Civil War remembrances had been previously observed, Memorial Day, known as “Decoration Day” at the time, was first celebrated that same month with a ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery. There, General James Garfield gave a speech about the holiday’s significance and about 5,000 people participated in decorating all 20,000 graves of fallen Confederate and Union soldiers.

Originally, this day specifically honored those who had died in the Civil War, but after WWI, soldiers who died in any war were recognized. Even though this tradition has been in place since 1868, Memorial Day was not officially declared a national holiday until 1971. It is now observed on the last Monday in May.

Memoral Day began as Decoration Day, Arlington National Cemetery

New Traditions: Going Beyond the Backyard BBQ

Since Memorial Day is a national holiday, most schools and many workplaces have a three-day weekend for their students and employees. Thousands of families gather to usher in the summer season with a good barbecue. (And don’t forget the mattress sales and other flashy commercial events.)

But as fun as this family (and shopping) time is, many organizations worry that this is exactly what Memorial Day has become for many Americans. So in the spirit of never forgetting our fallen heroes, here are some other ways to show respect:

  • Visit a Veterans’ Cemetery or the Grave of a Veteran – Bring flowers, flags, or other significant items, and consider helping beautify the area by clearing away stray leaves or dirt or volunteering to help pull weeds. As specified in the infographic, leaving different coins at a fallen soldier’s grave traditionally signifies who has visited.
  • Wear a Red Poppy – To honor those who have died, many wear a red poppy on their clothing. This tradition was started in 1915 by poet Moina Michael, who wrote: “We cherish too, the Poppy red / That grows on fields where valor led, / It seems to signal to the skies / That blood of heroes never dies.”
  • Pause for a Moment of Silence – In 2000, a congressional resolution officially designated 3pm on Memorial day as a National Moment of Remembrance. Join the country in taking a moment to respect our fallen servicemembers.
  • Visit a Battlefield or Memorial – There are dozens of national battlefields and memorials honoring fallen soldiers and the places where they gave their lives to keep our country united and free.
  • Fly the American Flag – If your flag is on a flagpole, make sure to keep it at half-mast until noon. Or, if you have a mounted flag and it cannot be lowered, you can alternatively tie a black ribbon just under the ornament at the end of the pole. The ribbon should be the same width as the stripes on the flag and the same length as the flag.
  • Learn More about Past Wars and Battles – It might not be possible to travel to a battlefield, but you can read or watch a movie about one in your own home. There are several books, movies, podcasts, and documentaries you can use to learn about or remember different conflicts and experiences.
  • Volunteer to Help Veterans – A wonderful way to honor fallen military heroes is to volunteer. You can find groups that work to help disabled or injured veterans as well as those that focus on the families of current or deceased servicemembers.

Memorial Day Events Worth Experiencing

There are many Memorial Day events that you and your loved ones may want to be a part of. Here are just a few:

  • National Memorial Day Concert – On the eve of Memorial Day, this free concert is held outside the White House to honor military servicemembers. It is one of PBS’ highest-rated programs, with a lineup including performers and groups like Charles Esten, Leona Lewis, the Soldiers’ Chorus, and the National Symphony Orchestra.
  • National Memorial Day Parade – The American Veterans Center presents this parade every year in Washington, DC, honoring military servicemembers that have served throughout all of US history. You can stream the parade live on either YouTube or Military.com.
  • Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally – The Sunday before Memorial Day, hundreds of thousands of bikers ride through Washington D.C. in honor of Vietnam War POWs and MIAs.
  • National Memorial Day Choral Festival – This annual concert includes a large choir that performs with the U.S. Air Force Orchestra.

Remember that there are also smaller Memorial Day events. Check out one of the other big ones—like the Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade or the Chicago Memorial Day Parade—or research what’s happening in your area to find one near you.

Flag waving over stone etched with the words: "In Their Honor"

How Will You Remember?

In 1868, General Logan said, “Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

This Memorial Day, may we choose above all else to honor fallen US troops. How will you choose to remember the “cost of a free and undivided republic” this year? Tell us about your plans by commenting below or visiting one of our social media accounts and commenting on our Memorial Day post.

Graydon “Cubby” Lewis

Graydon Lewis, The walls within

Graydon “Cubby” Lewis is a Vietnam veteran, author, and founder of The Walls Within Foundation. Today he still helps out in the military by teaching Marines how to properly defend themselves, primarily through Krav Maga techniques. In an interview last week, Lewis answered some questions about his motivation for writing his book, The Walls Within: Living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the trying process he went through to complete it.

Graydon “Cubby” Lewis was just 17 when he joined the U.S. Army. He became part of the 82nd airborne division testing parachutes and soon left to fight in Vietnam.

In our interview, Lewis recalled the attitude civilians had towards Vietnam veterans when they came home. Thousands of protesters would throw things—rocks, fruit, anything they could get their hands on—at the veterans as they passed. In some colleges, the Vietnam veterans weren’t allowed into the dormitories to sleep with the other students. These veterans had seen horrifying things in war and had sacrificed their safety and years of their lives to fight for their country. The protesters poured salt in the wound and made life at home even more difficult for these veterans (many of whom suffered from PTSD) than it already was. Many veterans had nothing to go home to.

Lewis’s service in Vietnam left him scarred for life with severe PTSD. Unfortunately, at that time PTSD was not well known or well studied. In fact, it was then simply called “adjustment disorder.” Not knowing what exactly was wrong with him, Lewis struggled to keep his life together. He turned to alcohol and prescription drugs to stay afloat.

He participated in 17 different rehab programs for alcoholism and moved from house to house 24 times over the span of just 4 years. He was admitted to a PTSD hospital ward eventually, but due to a lack of understanding about the disorder, the doctors could do little for him. Instead he found comfort and understanding in his fellow brothers in arms who’d also been admitted to the ward. Together, they found some small amount of healing since they all had been through similar traumatic experiences during the war.

After being released from the ward, Lewis and one of his good friends whom he met while in the hospital went out drinking together, and later that night, his friend committed suicide. It was this, along with dozens of other tragic incidents, that prompted Lewis to put an end to veterans’ suffering and to put an end to veterans committing suicide.

Starting the Book

One day, a relative poked through Lewis’s old military boxes, and inspired by what she saw, asked, “why don’t you write a book?” Lewis resisted the idea for 2 years, but when tragedy stuck again, he reconsidered.

His daughter was raped. This traumatic experience caused her to develop PTSD just as her father had. Although the man responsible was charged, this would never erase the trauma. Her suffering finally convinced Lewis to write The Walls Within to try to prevent veterans and even civilians from committing suicide due to PTSD.

Realizing the task before him would take enormous fortitude and dedication, Lewis left home and took up residence in a one-room apartment. There he worked for 11 months in solitude, enduring his personal emotional roller coaster.

For those 11 months, Lewis spoke into a recorder, which was a much easier form of relating his story than typing it all up. The hardest part about getting it all down, however, was remembering. Remembering every horrifying detail that led up to his life at this point was “like cutting open an old wound again.”

From Lewis’s recording, David Grant wrote the book that has become a godsend for those suffering from PTSD.

Helping Others Regain Their Lives

Lewis wanted to help veterans regain their lives from their suffering—to move past the pain and struggles of PTSD side-effects. He also wanted to help them obtain their VA benefits by educating them about what they’re entitled to. In fact, he’s been helping veterans with their VA claims since the 1990s. Many veterans are still forced to wait years to receive the proper medical and financial care. And many others don’t even know that they are entitled to this care.

Through his book, Lewis has helped many veterans. Seventy percent of the funds earned from book sales go towards The Walls Within Foundation that was founded by Lewis himself (the rest of the proceeds are used for the book’s administrative costs). This foundation engages in many charitable projects, one of which is providing a fun and free campout for veterans in the Maine and New Hampshire area at the Sebasco Harbor Resort.

The resort provides a great location and environment for veterans to heal. Vets can participate in kayaking, swimming, baseball, and downhill bike races. The resort also features live music from Jimmy Buffett’s band members. Through this foundation and his book The Walls Within: Living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Lewis hopes that veterans will learn to heal and live a better life than they currently are.

So far, Lewis has gotten a lot of positive feedback from his book and has found that it helps both veterans and civilians with PTSD in the journey of overcoming their trauma. Many readers have related to him their own stories and said that if he can overcome everything that he went through, then so can they.

Lewis has come a long way in overcoming his personal monsters and is proud of the journeys that other veterans are taking. In response to a question of whether he thought the emotional roller coaster of writing the book was worth it, Lewis said “If I could help just one veteran not commit suicide, then it’s worth it.”

Click Here to Support The Walls Within Foundation by purchasing Lewis’s book

Top 50 Military Blogs

military blog

Every country needs the support of a strong military to protect its rights and citizens at the same time. In order for that military to thrive though, it needs the support of its country in return. The internet may seem like a silly place to find encouragement for the armed forces, but there is an entire community of military bloggers who are trying to help in whatever way they can. We have put together a list of military blogs that we think you will enjoy.  The following list contains 50 top-quality military-related blogs written by soldiers and the people they fight for.

Note that these blogs are not ranked by importance. Each site has its own merit and value on the web.

Army Blogs

  • Army Live: This is the “official blog of the United States Army,” featuring late-breaking news, leadership tips, training guides, and more. It also includes a gallery of army photos so families can view their loved ones overseas.
  • Armed with Science: This blog is designed to inform people about the latest innovations in military technology and scientific discovery.
  • Defense Centers of Excellence Blog: This is part of the DCOE website, which helps soldiers who have suffered from traumatic brain injury and psychological health issues.
  • Military Health Systems Blog: A general health resource center for soldiers with medical concerns.
  • From the Green Notebook: This blog is written by an Army Major who covers everything  from values to leadership to professional discourse.
  • Bouhammer’s Afghan & Military Blog: A retired Army First Sergeant writes about military operations in the Middle East in this blog. You’ll also probably read a bit about security and politics here.
  • Army Strong Stories: This is a portal for people to share stories about their experiences in the army or with a soldier in the family. Consider it a giant support group on the web.
  • My Army Reserve: This is a blog for the citizen soldiers still living and training in the U.S.
  • Highlander’s Post: This blog features articles written by and for soldiers stationed in Iraq.

Navy Blogs

  • Navy Live: This is the official blog of the U.S. Navy, featuring photos, training tips, and fun facts related to this branch of the armed forces.
  • Naval History Blog: This blog goes over the history of the navy and how it came to be.
  • Navy Cyber Space: This is a general blog that features great news, links, and information related to the Navy.
  • Navy Girl: This blog is dedicated to the women in the Navy.
  • Wharf Rat’s Home – A Shipmate Who Never Made It to Sea: This blog covers Navy news, including port changes and posts of ships.
  • The Stupid Shall Be Punished: This blog is run by a naval officer who focuses every post specifically on submarine activities and developments.
  • Eagle Speak: This blog is written by a veteran Navy Reserve Captain and Attorney. You’ll read about issues in the Navy and various security over waters.
  • Steeljaw Scribe: This blog is run by a former naval flight officer who spent 26 years on the force.
  • Doc in the Box: This blog is run by a navy corpsman just voicing his opinion about the world.
  • The Goatlocker: this blog is run by a Chief Petty Officer who offers a range of interesting information on the navy.

Marines Blogs

  • Actions Not Words: This blog is run by Dakota Meyer, a former marine who was awarded a Medal of Honor in 2011.
  • Small Wars Journal: This blog is run by a group of marines who talk about news, current events, special stories, and more.
  • The Sandgram: This blog is run by a marine officer with more than 26 years of service under his belt.
  • Information Dissemination: This blog is designed to help members of the marines discuss strategies with one another.
  • Leatherneck: This blog provides news commentary and posts on Marine events.
  • The Thunder Run: This blog goes over important information about the U.S. Marines right from the home front.
  • Write on the Right: This blog is run by a marine officer who’s just voicing his opinion to the world.

Air Force Blogs

  • Air Force Live: This is the official blog of the U.S. Air Force, posting important news, dates, and success stories related to the military.
  • Air Force Magazine: This magazine blog will tell you everything you ever want to know about the Air Force and the latest news.
  • Air Force Aid Society: This site is the official charity for the Air Force. It helps provide aid and educational assistance for families in need.
  • Air Force Association Blog: This blog is run by a non-profit organization that discusses the importance of aerospace power in the U.S. National Security.
  • Alert 5: This blog is all about military aviation news.
  • The Air National Guard: This site tells everything you need to know about the Air National Guard.
  • Air Force Voices: This is a general opinion blog related to (but not affiliated with) the U.S. Air Force.
  • The Mudville Gazette: This blog is run by an air force officer and his wife.
  • Emily Roe: This blog is about the general events in the Air Force, written from the perspective of a soldier’s wife.
  • The Air Force Pundit: This blog is run by a captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Command.

Other Military Blogs

  • DOD Live: This is the official blog of the Department of Defense, providing information about all branches of the military.
  • Mil Blogging: This is a giant index of military blogs to read.
  • Argghhh!!!: This blog is run by former armed forces officers who provide funny but valid opinions about the wars in the world.
  • Semper Gratus: This is a site about American pride, meant as a form of support for the troops.
  • The Unknown Soldiers: This site tells the valuable stories of soldiers who aren’t represented in the media.
  • This Ain’t Hell: This blog is run by three people who have served in several facets of the armed forces. It’s slogan is “This ain’t hell, but you can see it from here.”
  • Texas Fred: This blog showcases one man’s opinion about military news and events.
  • Danger Room: This blog discusses important events in national security.
  • In from the Cold: This is a longstanding military blog that goes over anything and everything related to the armed forces.
  • Mountain Runner: This is a blog about public diplomacy that is designed to educate and empower the public.
  • Military Mortgage Center: This is our very own Low VA Rates military blog having to do with all things military and VA mortgage benefit information.
  • United We Are One: This site is dedicated to all military service members and first responders.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017

Martin Luther King day 2017

Today the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is a federal holiday celebrated every year on the third Monday of January, a day chosen because of its nearness to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday: January 15. But this holiday has not been in place for very long. The holiday legislation was passed by Congress in 1983, which was 15 years after Dr. King’s death.

The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from high school when he was 15 and began college not long after that. Over the course of 11 years, he received 2 undergraduate degrees and 2 PhD’s. After that, Dr. King became an activist leader and national figure for racial equality. Take a look at a few key events in Dr. King’s life:

1955 – King leads bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, after Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on the bus.

1957 – The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is co-founded by King.

1959 – Studies civil disobedience and nonviolence in India.

1963 – The March on Washington includes 200,000 protesters and King delivers the “I Have a Dream” speech.

1964 – King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is passed by Congress.

1965 – Selma to Montgomery voting-rights march and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is passed by Congress.

1968 – King visits Memphis and is assassinated there by James Earl Ray.

How MLK Day Came to Be

After Dr. King’s death, several key people combined efforts to create a national holiday to remember his work. One person was Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s wife, who said the holiday should honor “America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality.” She sent a petition with over 3 million signatures in favor of the holiday to Congress in 1971, but the bill didn’t pass. Stevie Wonder was also instrumental and wrote the song “Happy Birthday,” commemorating Dr. King’s birthday, which many took to be a rallying cry. When Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981, he sat on the fence over the issue and the bill met a lot of opposition, particularly from Senator Jesse Helms. But finally, in 1983, the holiday legislation passed designating the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

How to Recognize and Celebrate MLK Day

Because MLK Day is a federal holiday, many schools and businesses take the day off. That means many people will celebrate by catching up with friends, beating the next level on some video game, or going on a fun day trip with the family. However, many organizations are ready to put you to work on MLK Day. In fact, many call it a day of service and employ the slogan “a day on, not a day off.” You can find numerous opportunities to serve in your community this MLK Day and uphold the standards of service and equality that Dr. King stood for. You could participate in feeding the homeless, up-keeping a community cemetery, or even donating blood.

Service isn’t the only way you can celebrate this federal holiday. You can also take some time to study Dr. King’s life and work or perhaps read a book he wrote. There are several to choose from, including Stride Toward Freedom; Why We Can’t Wait; and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Another great idea is watching a nonfiction film commemorating his life.

Happy MLK Day!

From everyone at Low VA Rates, we’d like to say Happy MLK Day!

Top 10 Military Movies of All Time

We at Low VA Rates love a good war movie. Here are our picks, compiled by the employees in our office, for the top ten best war movies. We based our ranking on a number of deciding factors including the film’s entertainment value and how accurately it depicts the conditions of war. If you’re a movie buff, you’ll want to check these out:

 

1.    Full Metal Jacket

The majority of us at Low VA Rates are in agreement that Full Metal Jacket is the best military movie of all time. It’s depiction of violence in Vietnam during the early 60’s is intense and unforgiving, which is part of what makes it such a compelling film. It was released in 1987 and follows a collection of new recruits as they endure grueling basic training in order to become fearless marines. Our favorite performance is that of R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, a classic example of hard-core military training through insults and intimidation.

“Wow” is a fairly common reaction following an initial viewing of Full Metal Jacket, which is arguably one of the most intense Vietnam-era military movies ever made. Released in 1987, Full Metal Jacket returns us to the late 1960s and the experiences of a group of Marines as they start out in basic training. R. Lee Ermey portrays one of the most memorable military characters of all time in Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, whose in-your-face insults and training methods prepare the Marines for their service in Vietnam.

Why we love it: Gunnery Sgt. Hartman’s rampages are often so intense that they make us laugh, though it’s the sheer intensity of this movie that keeps us coming back for more.

2.    Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan tells the epic story of a group of American troops during World War II charged with finding and bringing home the last surviving son of the Ryan family: Private James Ryan, whose brothers have all been killed in action. The film poses poignant questions regarding the worth of one man compared to many, and how far you’d be willing to go to and how much you’d be willing to sacrifice for someone you’d never met before. The film’s opening sequence is famous for its brutal but realistic depiction of the battle of Normandy. The events are hard to watch but important to remember

Why we love it: The opening scene that depicts the Normandy invasion is perhaps our favorite single battle scene of all time. It’s difficult to watch, and that makes it all the more real. The remarkable thing about Saving Private Ryan is its ability to interweave dramatic action with heartfelt emotion almost seamlessly. Plus, Saving Private Ryan boasts pretty much the most awesome sniper scene ever!

3.    Platoon

 

You’ll notice that lots of the movies that made this list have to do with the Vietnam War. It was an especially brutal war and one surrounded by controversy, happening in a time when American people were divided. Platoon tells the story of a wealthy but disenchanted young man named Chris Taylor, who joins the military and discovers firsthand the horrors of war. The narrative follows Taylor and his platoon through bloody battles and is just one of our favorite representations of what those who served in Vietnam endured. Platoon is banned from viewing in Vietnam; and there’s a reason why.

Why we love it: Oliver Stone isn’t afraid to be gritty, and this military masterpiece doesn’t attempt to gloss over the horrors of war. There’s a reason Platoon is banned in Vietnam to this day – it’s not pretty, and frankly, it shouldn’t be.

4.    Black Hawk Down

 

This more contemporary war drama features the events surrounding the United States’ involvement in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The film Black Hawk Down is based on Mark Bowden’s book of the same name, and though certain creative liberties were taken, the underlying narrative faithfully chronicles the crash-landing of two American helicopters in the heart of a war-torn city. The surviving American soldiers face constant assault as they await rescue in this much beloved film, the events of which many viewers remember hearing about on television as it was actually happening.

Why we love it: While many of the greatest war movies of all time are based on general experiences, Black Hawk Down depicts an actual event that we remember watching and hearing about on the news. And besides that, the theme of heroism is a theme that runs throughout the film.

5.    Top Gun

Top Gun is a more light-hearted war film that tells the story of Lt. Pete Mitchell, a.k.a. Maverick, a talented yet rebellious Naval pilot who enrolls in the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School and isn’t afraid to show off and ruffle some feathers. We love Maverick’s sidekick Goose and the exciting, action-packed flight sequences that made all of us want to be fighter pilots someday.

Top Gun takes the military motif into the wild blue yonder of the sky. True to his call name Maverick, Lt. Pete Mitchell is a talented, albeit rebellious Naval pilot who gets a shot at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School. During the training, Maverick and his sidekick Goose both impress and enrage their fellow pilots and trainers. Fast flying and hard hitting, Top Gun truly is one of the best military movies of all time.

Why we love it: Why don’t we love it? Between the action-packed flight scenes, the steamy love scenes and the heart-wrenching Goose death scene, Top Gun leaves nothing to be desired. In fact, Top Gun had most of us dreaming of becoming fighter pilots, ripping through the skies with a fun-loving RIO riding shotgun. And, of course, we’ve all tried the “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” routine that Maverick & Goose made famous.

6.    Heartbreak Ridge

Heartbreak Ridge is a film that uses the 1951 Battle of Heartbreak Ridge as the back-story of the life and service of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway. this film is largely a character study of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway, his life, service, and relationships. The movie is a character-driven film that focuses largely on the personal and professional life of Highway, calling special attention to his relationships and his sense of duty.

Why we love it: It’s Clint Eastwood and a true depiction of what being an American military service member really means.

7.    The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October is to the seas what Top Gun is to the skies. The film centers on the Red October, a Soviet nuclear submarine captained by Marko Ramius. Fearing what the Soviet government has planned with the submarine’s secret silent propulsion system, Ramius defects to the U.S., a fact initially unbeknownst to the U.S.S. Dallas, which sees the Red October as a rogue threat.

Why we love it: While other popular military movies focus on fantastic battle scenes and gritty violence, The Hunt for Red October instead hinges its success on suspense.

8.    Glory

The only Civil War movie to make our list, Glory focuses on the efforts of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th was comprised primarily of African-American soldiers, most of which were freeborn Northerners but some of which were freed or escaped slaves. Glory follows the regiments training and subsequent struggle to earn the respect and glory associated with battle.

Why we love it: While we do love the massive in-your-face Civil War battle scenes, it’s the more subtle struggles for glory and respect that make Glory a top choice on our list.

9.    G.I. Jane

G.I. Jane is a fictional film that centers on the admission of Lt. Jordan O’Neil to the U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare Group. As the first woman to undergo the training, Lt. O’Neil is forced to deal with obstacles of sexism and tokenism in her attempt to be taken seriously and to successfully complete the training.

Why we love it: Hands down the best scene in the film occurs after Lt. O’Neil suffers a drawn out beating from Master Chief Urgayle. Her tenacity and ability to swallow down her fear is incredible. And of course, O’Neil’s response to being told to leave after the beating is absolutely classic.

10. Stripes

Our only military comedy on the list, Stripes shines a comedic light on military basic training and overseas service. Front and center in the film is Bill Murray as John Winger, a ne’er-do-well who manages to bumble his way through basic training with the help of his best friend. Eventually deployed to Italy, their own stupidity has them wandering into Soviet territory, eventually leading a successful mission against a Soviet base.

Why we love it: Love him or hate him, Bill Murray is hilarious. Stripes was released in the pinnacle of Murray’s reign as the king of awkward comedy, and offers the much-needed comic relief that others – like In the Army Now and Major Payne – failed to do.

Related: Active Military and Veterans Qualify for VA Loans.

10 Facts about the History of Santa Claus

Santa Clause Facts

There comes a time in almost every child’s life when they realize Santa isn’t real. Maybe they hear their parents wrapping dozens of presents at once on Christmas Eve. Maybe some know-it-all at school broke the news. Or maybe logic just caught up to them. Whatever the reason, before you tell your kid the “truth” about Santa, read these 10 facts about the history of Santa Claus. He’s more real than you might think!

10 Interesting Things About Santa

  1. His name was St. Nicholas. He was born around 270 AD and later became the Bishop of Myra (located in what is now known as Turkey). Legend says St. Nicholas anonymously left money and treats in children’s shoes and even paid the dowries for three impoverished girls who would have been sold by their father for money. After he died, St. Nicholas became known as the patron saint of children. If you think of this as the real Santa Claus, then Santa is almost 2,000 years old.
  2. St. Nicholas’ bones still leak “magic juice.” After St. Nicholas died, his bones and other relics leaked a watery liquid (which they called “manna”) that legend claimed held healing powers. Even today, clergymen still collect vials of this manna on December 6th each year. A popular theory is that the liquid is simply seawater that has been transferred gradually to the tomb since it is below sea level.
  3. The person we know as Santa Claus has had many names over the centuries and became known as Santa Claus in 1773, only 200 years ago. A story telling of “Santa Claus” was printed in a newspaper in New York City. Before that, he was known as Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, and many other names.
  4. St. Nicholas’ Day used to be celebrated on December 6th (and it still is in some European countries). Martin Luther proposed that gift giving and St. Nicholas’ Day be postponed to December 25th in order to focus the spirit of the holiday on Jesus Christ. He also tried to replace St. Nicholas entirely, but as you can see, Santa is more popular than ever.
  5. Coca-Cola gave Santa his red coat. In the first illustrations of Santa Claus, he wore green, blue, brown, purple, and many other colors of robes. Although Santa’s red suit did become popular in the late 1800s, the iconic figure as we know him today got his official fashion in a 1931 Coca-Cola campaign (the image was inspired by a drawing made by Thomas Nast).
  6. Mrs. Claus was not mentioned until 1849. In A Christmas Legend by James Rees, Santa’s spouse was first introduced, and this prompted other literary publications to start adopting the idea that Santa was married. Mrs. Claus became much more popular as a result of Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride, a poem written by Katherine Lee Bates in 1889.
  7. Santa did not have a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer until the publication of the poem “Twas the Night before Christmas.” This poem was written by Clement Moore in 1822 and was originally titled A Visit from Saint Nicholas. Many of Santa’s iconic characteristics were adopted from this poem, including his sleigh and reindeer.
  8. Santa has been visiting department stores for about 126 years. James Edgar decided to dress up in a Santa costume in order to get more customers coming to his small store in Massachusetts. Since 1890, this has become a popular tradition in department stores across the nation.
  9. Are Santa’s reindeer female? Male reindeer lose their antlers in the winter while females keep theirs, so it’s odd that all of Santa’s reindeer have male names.
  10. Not everyone thinks Santa lives on the North Pole. In Finland, people believe Santa lives in Lapland, which is located in the northern part of Finland. In Norway, they believe Santa actually lives in Drobak, a Norwegian town.

Did you know all of these facts about Santa Claus? No matter what you celebrate, we at Low VA Rates want to wish everyone Happy Holidays!

Military for Sale by Owner – The Pros and the Cons

Military For Sale By Owner

Selling your home without a realtor poses many risks. Many home sellers will hire a realtor just to sort through all the legal parameters and ensure that they are not being swindled financially. However, realtor commissions do add up, and for those who know how to navigate the home-selling process, cutting out the middleman can be a huge financial advantage. If you’re planning on doing a military for sale by owner, the process works a little differently.

FISBO Advantages and Disadvantages

Obviously, the biggest advantage of selling your home by yourself is not having to pay an agent. If done well, this could save you thousands of dollars. Another advantage is that you can control the home selling and buying transaction completely by yourself. This gives you a lot of independence. You also get to work on your own time table without going through your agent.

These advantages sound great, but there are several disadvantages to selling by yourself that might convince you to drop the idea. First, it is very time consuming. Especially if you’re working a full-time job, you may not be able to put in enough time to sell your home quickly. Second, you may not have any access to the MLS, which will significantly reduce traffic. The third big disadvantage is that many buyers are skeptical of homes sold by owners. Many wonder if you’re trying to hide something about the house–even if you’re not. Even so, the advantages could outweigh the disadvantages.

FISBO Advertising

One of the biggest struggles and most important steps in selling your home is advertising to the right people. The perfect buyers are on the lookout for your home, but if you aren’t advertising well, they’ll never bite. The two most common advertising methods are through online search sites and physical signs. But remember that these aren’t the only resources available to you.

A few search sites will allow sellers to post to their site without an agent; you simply have to find the right ones. When posting to one of these sites, be sure to include flattering pictures of your home. If possible, hire a professional photographer. When posting signs in your yard or around town, know where you are allowed to post and when. Your HOA, specifically, may have rules about posting signs.

Another great resource for spreading the word about selling your house is social media. You can usually share your online listing to Facebook and other social media sites. If a few weeks have passed without any bites on your home, feel free to post again.

How Much Is Your House Really Worth?

Since you are doing a military for sale by owner, getting the value of your house from a real-estate agent is out of the question. But you need to know the value of your house in order to ask for a reasonable price. One option is hiring an appraiser. For a price, the appraiser will tell you the value of your home as well as point out any problematic home conditions that could cost you money at the time of closing on the deal. Another option is asking a title company to be your escrow and determine through local competing prices how much your house will go for.

FISBO Legal Documentation

Real-estate agents use specific purchase agreement forms that are created by their MLS attorney. You cannot obtain these documents from them, nor are they permitted to give them to you. If you do somehow get your hands on these documents from a real-estate agent, do not use them as doing so could get you into legal trouble. Instead, you should obtain your state-specific documents through a different party. Many online military for sale by owner listing services will make these forms available to you through their site.

It is vital to familiarize yourself with the legal parameters surrounding selling your house by yourself. Be sure you are compliant in every respect since ignorance will not protect you from a legal battle. You might want to consider hiring an attorney to handle the contracts.

When selling or renting, you’ll want to ensure that whoever will be living in your house is trustworthy and able to fulfill their financial obligations. You also wouldn’t want to give your old house over to someone who will trash it or prove to be a problem to your old neighbors (who you may have grown to be friends with over the years). Whatever the reason, you can do a broad screening of a potential tenant through sites like SmartMove. This particular site will perform credit and criminal checks to protect you from selling to someone financial unreliable, or in a worst-case scenario, to someone who could do you personal harm.

It is also wise to ask for references, especially on a rental application. Speaking to people who know the potential tenant well could give you better insight into who you are selling or renting to.

Loans for Military Home Buyers

If you are doing a military for sale by owner, know that your buyer may want to buy your house with a VA mortgage loan. This might mean your house undergoes closer scrutiny. And of course, if you are a current or former member of the military hoping to buy your next home with a VA loan, we at Low VA Rates can give you a low VA interest rate and the easiest processing. Contact us now to get started.

Mortgage Interest Rates – How High Will They Go?

current mortgage interest rates

With any loan, the riskiest and most fluctuating part for borrowers is the interest rate. However, staying informed about current mortgage rates will help any borrower know when the best time is to purchase a new home or refinance the one they’re in. Breaking things down to simple terms, the mortgage interest rates that your lender will give you are based off of the index and the margin. The index is primarily controlled by the market, which no one can predict. The margin, on the other hand, is set by the lender and is largely determined by your financial situation.

Mortgage Interest Rates Today

Interest has recently sat at all-time lows and because of this, interest rates are still quite low today. However, since the presidential election, mortgage interest rates have risen. The biggest question on everyone’s mind here is how high will they go? Unfortunately, no one can say for certain when mortgage rates will stop rising. At the same time, you can look at the trends over the past few months and see how high your interest would likely be if you were to purchase or refinance with a home loan in the next month.

Another thing you can be sure of is that interest rates will continue to rise for some time. Because interest has sat at all-time lows, we were due for a huge hike. Taking this into account, it makes sense that now would be the best time to take advantage of how low rates currently are if you are already planning on switching mortgages. This will allow you to avoid sharp interest peaks in the future.

Options for Rising Mortgage Interest Rates

While it’s true that mortgage interest rates have been rising since the presidential election, you and your situation also have a lot of say in what your interest rate is. Just a few factors you can control include loan type, loan amount, credit score, and the amount of your down payment. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Loan Type: the loan type you choose to finance your home with will affect how high or low your interest rate is, and subsequently how much you pay in interest over the life of your loan. When considering loan type, you must compare the pros and cons between programs like VA and FHA. In general, you will find that a VA loan interest rate will be much lower than others. Then consider the individual plans those programs have. As an example, VA hybrid ARM loans have very low starting rates, but then that rate could rise after the fixed period is over.

Loan Amount: a lower total loan amount will give you lower interest rates and a higher total will give you higher rates. So, how do you control this? Purchase a house that is at least a few thousand dollars cheaper than your limit.

Credit Score: your credit score has the most influence out of all factors in determining rates. A very low score indicates to lenders that the borrower is not responsible with their money, so there is more risk involved. They will require a higher rate in order to ensure they’re paid back in full. At Low VA Rates, we work hard to offer low VA rates to any borrower, regardless of credit score.

Down Payment: a higher down payment does 2 important things. It lessens the risk for the lender and it lowers the principal amount that you need to pay on your loan. Both effects will lower your interest rate.

Giving You Low Mortgage Interest Rates, Always

No matter how the market fluctuates, we here at Low VA Rates will continue to offer great VA rates for our veteran homeowners. Call us now at 866-569-8272 to talk with a licensed loan officer. We will be able to explain the current interest trends in detail and give you a quoted rate. Don’t hesitate to get your questions answered today.

Happy Birthday to the United States National Guard!

US National Guard

380 years ago today, Massachusetts became the first state in North America to organize militia regiments. These are now known as the oldest organized units of the U.S. National Guard (and even the oldest units of all the U.S. military). What were known then as the North, East, and South Regiments evolved over the years into what we now call the 101st Field Artillery, the 181st and 182nd Infantries, and the 101st Engineer Battalion of the Massachusetts Army National Guard. So 380 years after the first citizen-soldiers took up the responsibility to defend the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, we say happy birthday to the United States National Guard!

5 Things You Might Not Know about the National Guard

The National Guard has been around for hundreds of years, but even so, you probably didn’t know these 5 facts about this reserve military force:

  1. The term “national guard” was not officially used to describe the organization until 1916. In fact, during the American Revolution, members of the National Guard were called Minutemen because they were so quick to respond to a call of service.
  2. During the 9/11 attacks, around 50,000 National Guard members were called to various missions.
  3. The U.S. Army is the only U.S. military branch with more members than the National Guard.
  4. All territories of the U.S. have a National Guard except American Samoa.
  5. The Army National Guard is older than the Army. Regiments of the National Guard were formed in 1636 but the United States Army wasn’t officially formed until the start of the Revolutionary War. The Air Force National Guard is the same age as the Air Force.

How the National Guard Is Organized Today

Part of celebrating the National Guard is understanding how it works and is organized. The National Guard Bureau administers the Guard, and this bureau is managed by both the Army and Air Force under the Department of Defense. Each state has its own National Guard units stationed there, and so do three U.S. territories and Washington, D.C. Interestingly, the unit in D.C. operates under the president of the United States himself (or a designee). At any time of national emergency or war, units of the National Guard are mobilized into active duty in order to supplement regular military forces. But Guard units can also be called into active duty in case of emergency in their respective states whenever the governor declares it.

There are over 100 National Guard jobs available, and you can easily contact the National Guard recruiter in your state to learn more about getting started by visiting your state’s National Guard website.

Celebrating the National Guard Birthday

All across the nation, members of the National Guard celebrate this day with various parties, balls, and galas. For example, each year on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., many festivities take place, including cutting a celebration birthday cake. You can even participate in celebrating the National Guard’s Birthday by using #NationalGuardBirthday on social media. Here at Low VA Rates, we want to wish the United States National Guard a happy birthday! To read more about the Guard, check out other articles on our blog.

Happy Thanksgiving, Veterans!

2016 Happy Thanksgiving

Throughout elementary school, Thanksgiving might have meant making lots of pilgrim, turkey, and Native American crafts. Many people accredit the first Thanksgiving as a celebration of the harvest observed by the pilgrims at Plymouth, and this is primarily why Thanksgiving is accompanied by a dinner table full of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles, seasoned carrots, cranberry sauce, and several pies. Many families also celebrate the day by expressing thanks for every good thing they’ve received in the past year. Some form of Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in many countries around the world, but it is always celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November in the United States.

Offering Thanks

The celebration of giving thanks has many religious roots as members of religious communities thank God for their blessings through prayer and other observances. However, that doesn’t mean that giving thanks is always a religious affair. Many individuals and families will show their thanks by giving back to others through charities. Around the Thanksgiving holiday, there are many food drives to give food to deployed troops, the poor, single mothers, widows, and orphans. These food drives are funded by a variety of companies and nonprofit organizations. For example, the Salvation Army will often enlist the help of many volunteers to fix Thanksgiving meals for those in need across the country.

Turkey Pardoning and Other Fun Traditions

One fun Thanksgiving tradition is called “Turkey Pardoning.” Each year, the National Turkey Federation gives 3 turkeys to the President of the United States, 2 dressed turkeys and 1 live turkey. This is done through the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. The president then officially pardons the live turkey, which is spared and has been sent to a variety of locations over the past few decades, mostly in parts of Virginia or to Disneyland. The tradition is said to have started with President Ronald Reagan in 1987, but this was not an official presidential tradition until 1989 under President George H. W. Bush.

Sports make many more fun traditions around Thanksgiving. Many communities will host Turkey Trots, which are races usually around 3 to 10 miles. Turkey Bowls are also popular. These informal football games between friends often bring a sense of camaraderie and bonding to the holiday. Many other sports also offer special Thanksgiving games, including basketball, golf, auto racing, and ice hockey. Community members can also usually participate in a friendly pie eating contest for fun prizes.

The Days Surrounding Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the only holiday that is surrounded by days made into special occasions through American habits. Take a look: Blackout Wednesday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. These days have also been made into their own traditions. For example, on Black Friday, stores will have the lowest deals of the year, and any store you walk into will be crowded with hundreds of shoppers taking advantage of the sales. Needless to say, many Americans look at the concept behind Black Friday with a lot of derision: “Weren’t we just expressing our gratitude for the things we had yesterday? And now we’re buying more things?” Still, for families in need, this is a great day to buy a Christmas present for a loved one without breaking the bank.

Veterans and Thanksgiving

There are many opportunities to give back to veterans around Thanksgiving. If someone in your family is a deployed service member, take some time to send them heartfelt letters and a Thanksgiving Day care package to let them know they are loved and not forgotten on the holidays. Here are some great ideas for things you can put into your Thanksgiving Day care package:

  • Construction-paper turkeys
  • Thanksgiving drawings from the kids
  • Package of marshmallows with a bag of sweet potatoes
  • Turkey jerky
  • Small box of instant mashed potatoes
  • Dried cranberries
  • Apple cider packets
  • Football

Happy Thanksgiving!

From all of us at Low VA Rates, we want to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! Remember to give thanks for this beautiful country we live in and for all the freedoms we have because of the sacrifices of our troops. And as always, keep reading our blog for more articles about the military and benefits for veterans.

Veterans Day 2016 – Low VA Rates

Veterans Day 2016

Every year on November 11th, you’ll hear radio commercials, see ads online, and watch commercials on t.v. of restaurants and other business across the nation giving deals and freebies to veterans, or having sales for everyone on Veterans Day. For many businesses, this is their way of saying “Thank You.” For others, it’s just another way to draw in customers.

Commercializing the Noncommercial

I had the chance to chat with Tim Lewis, U.S. Army veteran and vice president of Low VA Rates, who said “Veterans Day has become commercialized in America, but this is not the way it should be. It isn’t a day to go buy furniture.”

Lewis isn’t the only one who has made this connection. In fact, in 2014, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz gave a similar sentiment when he said the day “has been turned into a weekend sale . . . That’s not respectful for me.” Many veterans across the nation have lamented the deterioration of true respect for this national day, saying they would like to be thanked through people voting, learning about the country, knowing why they are saying thank you, and really getting involved in veteran support.

Last Tuesday, Lewis drew attention to the double standards that different companies in the nation are portraying. For example, the NFL is offering military-themed merchandise to recognize Veterans Day, but at the same time, the NFL does not require its athletes to stand for the national anthem and the national flag, both of which represent everything those same veterans have fought for and given their time and sometimes their health or even their lives to uphold. Which shows more respect, a camo jersey or standing for the national anthem for those who can’t anymore?

So what should Veterans Day be all about?

What Veterans Stand For

Veterans Day started out as Armistice Day (which marked the anniversary of WWI), but this changed in 1926. I’ll draw your attention to a few years later when the Chamber of Commerce of Emporia, Kansas, persuaded almost all of the merchants in the town to close their doors for the day to remember those who served and died. Why? Because continuing to do business would have damaged the sacred purpose of the day.

Values and sacrifice. That is what Veterans Day should express.

Tim Lewis related his own tradition of Veterans Day as it had been throughout his childhood in Nebraska. Every year, people would gather at 5 o’clock to read the names of every diseased veteran of the town and then the 21 salute would sound. After this solemn ceremony, Tim Lewis and his father would play pool together and then link up for supper at the VFW Club. The tradition still stands for Lewis who plans to visit the VFW with his wife this year because the way he recognizes Nov. 11th is with quality family time.

For other veterans across the nation, spending time with family is a great way to observe this day, and each person has their own traditions. For citizens of the United States who are not veterans or active-duty service members, here are some ideas for how you can show your respect for those who have served:

  • Visit a national monument or memorial
  • Visit a veterans cemetery
  • Spend time with family members (close and distant) who have served
  • Watch an educational movie or read a book about wars the U.S. has been involved in
  • Donate to a veteran-related organization (such as the Foundation for American Veterans, K9s for Warriors, or even our own Low VA Rates Foundation)
  • Serve in your community
  • Send care packages to troops deployed overseas

How We Show Our Respect at Low VA Rates

On Nov. 11th, we at Low VA Rates are saying thank you to our veterans and showing them respect in our own way. We have several veterans on our team, and Friday will be a paid day off for all of them. The same will be true for our employees who have spouses in the military. In addition to this, we are collaborating with several food trucks in Utah to offer free meals to veterans on that day (paid by us). If you’d like to visit one of these participating food trucks, simply provide a form of military ID when you get your meal and fill out a short form for us.

And as always, we will continue to work hard all day Friday to move loans along in the process for all of our veteran clients. In fact, all non-veteran employees are required to work that day. We specialize in VA home loans for veterans and feel it is a pleasure to provide them with the amazing benefits and respect they deserve every day of the year, not just on Veterans Day. Have you considered refinancing or purchasing with a VA loan? Give us a call or visit our site to get started on saving thousands of dollars on your mortgage.

Election Day & Presidents of the United States – Where Will You Be?

election-day

Over the course of U.S. history, the nation has seen 56 presidential elections and 44 Presidents of the United States. In our Election Day video, you can see this presidential history through the growth of the United States in each election year and the number of electoral votes the president received in that year. It’s easy to see the mistakes of the past, but much harder to know how the future will play out. This year, we’ve met yet another crossroads. An incredible 1,910 presidential candidates stepped up to the plate, and it’s our job to vote on which path the nation takes. Due to strict requirements and other factors, only a select few candidates will appear on the general election ballots for each state, but every ballot completed on November 8th will contribute to the winner. Where will you be on Election Day?

Voting Percentages

Unfortunately, not everyone will vote. Historically speaking, voting percentages have always been quite low, reaching as low as just 48 percent (and that’s without considering the very low percentages of the early years of the United States). That means in some election years, as much as 52 percent of the voting population did not vote in the general election. More than half! Why? Here are 5 of the top excuses Americans give for not voting and 5 reasons why these excuses are unacceptable.

  1. They are lazy or do not have enough time.
    • Schedule challenges can make it difficult to perform your civic duty, but many people over the course of history have died for the freedom and right to vote. Is it really so difficult to sacrifice just a few minutes of our time?
  2. They think their votes won’t count.
    • Your vote counts within your state. And really, are you going to let less than half of the voting population decide the country’s future? Through individuals like you, we can reach 100 percent.
  3. Registration requirements can be confusing.
    • There are plenty of tools online that will help you register to vote in less than 5 minutes.
  4. They have no knowledge about candidates and their platforms.
    • Take just a few minutes to visit each candidate’s webpage. Read their platforms and where they stand on each issue. You don’t have to watch every presidential debate to know a bit about the candidates.
  5. They dislike the candidates and so don’t want to elect any of them.
    • Even if all of the candidates seem like unpleasant choices, try choosing the candidate whose values best match your own. It is better to vote for a candidate with a small amount of potential than to not vote at all.

If you sympathize with any of these reasons, remember first of all that voting is an important part of citizenship. Voting is also an important right given to all U.S. citizens age 18 and older. This right has been fought for by millions of people in the United States and millions more in other countries. It is because of their sacrifices that you have this right today, so say thank you by voting.

Today’s Candidates

The main candidates of this year’s election are Donald Trump (Republican) and Hillary Clinton (Democratic). Like I mentioned above, information about each of these candidates can be found on their individual campaign sites. If you aren’t a fan of the main candidates, voting third party is always an option. This way, you are fulfilling your duties as a citizen and you are being true to your values. It is always important to remember to vote for the candidate who best aligns with your personal values and who you truly believe will best serve our country, no matter which party that candidate falls into.

Exercise Your Right to Vote

Prepare yourself for the election by doing your research on each one of the candidates. Do you know their platforms? Do you know where they stand on major issues? Do you know where you stand on major issues? After doing your research, make your decision and head to the polls. You can help decide the future of the nation. From all of us at Low VA Rates, we urge you to vote for our next president on November 8th.

Happy Halloween from Low VA Rates!

Happy Halloween from Low VA Rates

All of us here at Low VA Rates want to wish veterans and military families around the country a happy Halloween! We wish everyone could be home with their families for the holiday, but sometimes this isn’t possible. Maybe some of you are living on base and aren’t sure how to celebrate the holiday. Regardless of your situation, there are ways you can feel close and connected to your family and enjoy Halloween.

How to Celebrate Halloween as a Military Family

Even if you live on a military base, you can still participate in some great Halloween and fall activities. Take a look at these 6 common Halloween activities to get some ideas!

  1. Neighborhood Football: Get your neighbors together for a friendly competitive game of football. If you aren’t much of a football player, check to see if discount tickets are available for some nearby games. Or get friends together to watch one on t.v.
  1. Trick or Treat and Trunk or Treat: Taking your kids around the neighborhood to collect candy is a classic tradition, but another similar tradition called Trunk or Treat will keep your kids off the streets and away from strangers’ homes. Get your neighborhood or church together to decorate your car trunks and hand out candy to the kids all in the same parking lot.
  1. Costume Contest: Have a friendly costume competition. Think about adding different categories depending on how large the group is (best super hero, scariest, cutest, etc.).
  1. Watch a Scary Movie: There’s no better time of the year to watch a scary movie than on Halloween. Watch from your living room or set up a projector in your backyard for a bigger party. And don’t forget the monster-themed movie treats!
  1. Carve Military-Themed Pumpkins: Halloween isn’t complete unless you’ve carved a pumpkin and why not show your support for your military family member at the same time? Some classic ideas are carving the seal of your branch, painting on camouflage, or carving out the United States flag.
  1. Chili Cook-Off: Chili cook-offs give you the perfect excuse to whip out your great-great-great grandma’s secret recipe and impress your friends. Plus, chili is delicious!

Be Safe and Have Fun!

Wherever you are celebrating today, remember to be safe, and above all, have fun! If you’d like to know more about what we can do for you here at Low VA Rates, or if you want more military holiday ideas, check out our site. Happy Halloween from Low VA Rates!

Benefits of Buying Land

buying land

Just about everyone dreams of home ownership. But what about land ownership? Sound expensive?

It isn’t as expensive as you might think! In fact, land costs drop the further the parcel is from the nearest city, and there are many other benefits of buying land.

5 Benefits of Buying Land as an Investment

  1. If you decide to build your own house on the land you purchase, you have the power to choose where your new house will be located and exactly how it will be designed. No need to settle for a boring cookie-cutter house at the end of the cul-de-sac.
  1. Tax benefits also come with vacant land ownership. For example, the property taxes charged on the vacant land is deductible as a personal itemized deduction.
  1. The land value can appreciate the longer you own it, meaning you will profit from reselling it in the future, because unlike houses, land doesn’t typically fall into disrepair. It will generally stay in the same condition you bought it in. Investing in vacant land is also highly dependable because land never goes out of style. As communities grow and new communities are created, real-estate companies and the like will need land again and again.
  1. Depending on the community’s zoning, you can use your land for any variety of purposes: a new house, a farm or garden, a new business location, a place to ride horses or go camping, and so much more.
  1. You could also potentially earn income from the land, letting it pay for itself. For example, if there are tons of trees on the property, you could sell the extra wood or the right to harvest the timber. You could even lease the land to a farmer.

Know What to Look for When Buying Land

Purchasing LandYou need to know what you’re getting yourself into when buying land, just like you would if you were buying a new house.

We all know that a house might look perfect at first glance, but upon further inspection, you could find that the upstairs bathroom shower leaks, there are termites in the walls, and the oven that the sellers are so generous to leave there for you only works if you set it to “broil.” Although checklists are a little different for vacant land, the process is similar.

First, check the topography and other general features of the land. If you cannot visit the land in person, it can be relatively easy to pay someone else to check it out for you or just view the parcel on Google.

Knowing what you might want to do with the land can help direct what kinds of things you’ll want to check. Do you plan to garden or farm there? Build? Sell the land to developers when it has appreciated? Think through the details and what might be important, like gradation, flood risk, location, etc.

For example, if you have several steep hills covering your land, it might not do you or anyone else any good for building purposes. And stagnant ponds on the property might pose a health risk or make it difficult to grow a garden or lawn.

You should also have the soil inspected for percolation, acidity, and similar details.

Learn More

At Low VA Rates, we work with our clients every day to ensure they are getting the most out of their money and that they are making smart financial decisions. Saving our clients money and educating them about possible home buying options are major priorities. If you’d like to learn more about buying undeveloped land, visit our site.

The VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan Option

The mortgage industry has always been a fickle thingfull of variables and tinged with uncertainty. The wise homeowner stays up to date on all the newest home loan trends to take advantage of the lowest rates and benefit from smart home financing. So the question of the day: is now the time to refinance? VA mortgage loans have been at an all-time low recently, so now is the perfect time to take advantage of the VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan, also known as the VA IRRRL.

Reducing Interest Rates With the IRRRL

Interest Rate Reduction Refinance LoanHome prices don’t scare people. Interest rates scares people. Interest means every homeowner with a mortgage ends up paying thousands and thousands of dollars more than their house is worth by the end of their loan term. This is just a part of life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t significantly reduce the amount you pay in interest. How? By getting a different loan, and this can be done through either a refinance or by moving and purchasing a new house.

When it comes to lowering rates the VA interest rate reduction refinance loan is the most popular refinance option for many veteran home owners. The VA makes the VA IRRRL guidelines easy to follow so veterans can reduce their interest rates quick and easy. The VA IRRRL is also called the VA streamline because the process is streamlined to help veterans save money.

Another effective way to reduce interest over time through a refinance is by shortening the term of your loan. This will increase your monthly payments, but since you would be paying off your loan faster, the amount of interest you end up paying in total on your house is significantly reduced. In fact, shortening your loan term is generally the most effective way to reduce overall interest. Not everyone chooses to take this route because it is much harder to fork out more money every month than you’re used to.

Is It Your Time to Refinance Your VA Loan?

Timing is everything when it comes to refinancing your home. Is right now the best time for you to refinance? If you are planning on staying in your home long term now may be the best time to think about the VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan.

No matter what your home needs are, we want to help. Low VA Rates exists to help homeowners save money on their homes. Whether you need a refinance or a purchase loan. If you aren’t sure what loan option is the best for your situation give us a today and we will be happy to go over everything with you. Call us now at 866-569-8272.

Military Halloween Costumes and Care Package Ideas

Military halloween care packagesDeployment can be difficult for service members and their families, but the time apart feels most painful during holidays. Sending care packages to a deployed service member often makes the distance feel smaller and Halloween is the perfect day to start mailing goodies. Care packages also help those deployed by giving them things like new movies to keep them entertained in their down time, it makes their time go by faster, and it puts a smile on their faces. The staff here at Low VA Rates came up with a few military Halloween care package ideas that your soldiers are sure to enjoy.

 

Military Care Packages

Fill a festive box with spooky and delicious treats and games for your deployed service member. But feel free to think outside the box and get him or her other fall goodies that aren’t Halloween-related. Just make sure you send the box in enough time for him or her to get it when you want them to and check to see what rules are in place regarding care packages for that area. Then take a look at this fun list of what to put in your package!

  • Hot cocoa, apple cider, or coffee mixes
  • Ghost stories
  • A new scarf or sweater
  • A scary movie with microwave popcorn
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Spooky and fun card games
  • Packaged muffins
  • Beef jerky
  • Lollipops with a white tissue tied around the top for a “ghost pop”
  • Other holiday-decorated candies and sweets
  • Craisins and other dried fruit
  • Silly string
  • Autumn-scented spray or candles
  • Halloween artwork and decorations
  • Monster-themed crossword puzzles
  • A football
  • Pictures of things you’ve done recently

Costumes

With Halloween coming up, it’s also a good time to think about what you and the kids will dress up as for trick or treating and fun Halloween parties. While your loved one is deployed, you might think about dressing up in a military costume. There are plenty of costumes for sale online and in stores for every branch. And on some sites, you can even find almost exact replicas of historic military uniforms to wear as your holiday get-up.

What will you be sending your military service member for the holidays? To read about other holiday ideas, check out our blog.

Fall Home Maintenance Tips and Checklist

Everyone has heard of, and dreads, spring cleaning, but fall cleaning can be even more important in order to prevent costly damages to your house that might occur during the winter months. Before the snow comes and you curl under mountains of fleece blankets to hibernate for the winter and get some overdue reading done, check these items off your fall home maintenance tips and checklist.

Fall Home Maintenance Tips and Checklist

Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

  1. Trim trees and shrubbery. Fall is the perfect time to trim back all your trees and bushes because by now, all your plants have stopped growing for the year. Trim your plants so that they are at least 3 to 4 inches away from your house to avoid siding damage from dripping water. Also, trim dead branches from all the trees.

Tools you need:

Hand pruners

Gardening gloves

Hedge Trimmers

Loping shears

  1. Seal cracks and gaps around your house. Take a walk around the interior and exterior of your house to find these small spaces where heat can escape and moisture can come in during the winter. Then use caulk to fill the space and seal it up.

Tools you need:

Tube of caulk

Caulking gun

  1. Clear out and clean gutters and downspouts. Wait for most of the leaves to fall for the autumn season before getting out the ladder and cleaning out all the gutters on your house. You may be surprised by how quickly they build up with gunk, and blocked gutters can cause ice blocks during the winter and damage to your roof or siding. After cleaning them out, secure all the support brackets.

Tools you need:

Gutter cleaner probe or scraper

Screwdriver or wrench

  1. Check and clean heating systems. Clean the air ducts and replace the filter on your furnace. Having dirty air ducts and air filters will increase the chance that someone in your house will get a cold or even the flu, but taking these steps will ensure you and your family with breath easy all winter.

Tools you need:

New air filter

Air duct brush

Screwdriver

  1. Shut off the water to outdoor faucets. Freezing temperatures could cause un-drained pipes to freeze, burst, and cause further damage to the interior of your house. Simply shut off the water that leads to these faucets then drain your hoses and store them.

Tools you need:

None

  1. Check and clean chimney and fireplace. In order to avoid dangerous chimney fires, it’s important to clean your chimney every year. Look up your chimney with a flashlight, checking for creosote buildup, then call a professional to ensure that cleaning is done properly. Also be sure that the fireplace flue has a tight seal when it is closed.

Tools you need:

Flashlight

We hope these fall home maintenance tips have been helpful for you and your family. Fall home maintenance will help you prepare for the harsh winter months and may prevent you from paying costly repairs that could have been avoided. Your home is one of your most important investments keeping everything up to date and maintained will help you get the best ROI if you decide to sell down the road.

Low VA Rates has every homeowner’s best interests at heart. We want to ensure that your home is safe and everything you hoped it would be. To learn more about our home loans, call us now to speak with one of our mortgage experts.

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