You Don’t Have to Stay Up Past ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ to Find the Best Military Bank Accounts

What do tomorrow’s film Zero Dark Thirty and the world of banking have in common? More than you might think.

Hollywood has provided audiences with stories of soldiers and wartime for decades, conjuring images of fatigues, guns and violence for the screen. Most notable, however, in films like Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, or HBO’s miniseries Generation Kill, is the mystifying jargon service members use to communicate with each other. And as the the Hurt Locker’s Academy Award-winning director, Katheryn Bigelow, thrusts moviegoers into the harsh, yet captivating world of the military with Zero Dark Thirty, we’re once again questioning the meaning behind this special military language.

Indeed, the military is known for its use of acronyms and code, creating an exclusivity we civilians will never be a part of. When it comes to military banking, however, even seasoned veterans can find it to be confusing. That’s why we’ve demystified the realm of military banks, accounts and services, so members of the military can more easily take advantage of the special financial products created just for them, and make the most of their hard-earned Mike-Oscar-November-Echo-Yankee (that’s money to all you civilians).

What Does Zero Dark Thirty Mean, Anyway?

The title of Katheryn Bigelow’s film out tomorrow is a colloquialism unique to the military, referencing military time, though not in the traditional sense.

military bank accountsIn military time, hours of the day and night are expressed as numbers within a 24-hour period. For example, six in the morning would be expressed as 0600 (often pronounced “oh six hundred”), while two in the afternoon would be expressed as 1400, or “fourteen hundred” (because it’s the 14th hour in the day).

Due to this system, many mistakenly believe that “zero dark thirty” refers to the precise time of 12:30 am. However, “dark” is not an hour of the day, and it turns out the phrase is not actually an official military term at all.

In fact, it’s more of a joke, meaning the wee hours of the morning, when you’d rather be sleeping than doing whatever it is you are doing. As former military intelligence and author of Stretch Yourself, Ron Broussard, tells me, zero dark thirty is “when you are getting up earlier than your normal wake-up, which was 0400 hours for typical training runs or Ops projects…civilians would say ‘at the crack of dawn.'”

(Photo courtesy of Civilian Scrabble)

Important Military Bank Accounts and Services

There is plenty of military-specific jargon when it comes to bank accounts and services, too, but don’t be deterred from taking advantage of special military financial services just because you’re not familiar with them. Below are a few of the most popular military banking products that help service members save money and learn sound financial management.

Savings Deposit Program (SDP): The Department of Defense offers a military savings account specifically for active duty members who are serving in a combat zone, known as the savings deposit program. Depositors are eligible if they have been serving in a qualifying combat zone for at least 30 days, or at least one day in each of three consecutive months, and also receiving hostile fire pay.

Up to $10,000 can be deposited during each deployment, after which quarterly withdrawals are allowed, and the account will earn an amazing 10% APY. Note that the account can’t be closed until you’ve left the combat zone. Once you do, the account will close and your balance will be returned within 120 days.

Thrift Savings Plan (TSP): A Thrift Savings Plan, commonly referred to as a TSP, is a retirement savings account much like a 401(k) that is offered to federal employees and members of the military. As one of three components of the Federal Employees Retirement System and administered by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, a TSP allows the account holder to make tax-deferred contributions toward retirement savings — the yearly maximum of which is $17,000 as of 2012.

VA Loan: Veterans who are interested in purchasing a home may find especially advantageous financing through a VA mortgage loan. VA loans are funded by the U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs and are offered through private lenders (like banks). Loans are federally-backed allow the borrower to finance a home purchase with no down payment. VA mortgage rates are also generally much lower than traditional mortgage rates.

Transitional Assistance Program (TAP): Officially established in 1990, the Transition Assistance Program “is a nationally coordinated federal effort to assist military men and women to ease the transition to civilian life through employment and job training assistance,” according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Formed through a partnership between the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), TAP helps vets and their families make the transition within 180 days of separation or retirement, through three-day workshops led by professionally-trained facilitators across the US.


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