This article is a blog post

Websites We Love: Fastweb.com

Many adult students remember checking the board in the guidance counselor's office for scholarship opportunities or reading about them in the local paper. The process was slower, kinder, gentler.

But today, those opportunities will fly past you and possibly smack you in the face as they truck on by if you are not careful. There are thousands of scholarships available for students and now the competition isn't just local. It is nationwide and it is fierce.

And, you won't find most of them on the school bulletin board. Just like everything else, you'll find them on the internet. And you can search for hours.

Our favorite website this month, www.fastweb.com, has done some of that work for you.

The editors there have created a dizzying and busy webpage full of links to scholarship opportunities. You can scroll through every single one or you can search through an array of factors: year of school, ethnicity, military service and even whether you were an orphan.

This month the site features a blog that details the weirdest scholarship opportunities out there, in celebration of Halloween.

For example, the Horror Writers Association will give $2,500 this year to the applicant who submits the best example of horror writing and details why they deserve the award. No word on whether the two topics can be combined into a single work of prose...

The Tall Clubs International will give $1,000 to a college freshman who measures above average height, 5'10" for women and 6'2" for men.

And if you attend Loyola University and your last name happens to be Zolp, you are really in luck. The Zolp Scholarship is awarded to individuals who meet only those two criteria.

And you thought only the smart kids got all the money. The opportunities, apparently, are endless.

Happy Scholarship applying!

Want to Apply for a VA Home Loan? Get Your Documents in Order

By Mandy Rebmann

As covered in an earlier piece, one of the major factors used in qualifying for a VA loan is your Debt-to-Income (DTI). Generally, the DTI you will need to qualify for a VA loan is 41 percent or less. But how does your lender determine what your DTI actually is? The debt part is the total monthly debts found on a credit report. But the number determined as your monthly income can seem like a complicated conclusion. 

People rely on many types of income, and for loan purposes, not only is the amount important, but also the probability you will keep earning the income at roughly the same amounts. And it’s up to you and your lender to verify and document this.

The following are among the types of income that may be considered: base pay, incentive and allowance pay, wages and salary, self-employment, tips, commissions and rental income. Additionally, income sources such as disability payments and public assistance can be included. Income derived from child support, alimony, or separate maintenance may be volunteered to help qualify, but is not required to be divulged. Regardless of what type of income it is, the amount and probability of continuation needs to be documented. 

  • Duty, incentive, and allowance pay is verified by a Leaving and Earnings Statement (LES). The LES verifies amounts paid and frequency. An underwriter will also check the expiration date for active duty service for enlisted service members and members of the National Guard or Reserve. 
  • Special consideration is needed if you are close to ending your enlistment period, or if you are part-time and will be coming off active duty. Your higher active duty or hazard pay may still be considered in some circumstances, or may be used to offset short-term debt. 
  • If you were injured while serving on active duty, and receive disability payments from the VA, they may be used as income. The key, like all income used to qualify for a mortgage, is it needs to be documented it will continue. Documentation required for disability payments generally includes proof of receipt (checks or direct deposit) and the award letter ensuring continuation.
  • If you receive any non-taxable income, it may be “grossed-up” to 125 percent. For example, if you receive $100 non-taxed income each month, it may be grossed-up to $125 for DTI purposes.  This allows non-taxable income to be counted more accurately.
  • Generally, for non-military sources of income, a two-year history needs to be established to justify current amounts and reasonable belief it will continue. There are general guidelines for all types of income. For example, wage income will require paystubs and a VA Form 26-8497, Request for Verification of Employment. Self-employment income may require two years of income tax returns, plus a current year-to-date profit and loss statement.
  • Income contributed by a spouse follows the same rules. However, it is not required a spouse disclose their income in the loan process unless that spouse will be named as a co-borrower on the loan, or if the applicant is relying on the spouse’s income to qualify for the loan.

In addition to verifying income to satisfy DTI requirements, VA loans require the borrower/s    demonstrate Residual Income - an amount determined by household size and location that is left over after your monthly housing payment and debts are paid.

It is a good idea to gather much of this information before you apply so you’ll have it handy when your lender asks for it. And, depending on how long your loan takes to close, be prepared to have to provide updated documents. Like milk and frequent flyer miles, they expire.

What’s in a Name?

Maiden name? Married name? Some combination thereof? Which one should you use professionally, especially if you marry after you’ve established your career ... and your name isn't Beyoncé.

When you hear 'Beyoncé', you know exactly who she is, no last name needed. Her husband, Jay-Z, is also known by only one name, and that name isn't even his birth name or a ‘real’ name. But when the two tied the knot, they both legally changed their last names to Knowles-Carter, paying homage to both sides of the family.

Unlike ‘regular’ people, neither Beyoncé nor Jay-Z had to be concerned about name changes after their nuptials, because they already had established hugely famous careers.

That's great for them. But then, there's everybody else - the rest of us whom the whole world doesn't know. We  may be well-known in our own circles, but if you are trying to determine whether your career may be impacted by a name change, take these three steps.

1. Consider these questions:

Are you a well-published writer, musician, television or radio personality or artist who counts on name recognition for sales and your fan base?

Are you a doctor, dentist, or veterinarian with a thriving practice under your maiden name?

Are you professionally licensed to practice law, accounting or another field where clientele come from referrals from past customers?

Are you a scientist, researcher, or  professor who has made contributions to your profession that may lead to funding or notoriety or tenure? 

2. Determine what can be done to minimize any negative impacts to your career. Thankfully, technology can make it easy to communicate the name change. Just be sure to make the changes across the board. Update your website, social media accounts, signature block on email, etc.

3. Become familiar with the name-changing laws in your state to make sure all your business stays in order.

If you decide that you still want to be known by the name you used to build your brand or career before marriage, have a little fun choosing which variation to use. You could keep your maiden name; use your maiden name professionally and the married name everywhere else; use the maiden name as your middle name; or hyphenate your names.

Either way, stick to your choice once you make it. In 2013, Beyoncé announced the The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, yet another version of her identity, but still, we knew exactly who it was. You might not be so lucky.

 

Blessed To Be So Weary

I have these down-in-the-dumps moments when my husband is deployed, and I’m playing the single-parent game.

It’s so hard. I’m tired. I don’t get a break. It’s lonely. I’m never alone.

I just want to pee/eat/shower/read a book without the constant “Mama! Mama!” and grabby little hands every few seconds.

I adore my children, but mid-deployment, I sometimes grow weary.

It was one such weary moment, craving an escape for 30 minutes while we were at a playdate, that I got up to go make some sandwiches for the kids. I glanced down at my phone and saw a text from a friend of mine who lives in the Midwest.

She was in labor. She was actually about to be a mother. She was pushing, according to her text message.  Baby was about to be born.

I stood there. Silent. Absolutely dead still. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

And then her sister texted me.

“Baby Lisa was born with 10 fingers and 10 toes and a full head of curly blond hair.  She went to heaven before she came into the world, but we are still celebrating her life.”

And then I cried.

My friend’s daughter, Lisa, had Trisomy 13. My friend had spent the last 14 weeks since finding out holding her close in her womb, where she was safe and very much alive. But she knew she wouldn’t survive outside the womb, and so, her labor and delivery was a birth and a death all at once.

It was a mother’s nightmare. It was something I didn’t want any mother, let alone a dear friend, to experience.

To hold your baby as she passes. To know there will be no dimples to kiss. No sweet heads to pat. No tiny bodies to hug.

To know they won’t grow up. They won’t walk. Say their first word. Beg for bananas and crackers and one more bedtime story.

To know their story ended before it began.

And there I was, weeping over a sandwich I had been making a bit resentfully just moments before.

My children make huge messes. Dirty diapers. Demand things we don’t have and refuse every snack I make and offer. They scream and tug and fight and track in more mud than my 100-pound dog. They don’t always listen; they are never quiet, and they fight sleep morning, noon and night.

But they are here. Blessedly close. Always available to squeeze. Covered in unidentifiable stickiness and sweat and applesauce remnants. They hog my bed, crowd my bathroom, and never, ever leave me alone.


But at the end of a long day, when my husband is still deployed, and I’m still very tired, and I’m still single-parenting, they are here. With me. With us.

My friend’s daughter was a sad blessing for me. A reminder that to serve – as a military spouse and mother to military children – was a gift some women only dream of.

My resentment, rather shamefully, melted away after that.

And though I still grow tired, at least now I can remember that I am very blessed to be so weary.
 

Retirement Chronicles: Unpacking, forever

Like most military families we’ve moved, a lot. Eight times in 15 years.

It is fair to say during many of those moves about a third of our boxes were never even opened. They simply sat in the garage, stacked, stored, dusty. Until they were shipped cross-country and placed in a new corner, in a different garage where they were stacked, stored and dusty until the process started all over again.

But this time is our last time. This time, we opened the boxes. It was like Christmas.

Things we forgot we even owned came spilling out. And for the first time in 15 years they were put away. Not in a corner. Not stuffed into a storage closet. They were put away, in a place where they belonged. In a place where they would stay. Forever.

Ok, maybe using the term forever is a bit of a stretch. But for the first time in my adult life I actually, completely unpacked.

Normally, we storm through those piles of boxes in less than a week, stuffing what we know we’ll use into bedroom closets, stashing what we know we will probably never touch into the nether reaches of the garage and then labeling those boxes of unknowns to hover in moving purgatory – out where they can be found in a pinch but still in a deep enough stack of boxes that we will seriously consider whether we really have to have it.

This time, we’ve been opening boxes for four months, at a pace of two boxes a day. The boxes are broken down and carted off. The paper inside no longer has to be folded nicely and saved for the next move. It’s all gone.

And the items inside, we actually dust them off, proudly look them over and find a place for them in our home where they belong, not just where they fit. When we stand back and look around our house it is not just where we live, but it is us.

Our garage has space for a car. An actual car is in my garage, not boxes.

And for the first time ever I feel like we live somewhere and are not simply stationed there. When people ask where I’m from, I don’t have to explain the long list of where I’ve lived. We finally belong to a place and it belongs to us.

Forever.

Yeah, it’s not a stretch. For the first time, we are somewhere forever, and I like it.

Apps for Students: Part One

Three years ago, when I started college, I learned …well, I learned a lot of things. But one of the most important things I learned was that writing assignments and their due dates in a planner did not work for me, and neither did physically carrying everything I needed to study effectively.

Why didn’t it work, you ask? 

I’ll tell you why: because college assignments are long. Everything about them is long - the instructions, the rubric, the references. And fitting that amount of information into a teeny space on a cute notebook page or in one binder just isn’t feasible. Enter the student’s best friend: technology.

There are a number of ways that technology can be a huge asset when it comes to the daily lives of college students. One type that I have become ridiculously dependent upon is the app. The app is small, but it is mighty, and it is versatile.

Here are a few that have helped me immensely:

Electronic textbooks have become increasingly popular in the last several years. Using apps like iBooks and Kindle are an easy way to simplify and downsize physical bulk. Often, these apps include features that allow the user to highlight and bookmark passages, add notes, look up definitions and web search simply by selecting an area of the screen.

Similarly, apps designed to read PDF and document files can be extremely beneficial. Not only can documents be imported into the reader, but often can be noted, highlighted, and categorized in folders. One app that I’ve found that blows the rest out of the water is Document 5. It allows the reading of books, articles, and documents, along with the ability to search within those for specific words. It will store photos, videos and music; sync with iCloud, Dropbox, and Google Drive, manages files, and can be password protected. Basically, it’s a phone-sized filing cabinet with a tiny personal assistant surprise inside!

The Kahn Academy offers an app with a wide range of information, including print and videos. I promise you, with my heart and soul, that if you struggle with any kind of mathematical concept, The Kahn Academy has a video to walk you through it. Think I’m joking? I had to take five preparatory math classes before I was allowed to enter a 100-level class. That’s how bad I am. The tutorial videos were simple and clear, and helped me salvage the remainder of my sanity. Anyway, the app’s content can be browsed through and searched by a specific word or phrase, and offers a variety of test preparation and practices. Kahn is also partnered with a number of reputable organizations, like the California Academy of Sciences and The J. Paul Getty Museum, which makes finding legitimate sources for research a snap.

Would you like to know the best thing about these apps? They’re all free. Yeah, you heard me, free. So go load up your electronics with these helpful goodies, and the next time you go to class, maybe your bag won’t give you such a backache!

Green Jobs

Samantha Mahon is preparing to PCS next year.

With two little boys, two large dogs, and a husband who has dragged her up and down the East Coast during his Navy career, she’s got a lot to juggle.

Toys. Furniture. Family records. Bees.

Three whole hives of them, to be exact.

Because, though Mahon may be a mom and a military spouse, she is also a beekeeper.

“I have always wanted to keep bees since I was a little girl,” Mahon, 32, said. “I always admired it from afar and started heavily looking into it about three years ago. It took some convincing of my husband, and I was finally able to warm him up to the idea. Low and behold, two weeks later, there was a local ad from a hobbyist beekeeper that wanted to sell his hives. I jumped on the idea.”

Mahon, who formerly served in the Air Force, is one of many military spouses and veterans pursuing a different career path, with a “green” twist to it.

While the U.S. Labor Department defines a “green job” quite narrowly, according to experts, anything that has a “positive impact on our planet” is considered a green job, said Carol McClelland, executive director for Green Career Central, an organization she founded that helps clients transition into a green career path.

When you look at the big picture, the possibilities for a career in environmental sustainability are almost endless, McClelland said.

There are jobs in natural resource management, like people who work in water treatment plants. There are jobs in manufacturing, producing raw materials in an environmentally friendly way or creating green products. There are jobs in green construction.

You can be a consultant for companies wanting to become more green, and you can work in media and public relations, educating parties and the public about environmental sustainability. 

There are economists, attorneys, teachers, and journalists – all whom can work in some capacity in a green field, especially since it has become so popular, McClelland said.

Back in 2010, about 50 industries identified themselves as green, and now, just four years later, at least 75 to 100 do. The amount has almost doubled, she said.

In 2007, there were only four green career counselors in the nation, McClelland added. 

 

Now there are many more.

But, because it’s such a hot, growing trend, all industries are included in the green branch, or should be, she said.

“The names and job titles may not be green, but that’s semantics,” she said. “This is a new world and a new terrain. There are cutting edge fields in each industry.”

Mahon, for instance, by keeping bees and selling honey, beeswax and pollen in her local markets, is improving natural pollination and her local environment. She has a green job, according to McClelland’s definition.

“It's no secret that our society is in trouble due to the bees’ decline,” Mahon said. “Citrus prices have tripled due to the loss of our greatest pollinators. Keeping bees gives me the push to spread the word in my local area on how important it is to not use pesticides.”

Mahon frequently takes her bees in a traveling hive to local schools to educate students about pollination – another facet of her job that makes it “green,” McClelland said.

Still, anyone interested in seeking a job that will affect the environment positively will need to do some research first, whether you’re a military spouse or not, McClelland said.

Before deciding what industry you are interested in, she recommends looking at your “career story,” or what your volunteer and work experience has been.

Then “figure out what is the best use of your talent and expertise. Look at your past history and your skills and figure out how you can best contribute to the planet,” she said.

“You focus, then prepare,” she added.

Sometimes, some people will need further education; a few do have to go back to school and some need to earn certain certificates, she said.

Then you look at the climate of the region.

“Florida and California are going to be vastly different, for instance,” she said.

Some issues are more extreme in certain areas; pollution is different in certain areas.

Military spouses can struggle here, as they move often and to vastly different parts of the country, at times.

So sometimes, you may need to look into doing an internship or volunteer work for a bit to make you more attractive to an employer in the region and “demonstrate your expertise.”

Then you can look for a job opening.

When you are new to an area, McClelland recommends tapping into a site called greendrinks.org, where like-minded green professionals post gatherings and can help you become aware of an area’s opportunities. Using LinkedIn and reading the newspaper and business journal should also become part of your preparation repertoire, she said.

If you are really new to green careers, you may want to take a general sustainability course so you can familiarize yourself with terms and other logistics specifically involved with the job, but very rarely do you need to re-do all your training just because of a move, she said.

A few jobs may require something different – people working in green construction, for example, will need to learn new building codes, or an environmental lawyer will need to take the bar exam if they move to a different state – but largely, the skill set and previous education is transferrable, even if the region’s issues are not, she said.

“This can be like the wild, wild west of careers because it’s so new and unusual,” she added.

But the increased popularity and the drive within industries to become more green is good, she said.

“We can do this gracefully or less gracefully, but we have to do something if we want to make this a planet worth saving.”

 

Need Money for School? Get it here!

The school bell rang, class is in session. Are you still standing outside the front door?

Are you just waiting to apply until you save enough cash to attend?

We can help you get started. At Bryant & Stratton College military spouses automatically qualify for a $6,000 scholarship to work towards their online degree.

The school offers associates degree in dozens of portable jobs perfect for on the move military families, including accounting, criminal justice and medical reimbursement and coding, among others. Bryant & Stratton also offers dozens of Bachelor degree programs in the same fields as well as management, financial services and health services. Check out their website for a full list of degree fields.

Classes are online, professors, tutoring and the library are all available via online and phone. If you are on the move with a PCS, your class moves with you.

How's that for a cool military benefit?

To learn more, please visit http://online.bryantstratton.edu/salute/

Or call 1-800-895-1738. Start your career today!

Applying for a Job I’m Not Sure I Want Now

By Holly Bates

So, here’s the good news:  It took less than two weeks for me to get a referral under the Priority Placement Program (PPP), Program S (Military Spouse). The not-so-good news:  It’s for the lowest position I said I would consider and I’m not sure I want the position now. 

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

While I’ve only been out of the federal civilian service loop for three years, some major changes occurred to my surprise and benefit, especially PPP, Program S.

When I arrived at CPAC almost a month ago to register under the Military Spouse Program (MSP), the clerks at the information desk asked me if I was applying for the PPP program. To my knowledge, PPP was only for spouses returning from overseas employment who left their jobs due to PCS orders. I was confused and explained, “No. I’m not a current federal employee here because my husband received PCS orders. I haven’t been employed for three years.” 

I was at CPAC simply to apply for employment using my hubby’s orders under MSP eligibility.

Well, it turns out during those three years of pursuing my Master’s degree a change was made to the PPP program which allows military spouses to qualify for the program. The clerk who counseled me at the CPAC office said I am able to apply to positions for which I am qualified within certain parameters, including those in grades above previously-held positions.  Consideration is only given to positions within the local commuting area (50 miles) surrounding the duty location of my military spouse and eligibility for this program is for two (2) years from the date of his PCS orders. 

Sounded pretty good to me! Note: For all Coast Guard Spouses out there, this includes you too.

I was required to submit a copy of his orders, our marriage certificate, my USAJOBS resume (including salary), my transcripts, my DD214 (not applicable to all) and my ID card. A few days later, I received a phone call from one of the personnel technicians, who let me know some of the positions I could qualify for and at what rank. Next I was brought in to sign the necessary paperwork and a clerk explained in further detail the PPP-Spouse preference program, what positions I am interested in, etc. 

When I came in for that appointment, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could be referred for positions based on my education (GS-09/GS-11) as well as previous jobs. 

Under the old Military Spouse Program, I was only ever referred for jobs at the same or lower rank. It was frustrating. When I moved to Texas from OCONUS, I was excited and looking forward to moving into positions commensurate with my newly-earned Bachelor’s degree.  These ambitions were crushed when I saw the jobs for which they were going to refer me. Turns out, by the way, that this particular CPAC office was wrong.  I should have been referred for other positions. 

Look, I recognize I’ve been lucky in my federal career path so far.  I’ve always received a promotion between duty stations, which as many know, this is no small feat. A military spouse following her service member often has to take a downgrade, a lateral position or wait a long time before “getting back into the system” when moving to a new duty station. 

My last DA Civilian position was a GS-09 over three years (and two duty stations) ago.  Between then and now, though, I focused on completing my Master’s degree in Human Resources.  For all my efforts, I’d really like to land a job in this career field at the GS-09 or higher level.  I’m only willing to take that GS-07 position if the job comes with promotion potential (i.e., a GS-07 target GS-11 or GS-12). 

However, since I’m registered under PPP, Program S, I must submit my application for the position or lose my eligibility. And faced with the real possibility of having to accept a GS-07 position without promotion potential, I realize I really don't want this GS-07 position doing what I’ve been doing for the past 10+ years. 

I want to move away from the administrative field. Hmm, talk about a rock and a hard place!  I’m getting pressure from hubby to “get my foot in the door with any job” and my ambition for a position utilizing my degree. 

Well, seems I’ll be contacting the Employment Specialist at CPAC to change my lowest acceptable grade level! I always have my reinstatement eligibility to fall back on for DoD employment after the year is up, which means I may have to accept that GS-07 position. 

In the meantime, better to try for something more before accepting less, right? Since my husband’s orders were dated a year ago, this means my eligibility is only good for one more year. Whoohoo! Sounds great, doesn’t it? 

I mean, it will not take a year to get re-employed, right? Fingers crossed. Pretty, pretty please! 

If you’d like more information about MSP or PPP-Program S, I’ve included some links below. 

Additionally, you’ll definitely want to visit your local civilian personnel office. Another good source for job seekers and those looking to improve their résumé-writing skills is Army Community Service (ACS), Airman & Family Readiness Center (A&FRC), Navy Fleet and Family Readiness Programs, Marine Corps Community Service (MCCS) and the Coast Guard Office of Work-Life. 

Visit these links for more information:

1. “Military Spouse Preference through the Priority Placement Program (PPP)” (http://www.armycivilianservice.com/JOA/MSP-PPP.pdf) accessed 9/23/14.

2.  Department of Defense (DoD) Priority Placement Program (PPP) Handbook published July 2011 by the Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Service (http://www.cpms.osd.mil/Content/Documents/PPPHandbookAug2012(2).pdf) accessed 9/23/14.

3.  “DoD Civilian Personnel Management System: Employment of Spouses of Active Duty Military” Department of Defense Instruction 1400.25, Volume 315, dated March 19, 2012 (http://dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/140025v315.pdf) accessed 9/23/14.

Websites we love: Job fair listings

Looking for a job fair? Don't know where to start? The job fair may be local but the listings are hanging out in cyberspace.

Your best bet for finding a job fair near you is to first check our listing, posted the first week of every month. If you happen to miss that, you can go straight to the organizations that host the events.

And since the Obama administration has encouraged businesses to hire veterans and military spouses there are a lot of hiring fairs dedicated solely to attracting the military folks. As an added bonus many of the organizations that host the job fairs also operate virtual job boards that are updated daily.

http://www.vetready.org  - For military only, includes job fairs and job listings

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/events/hiringfairs - Created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2011, this network of job fairs has been one of the most successful in placing military members and their spouses in civilian jobs. The organization has helped more than 18,000 military family members find jobs.

http://www.taonline.com/militaryjobfairs - A site dedicated to transition out of the military, it lists jobs and job fairs

http://www.nationalcareerfairs.com - For military and civilian job seekers, this lists all job fairs, military specific and non-military

http://h2h.jobs - The Heroes 2 Hired organization specializes in helping Reserve and National Guard members find jobs

http://hireahero.org - This site specializes in job listings for military members and their spouses

Don't feel like searching these sites? Simply use Google and type in the word job fair and your state's name. The search engine will not only bring up generic job fair listings but also those for specific careers and locations.

Get online and find your job today!

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