All posts by refactor

Best AR-15 Scopes

One of my friends, a fellow gun enthusiast, once told me that the AR-15 is like a Barbie for men. The endless amount of accessories, modifications, barrel lengths, and furniture makes his comparison pretty spot on. Many of the changes folks make to their ARs are aesthetic and don’t really improve much. However, a few modifications, such as with the trigger, barrel, and optics can drastically increase the capability of the AR-platform. Red dots once ruled the shooting world. Improved technology has given us the ability to have powered optics that enable long-distance engagement and positive identification of our targets further downrange.

How we Rate our Scopes

There are a dozen different categories we can use to compare different AR scopes. Weight, maximum magnification, glass quality, eye relief, etc. For our uses, we’ll stick to a more pragmatic and practical approach using just three criteria.

Reliability

The most important question is: does it work when you need it to? Your gear needs to stand up to whatever your intended purpose is. All your tools should work when it counts, whether for competition or when your life depends on it.

Price

Is it affordable? Like everything, magnified optics for your AR can be very cheap or extremely expensive, sometimes doubling or tripling the cost of your AR. Generally, you get what you pay for, and quality isn’t cheap, but a few scopes on this list will offer you excellent quality for a lower price.

Accuracy

Is it consistent under the conditions you want to use it? After all, the primary purpose of mounting a scope on an AR is to increase your accuracy by giving you a precise aiming point. Your scope adjustment dials and reticle need to be predictable and repeatable to maximize your accuracy potential.

AR-15 Scopes

AR scopes are readily accessible, and for whatever your need is, chances are there’s a suitable, affordable, and quality optic for you. I’m a true believer in the utility of a magnified optic for an AR, particularly for a 5.56mm that can reach out to hit a man-sized target at 600m. Maybe you want to hunt with your 300 Blackout or shoot in a Camp Perry match. Perhaps you enjoy 3-gun competitions, or maybe you need an optic on your AR (or M4A1) for work. No matter the use, there’s a magnified optic for you.

Our Top Rated Long Range Scopes

According to the US Army’s manual for the M16 rifle and M4 carbine (TC 3-22-9), the maximum effective range to engage a point target using 5.56mm ammunition is 600m. Training, match ammunition, and quality optics can help us actually push the envelope past 600m. That’s not to say you should believe everyone on the internet claiming, “I can get first-round hits out to 1000m using steel 55 grain Wolf ammo in high winds.” You can definitely get hits at 1000 yards, just ask competitors in the Civilian Marksmanship Program Highpower Rifle matches. They do it with optics of no greater than 4.5 power magnification! Long-range optics need good, clear glass, a large objective lens, precise reticle, and high magnification. These will be the most expensive type of scope, but also offer (obviously) the most magnification and clarity at distance.

As a disclaimer, I’m an active duty special operations soldier. I compete on the side and personally own several of the mentioned optics. However, I am not sponsored, and I have no conflict of interest championing or downplaying any of these products.

I used Optics Planet as a pricing standard for everything I could as it’s an excellent company with a wide selection.

Leupold Mark 6 3-18x 44

  • Length: 11.9”
  • Tube Diameter: 34mm
  • Weight: 23.6 oz
  • Eye Relief: 3.9”
  • Linear Field of View (FOV) at 100yds: 6.3 – 36.8ft (high mag to low mag)
  • Reticle Options: Horus-59, MIL-DOT, TMR (illuminated)
  • First Focal Plane

Pros

– The H-59 reticle allows the shooter to make distance calls and adjust on the fly without having to mess with the dials

– Relatively compact and light for a scope of this magnification range

Cons

– A bit cloudy at the edges at 18x 

– Relatively smaller objective lens means a smaller field of view and light gathering capability

Price: $2499.99

Vortex Razor HD Gen II 3-18x 50

Length: 14.4”

  • Tube Diameter: 34mm
  • Weight: 46.5 oz
  • Eye Relief: 3.7”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds: 6.25 – 37.8 ft (high mag to low mag)
  • Reticle Options: MRAD, MOA (illuminated)
  • First Focal Plane

Pros

– Great value. The price point is low enough to be within reach, but the glass quality is very competitive with premier optics.

– Vortex warranty is unlimited and unparalleled. 

Cons

 -Size and weight. This thing is an absolute tank.

– Limited reticle options make it less precise to make wind holds at longer distances.

Price: $1699.00

Bushnell Elite Tactical HDMR II 3.5-21x 50

  • Length: 13.2”
  • Tube Diameter: 34mm
  • Weight: 34 oz
  • Eye Relief: 3.74”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds: 5.1 – 25.3 ft (high mag to low mag)
  • Reticle Options: Horus H-59
  • First Focal Plane

Pros

– Best value, hands down. If you’re patient, you can find this optic for right around $1000. Many competitors in the Precision Rifle Series gave up sponsorships from top-notch optics manufacturers to use the Bushnell Elite series.

– H-59 reticle at a fraction of the price when compared to the Leupold models

– Locking turrets

Cons

– Parallax adjustment is not great for anything inside of 75 yards

– Relatively narrow field of view

Price: $1299.00

Our Top Rated Variable Magnification Scopes

 

In my opinion, both as a special operator and as a competitive shooter, the Low Power Variable Optics (LPVOs) are the best all-around optics for the AR-15 platform. Good LPVOs allow you to tailor your magnification needs to specific situations. Perhaps you’re running and gunning at close range, so you keep it on 1x. The next minute you need to observe something out at range, so you flip it to 6x. Battery life is a concern, as you can’t get an illuminated reticle on 24/7 like you can with many non-magnified red dots. This doesn’t mean you can’t still make engagements with no illumination.

Vortex Razor HD Gen II-E 1-6x 24

  • Length: 10.1”
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Weight: 21.5 oz
  • Eye Relief: 4”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds: 20.5- 115.2 ft (high mag to low mag)
  • Reticle Options: MRAD, MOA, JM-1 (illuminated)
  • Second Focal Plane

Pros

– A vast field of view. This is the scope I think about when I describe edge to edge clarity.

– The reticle is extremely clear, usable, and genuinely bright enough to see in all conditions (when you turn the illumination setting on). 

Cons

– It’s heavy for what it is. Vortex made it a tad lighter with the new E models, but it’s still a big heavy optic for a LPVO.

– The reticles do not have any windage markings on them. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but having mil markings on the horizontal stadia make it much easier to engage moving targets or adjust for high winds.

Price: $1399.00

Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25-4x 20

  • Length: 9.4”
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Weight: 11.5 oz
  • Eye Relief: 3.7-4.1”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds: 29 – 75 ft (high mag to low mag)
  • Reticle Options: FireDot SPR (illuminated)
  • Second Focal Plane

Pros

– Very compact and lightweight. This is an excellent and affordable optic with a lot of utility.

– The FireDot SPR reticle is simple and easy to use, so long as you understand where your holds are. The outer circle draws your eye in and can allow for quick engagements at close range, similar to an EOTech.

Cons

 – I hate to ding Leupold for their honesty (since all claim a true 1x but few are a REAL 1x), but it’s not a true 1x on the low end. I competed with a 1.5-5x, and it’s perfectly usable.

– The illuminated reticle is somewhat awkward in daylight conditions in that the illuminated portion bleeds and is splotchy on a bright day.  

Price: $569.99

Nightforce NX8 1-8x 24

  • Length: 8.75”
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Weight: 17 oz
  • Eye Relief: 3.75”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds: 13.2 – 106 ft (high mag to low mag)
  • Reticle Options: F1 with MIL or MOA adjustments (illuminated)
  • First Focal Plane

Pros

– Extremely compact and lightweight with a lot of high-end magnification.

– The illumination is bright, and the magnification adjustment is effortless and fast with the included throw lever.

– This is what I currently use at work on my URGI for what it’s worth. It’s great.

Cons

 – The eyepiece adjustment comes loose easily. If you rotate the optic body and the eyepiece towards each other in a snapping motion, it locks up better. That method, however, doesn’t allow for precise eye relief adjustments.

Price: $1750.00 

Our Top Rated Fixed Magnification Scopes

Fixed magnification optics are much simpler than the variable variety. This means you don’t need to worry about stiff adjustment rings and you can save some weight with the amount of glass within the scope body itself. You can also, generally speaking, get decent magnification at a fraction of the price of the variable magnification counterparts. 

Trijicon ACOG 4×32 TA-31

  • Length: 5.8”
  • Objective Diameter: 32mm
  • Weight: 9.9 oz
  • Eye Relief: 1.5”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds:36..8 ft 
  • Reticle Options: 223 BDC: Doughnut, Chevron, Horseshoe, Triangle, Crosshair (all illuminated)

Pros

– The most durable and versatile optic I have ever used. There’s a built-in mounting system for a Trijicon RMR if you need a close engagement option.

– Powered by a fiber optic means you won’t need to keep batteries in your range bag or in your kit.

– The reticle options are fantastic, as you can find one in MILs or a BDC for 300 Blackout and 5.56.

Cons

– The eye relief is rough, to the point that you need it as far back on an AR15 upper receiver as possible.

– If you choose a BDC reticle, it will limit your options with different platforms and bullet weights. 

Price: $999.00 (depending on model)

SWFA SS 10x42mm 

  • Length: 14.2”
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Weight: 18.7 oz
  • Eye Relief: 3.9”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds: 12.75 ft 
  • Reticle Options: MIL or MOA 

Pros

– An affordable price tag for a scope with decent glass quality.

– Versatility is great. You can use this for tactical applications, target shooting, competitions, or hunting.

– SWFA is fantastic to work with if anything malfunctions on your optic.

Cons

– No illumination. Illumination isn’t needed for every situation, but those dusk hog hunts are a lot easier with an illuminated reticle. 

Price: $399.95

Leupold FX3 6x 42mm

  • Length: 12.2”
  • Tube Diameter: 1”
  • Weight: 15 oz
  • Eye Relief: 4.4”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds: 17.3’
  • Reticle Options: Wide Duplex

Pros

– Lightweight and affordable with Leupold glass quality.

– Clearer glass than optics 4x the price.

Cons

 – Difficult to focus at close range (within 20 yards or so)

Price: $399.99

Our Top Rated Flip-Mounted 3x Magnifiers

Within the last several years, manufacturers introduced flip to side-mounted magnifiers to be used in conjunction with red dot sights. This allowed you to have true 1x and quickly flip your magnifier into action for 3x. When your magnifier isn’t in use, it stays out of the way on your upper receiver. I will tell you from experience that the utility of this depends largely on the red dot you pair with the magnifier. With older Aimpoint T1s, M68s, and Comp M4s this projected a bleeding dot and was not suitable for precise engagements. The EOTechs and modern T2s work better with magnifiers. This set up allows you an extra capability that might not always need employment, but you can have magnification if the need arises.

EOTech G33 3x Magnifier

  • Length: 3.9”
  • Tube Diameter: 1”
  • Weight: 11.9 oz
  • Eye Relief: 2.2”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds: 7.3’ 

Pros

– The best feature of the G33 is the ability to use the diopter dial for micro-adjustments to keep everything in focus at your desired range.

– The magnifier comes with a reversible mount, so you can flip it to whichever side you prefer when not in use.

Cons

– It’s designed to work with an EOTech holographic sight, so it may require a riser (other than the one included) if you use a high-mounted red dot.

– Extremely narrow field of view.

Price: $579.00 (can be purchased cheaper if you bundle it with an EOTech XPS variant)

Aimpoint 3X-C Magnifier

  • Length: 4.1”
  • Weight: 7.8 oz
  • Eye Relief: 2.2”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds: specs not given

Pros

– It’s quite light compared to the G33.

– Aimpoint quality is excellent.

Cons

– Does not come with a mount of any kind, so you must purchase either a fixed, flip to side, or twist off mount. Mounts can be purchased in a bundle from certain retailers.

– The diopter adjustment cannot be made without a tool (flat head screwdriver, spent cartridge rim, et cetera).

Price: $284.00

Primary Arms 3x Magnifier Gen IV

  • Weight: 7.9 oz
  • Eye Relief: 2.64”
  • Linear FOV at 100yds: 37.9’

Pros

– Most economical option

– Best field of view and eye relief

Cons

– Quality is fairly low. Distortion with red dots is fairly common amongst magnifiers anyways, but no worse than in the PA.

– Does not come with a mount, but can be bundled for relatively cheap from most retailers.

Price: $99.00

How to use a Long Range Scope

First, you need a quality set of scope rings or scope mount. These can vary in both rings and one-piece mounts between quick detach and nuts. With the AR platform, you’ll often find that a good one-piece cantilever mount will be perfect. The cantilever mount will help with scope placement and proper eye relief. When mounting your optic, you can use an Arisaka leveling kit or an actual bubble kit. Make sure you get it as level as possible and torque the rings down with the proper pressure. Fix It Sticks are perfect for this, but a torque limiter will work just fine.

Next, you need to zero your optic. For most AR-15 distances, I prefer a 50m zero (for 5.56mm). The US Army only recently moved away from a 25m zero to a 50m zero, and the reason is this: there is a smaller variance at more ranges with a 50-200m zero than a 25-300m zero. If you’re using your optic for a variety of functions and ranges, the 50m zero is the way to go. A lot of hunters use a 100m zero. The bottom line is that if you get a good velocity for the rounds you want to use and plug it into a good ballistic calculator (like Strelok or a Kestrel). You can then make the proper dials and/or holds, depending on your reticle.

Finally, make sure you confirm your zero at different ranges. If you use a 50m zero, your rounds should be pretty close at 200m. However, it’s always good to test and confirm your hits at various ranges. Enjoy your ability to push the limits of your rifle, ammunition, and your own abilities! 

Advantages of a Long Range Scope

– Allows target discrimination at long range

– Maximizes capability of your rifle

Disadvantages of a Long Range Scope

– Limits your low range engagement capability

– Adds a significant amount of height and weight to your rifle 

Variable vs. Fixed Magnification Scope 

A variable or fixed magnification scope refers to the power your scope puts out. Variable means you can there are various magnifications you can switch between. However, with a fixed magnification scope, you get one power setting.

Advantages of a Variable Magnification Scope

– Versatility in magnification and field of view

– In my personal opinion, the best all-around optic for the AR15 platform

Disadvantages of a Variable Magnification Scope

 – You will pay for quality, but great value is out there (Vortex, Primary Arms, etc.)

Advantages of a Fixed Magnification Scope

– Inexpensive magnification

– A simple system with few moving parts

Disadvantages of a Fixed Magnification Scope

– Absolutely limited in magnification

– A lot fewer options and manufacturers are available 

How to use a Flip-Mounted 3x Magnifier

I prefer to mount my T2 as far forward on the upper receiver without the mount touching the handguard. Then I mount my magnifier behind it, trying to find a good balance between being right behind my T2 and close enough to my eye to make the magnifier usable. I had a G33 at work that didn’t require any additional mounting, but I had it set up to flip to the non-ejection port side for me as a right-handed shooter. This allowed me to employ it when I needed to, but keep it out of the way when not in use.

Advantages of a Flip-Mounted 3x Magnifier

– You have magnification at the ready when you need it, but out of the way when you don’t.

– Increased ability to PID (positively identify) your intended target.

Disadvantages of a Flip-Mounted 3x Magnifier

– When not in use, the magnifier is awkwardly hanging to one side or another off your rifle. 

– Precise engagements are more complicated, especially with a bleeding dot.

USAA VA Loan

USAA does everything, or at least it seems like it, so why wouldn’t they offer to finance your VA home loan? That’s a rhetorical question, you know they’ll finance a VA loan. The question is, how wise is it to go through USAA? Is it more difficult? Should they be trusted because they already work strictly with military members, their families, and veterans? We plan to answer all these questions so you can make only the most informed choice in regards to a USAA VA loan.

It’s no secret the USAA loans are pretty difficult to get, even as a military member. And if you don’t have a nearly perfect credit score, you’re looking at some significant interests rates, whether for a personal loan or car loan. But how does USAA stack up against other well-known, military-friendly lenders, like Veterans United?

USAA VA Loan Rates

Before we get too deep into this, you should keep in mind that interest rates fluctuate. You might qualify for the lowest interest rate available at 2.89% today, but the lowest interest rate tomorrow is 2.92%. Unfortunately, this isn’t like your credit score. You can’t fix something by paying a late bill and cause the lowest interest rate on the market to drop even lower.  However, you can refinance later or take your chances if it will drop later.

Currently, as of this publication of this article, you’re looking at a 3.853% APR with rates potentially increasing after five years.  A 3.250% fixed rate for a 30-year VA loan or 3.375% fixed rate for a 15-year fixed VA loan.  So, yes, you get penalized in a way for electing to go with the 15-year loan, at least in terms of present interest rates. This is because lenders want to make sure they get their money. The rates above also assume you’re purchasing points (paying to lower your interest rate). The interest rates listed above also assume you have a minimum credit score of 740.

So, while the rates may seem good, you really have to read the fine print since USAA shows rates for those individuals with “very good” credit scores. Sadly, your rate is going to be significantly higher if you have anything less than “very good.” And this might be where USAA falls short. USAA’s VA rates are still lower than their conventional rates. And as far as policy and procedure go, getting your loan through USAA requires the same process.

Get Approved

Your first step, of course, is to find out how much you can afford to spend. And the higher your credit score, typically the more a lender is willing to give you. So, in this step, you need to get with a lender or bank representative and find out how much their willing to let you have. This way, once you actually find the house you want, you know how much negotiating you can do in regards to home price. Of course, getting a home for less than what you’re approved for would be great, but that’s not always how life works out, sometime you’ll get approved for the exact amount you need. That’s why it’s best to find out first how much you can spend. With USAA, after the check your credit score and if you’re approved, they’ll give you a letter showing your eligibility. The letter is good for 90 days (which is standard), so if things aren’t settled in that time-frame, you’ll have to go through the process again. This means you’ll have to get a second hard credit check (this too will affect your credit score). And since a lot can happen in 90 days, you might not get approved for as much the second time around. Of course, there’s always the possibility of getting approved for more.

You can also do your preapproval on USAA’s website, which makes things convenient. However, be prepared to send additional documentation via fax, email, or traditional mail.

Certificate of Eligibility

You might be a veteran or service member and can prove it with identification or your DD214, but that’s simply not enough to get approved for a VA loan. This is because not all service members and veterans qualify for a VA loan. Yes, most qualified, but not all and a lender isn’t going to take a chance on you without the proper certificate. This certificate is referred to a Certificate of Eligibility or COE. Your COE confirms that you qualify for a VA loan. Again, not everyone qualifies. An example would be someone who was dishonorably discharged. You could serve 14 years, but get kicked out under dishonorable conditions and not qualify. Or if you didn’t stay in long enough, you wouldn’t qualify either.

Talk with a Lender

After you’ve been pre-approved for a loan, showed your COE to get a VA-backed loan, your next step is to talk with a loan officer. If you’re going to use a USAA VA loan, you need to call 800-531-0341 to get your actual mortgage application started. The mortgage application is much more detailed than the initial loan approval.

Real Estate Rewards Network

USAA also offers a Real Estate Rewards Network. This network is a team of real estate agents that USAA has partnered with. Using one of these partners can even make you money. Of course there are limitations, but generally, you can make anywhere from $350 to $24,000, whether you’re selling or buying a home. USAA also claims you’re eligible for an award even if you don’t actually get your mortgage loan through them. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to purchase a pretty pricy home to be eligible for the maximum $24,000. And by pricy, we mean $4 mil or more! If you’re looking at buying a more reasonably priced home, say, between $150,000 to $249,000 you’ll get $950 cashback. Again, there are limitations, so buying or selling a house through one of USAA’s partners don’t guarantee you any extra cash. Also, not all states are eligible, so that’s a bit of a letdown.

And if you’re sitting there, reading this and thinking, umm… you can’t buy a house with a VA Loan if it costs $4 mil! Well, you’re wrong, at least you will be next year anyway. If you haven’t heard yet the VA will no longer have a loan limit. Technically, speaking they didn’t have one before. The loan limit really referred to how much you could get without having to make a down payment. However, come 2020, no matter how large a loan you get, you won’t have to make a down payment that’s backed by the VA. However, you should keep in mind, just because there won’t be a loan limit doesn’t mean you can get approved for any loan you apply for. Lenders can still deny a loan. So, keep your credit score in the up direction and live within your means, because the qualification standards aren’t changing.

VA 5/1 Adjustable-Rate Mortage

So here’s the thing. USAA states that getting an adjustable-rate can help lower your cost. However, the adjustable-rate comes with the highest interest rate, with the exception of a 15-year fixed-rate. And considering an adjustable-rate can increase after 5 years, if you can, going with a fixed rate for the long-term might be a better option, if you qualify. If you don’t qualify, well then, you’re stuck with a higher rate. Typically getting a lower interest rate that’s adjustable is attractive, but most people refinance for a lower rate, a shorter loan payment period, or for a fixed rate.  However, keep in mind, with a VA loan, refinancing without an advantage is pretty difficult. For example, you purchased a house with a 3.25% interest rate. You’ve had the loan for four and a half years. Your loan is also adjustable and you’re afraid that your interest rate will go up in the next six months. So, you do some research, call around to various lenders about refinancing your home. Because refinancing from an adjustable-rate to a fixed-rate will guarantee your rate won’t go up, it’s typically not an issue to refinance. However, let us say you have a fixed-rate at 3.25%, you know that refinancing gives you the opportunity to consolidate debt. However, the current interest rate on the market is 3.75%. You might not get approved for this refinance if you’re using a VA loan. But, let’s say you have a 30-year fixed rate for 3.25% and want to refinance for a 15-year fixed. However, the interest rate is 3.75%. If you qualify, you c\would likely get approved to refinance because even with the increased interest rate, you’ll save money in the end.

Currently, USAA’s fixed-rate (based on a 740 credit score) for both the 15 and 30-year VA loan are 3.375% (Aug. 8, 2019).

VA IRRRL

And since we’re on the subject of refinancing, USAA can help you do that too. Again, it only works if you can somehow come out on top. Just because you want to refinance doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. However, if you’re eligible and it makes sense, you might look into doing a VA IRRRL. Often this is referred to as a VA Streamline loan because you’re not required to take any money out of your own pocket like you might with a conventional loan. However, your funding fee doesn’t disappear, unless of course, you qualify for a VA funding fee exemption. If you aren’t exempt, you can roll this fee into your new loan. But, keep in mind, you’re now going to be paying interest on that fee until you pay the loan off. Remember, just because you don’t have to make a down payment or pay fees upfront doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Paying a little money on the front end will save you some money on the back end. So, make sure you do a little math before deciding not to pay these fees upfront or not do a down payment, that is if you can afford it.

First-Time Homebuyers

If you’re a first-time homebuyer, there are several discounts and tax refunds you can take advantage of. Many lenders offer discounts to first-time homebuyers, so USAA isn’t really doing anything new here. However, if you qualify for a VA loan, you should probably go with that over a conventional first-time homebuyer loan, as the interest rates are significantly higher. Most lenders will still give you a discount, in closing cost for example, if you’re a first-time veteran/military homebuyer as well. So, basically, if you qualify, going with a VA loan is typically the better option.

We would like to point out, under USAA’s standards a first-time homebuyer is anyone who hasn’t purchased a home in the past three years. If you’re buying a house every three years, you’re doing something right! For the rest of us though, this means if you bought a house 10 years ago and it’s time to move, or you bought one three years ago, but the military is moving you (and you aren’t trying to get a property manager and worry about a renter) then you still qualify for first-time homebuyer benefits when you get your loan through USAA.

USAA Loans

Just to recap, USAA offers VA loans. However, their rates are typically higher if you don’t have a “very good” credit score rating. With that being said, it’s also harder to get approved for any loan through USAA, at least at what many would consider a reasonable rate. USAA seems to have a few more rules with preapproving individuals as well. They wouldn’t qualify me because my civilian job didn’t match my military job. I literally had to sit there and try to figure out how my now desk job related to my then very physical job. It was really just a matter of wording, but annoying none-the-less. On a positive note, they do have agents who know what they’re doing as far as the VA loan process goes. Unfortunately, if you live in a town that doesn’t deal with VA loans often, you might not have a lot of knowledge working your loan, if you go with a local lender. Really though, it’s best to do your own research on the terms and conditions of a VA loan and how and when you can save money. That way you aren’t relying just on only one individual to give you current, accurate information.

Remember, just because USAA is military friendly, it doesn’t mean they’re always the best option. There are definitely some advantages to going with USAA, especially if you can get the lowest interest rate possible. But, the advantage really depends on your current credit score and financial situation. Also, if you’re a current USAA member, that helps. Basically, do your research. It might be time-consuming and cause you nothing but headaches, but at the end of the day, you’re getting ready to put down some major cash. So, be smart with it. Some lenders charge more fees than others. Meaning, even if they offer the same interest rate, you could save more money with one company over the other. But you won’t know unless you shop around. It’s like shopping for a car, but more intense. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go through the trouble. It’s your money and it’s a house you’re going to be living in it for a while. You should make sure you’re happy with your purchase at the end of the day. And that should include your loan cost and fees – you’re going to have to spend money, why spend more than you have to?

5 Reasons to get Home Security

With everything going on in the world today, you may be more focused on security outside of the home than inside it. In this post, we’re going to cover five of the top reasons to get home security, and not just because you have an extra set of eyes watching over you. We understand, not everyone needs the traditional hardwired home security system. For some of us, a shotgun will do just fine. However, it’s when you aren’t at home, when a fire breaks out, or when you can’t get to a phone, that a security system might do you a little more good than you thought.  Below are our top 5 reasons to get home security, you know, for when a gun won’t work.

Why Purchase a Home Security System

Okay, so we all know the main reason for getting a home security unit, to have someone monitor your home when you aren’t available to do it yourself. You can sit there all day long and say you’ll shoot anyone who thinks he (or she) can come in on you unannounced. But, what happens when a thief breaks in while you’re gone? Yes, you can report your missing laptop to your insurance company, if you have personal property insurance. But, wouldn’t it be nice to identify the intruder? Or, if anything, stops them because an alarm goes off? Not only does an alarm work as a deterrent, but it might actually cause the thief to flee without ever taking a single item.

Of course, there’s also the benefit of video surveillance (if you elect to add that service). This will ensure you have proof of the intruder and might be able to help identify the thief (if you have it set-up to record), which you probably wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. And even if you were home, what you see can often be forgotten in the heat of the moment and the suspect goes from having brown hair to, “most definitely red.” But there’s still so much more a security system can provide, maybe even more than you might have intended on using it for.

Not all home security systems are made equal. Check out our blog, Protect America Home Security Review

Fire and Carbon Monoxide

No, having home security doesn’t put some protective shield around your home so that your house can’t catch on fire. But, it does make it easy to notify the fire department when a fire breaks out and you’re not home to stop it from spreading. It’s also great for notifying the fire department for fires that get out of hand, even when you are home. It’s a lie to tell yourself that you can handle any fire that might break out in your home. Some cases are just too significant to handle on your own and will require a firehose. You might be able to put out a grease fire with the right fire extinguisher, but we doubt you want to attempt and put out a dryer vent fire that sparked while you were asleep and has grown to the point where it has engulfed the entire laundry room.

Need more convincing as to why you should consider a security system than fires? How about carbon monoxide? You hear about it, but probably not something you ever hear anyone becoming the victim of. That doesn’t mean carbon monoxide isn’t a threat to households. Yes, you could buy your own monitor, but what’s nice about the ones that come with home security systems is the notification function. What happens if carbon monoxide is present in your home? Will you be able to make the notification if a leak happened while you and the family were asleep? Luckily for all of us, most alarm companies also monitor carbon monoxide. However, it’s not always cheap, and it’s typically an additional service. Some add it to your plan at “no extra charge” (don’t believe that lie, you’ll pay for it somehow), others charge a small monthly fee or only just make you pay for the extra device.

Have you heard of Guardian Protection? If not, check out our Guardian Protection Home Security Review

Remote Monitoring

Security systems have really advanced over the years. Today you can also have a doorbell installed to remotely monitor what happens on your front porch. Of course, if you just really hate answering the door, you can also see who’s there from the comfort of your own bed…yeah, I don’t think I want to talk to Mike today, I think I’ll pretend I’m out with the wife.  It’s also nice because it lets you see things such as when the delivery truck drops off a package. No more wondering if some hooligan kids came and took that Amazon stash you had waiting for you after work. Now you can watch whatever happens on your doorstep.

Some of the doorbell systems even let you speak to the individual at the front door, which is a pretty cool bonus if you’re too sick to answer the door.  “I love you Danny, but I think I might be dying in here, it’s best you stay outside.” You can also use remote monitoring to let the right people in your home while you’re gone. Let’s say you went on vacation and your BFF realized she left her purse on your kitchen counter after you’d already locked up and made it an hour down the road. You can see when your friend makes it to the door, and then you can use that fancy home automation from your phone to unlock the door for them, and then lock it behind them after they leave.

Save on Home Insurance

Maybe you didn’t think of this one, but having an alarm system can actually save you money on home insurance. Yes, you’ll pay more because home security isn’t free, but you’ll have peace of mind and you’ll save a few dollars on insurance. Some security companies even provide monitoring for apartments (if they don’t require you to drill holes in the floor or wall). Of course, every home or renters insurance company is different, so make sure you talk with them about the option to save money.  I know every time I’ve moved my insurance company asks if I have an alarm system.  I’ve only used a home security system once, but when I did, it saved me a few dollars on my insurance.

Keep in mind, it’s the type of security you have as well that’ll save you money. There’s a difference between an alarm system that notifies you and an alarm system that will notify emergency services immediately. It’s like having a fire alarm that does nothing but annoys you every time the thing needs a new battery and one that sends the fire department; which is more likely to prevent the insurance company from paying to build you an entirely new house? The one with the notification system, of course.  You’ll save more on your homeowner’s insurance with a fire alarm that notifies the fire department than you will by just having a standard alarm you got from Wal-Mart.

Want to do a little comparison shopping? Check out our blog, Vivint vs ADT Home Security

Medical Assistance

No matter who you are, the idea of getting hurt and not being able to get up and call an ambulance or having someone to take you to the hospital is a scary image to have in your head. No, you don’t have to be older to the point where you need help because you’re fallen and can’t get up. Medical emergencies happen even to the youngest of us. When my back went out and I couldn’t get up, my phone was in the other room, and I don’t even consider myself old – yet I still had to wait for an hour until I was able to manage my way to a phone.

Or, what if you’re home doing some DIY project, you fall and break your leg and can’t get up? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to get assistance? Of course, we know the chances of you getting one of those emergency assistance buttons and hanging it around your kneck at 31 are pretty slim, but it’s a nice addition to any home security, knowing you can press it and have medical in route to you.

Then there’s always the option of having medical assistance available to an elderly parent, alone at home, or a disabled family member who had a stroke, and while they can function, can’t drive. They might have a situation where they need immediate assistance and can’t remember or don’t know how to dial 911. They can press a button and get emergency transportation to the nearest emergency room. So, if anything it can give you peace of mind that the one you love has medical help available to them when you aren’t there.

Energy Consumption

This one might be new for some of us, but a home security system can also help you save energy. This is because most of today’s security companies also offer home automation. Home automation lets you control temperature and lights when you aren’t home to do it yourself. This way you can leave your house for the weekend, with the A/C off, but with the click of a button, have it turned back on an hour before you get back to the house. Some automation systems even let you start your washer or dryer, and even a dishwasher, so that’s being taken care of while you’re out of the house as well. Now we just need to have someone around to change the baby’s diapers, feed the dog (actually that can be automated too), and take out the trash.

Interested in home security? Check out our blog, ADT Home Security Review

NRA Carry Guard Review

First off, what is NRA Carry Guard? If you asked someone off the street, they might tell you it’s protection for carrying a gun.  However, it’s a bit more than that, mostly because a lot has changed over the past year. So, we’re here to give you all the details in our complete NRA Carry Guard review, which isn’t exactly what you think it is.

NRA Carry Guard is an educational resource through the NRA. Unfortunately, unless you call them you won’t get a lot of answers (probably their way of making sure they get the opportunity to sell you buy more than what you intended). After searching their website endlessly for pricing details and doing a LOT of digging, it appears the NRA Carry Guard website has gone through some significant changes, mostly for legal reasons.

Not sure which self-defense legal service defense to take advantage of, compare them in our guide, Best Concealed Carry Insurance.

What stayed the same, however, is their educational resources, which are mostly for free, their online guide on what to do in the case of a self-defense shooting (also free), and a little bit of information provided about training courses.

Disclaimer: NRA Carry Guard is NOT a concealed carry insurance (anymore).

What is NRA Carry Guard

Okay, before we get too deep in this, you should know NRA Carry Guard is NOT what it used to be. It used to be up there with programs like USCCA and U.S. & TX LawShield. However, after only a couple of years, the NRA has gone from offering a liability self-defense insurance to a training program.

Which is why, if you go on their website, you no longer find pricing or details on the site making you want to purchase the service. However, they still offer a lot of training resources, so we’ve decided to go ahead and look at what NRA Carry Guard can do for you, even without the “insurance” tag on the end.

If you’re looking to take advantage of a legal defense service with plenty of educational resources, check out U.S. & TX LawShield. You can read about them in our blog, U.S. LawShield Review.

What happened to NRA Carry Guard insurance?

There’s a reason companies like CCW Safe don’t advertise as “insurance” companies. In fact, they make it quite apparent by saying they aren’t insurance, but a self-defense legal service. This is because selling insurance requires things like permits. Of course, insurance sells are different for every state. However, for our example, we’ll use California, since that seems to be one of the major areas of concern NRA Carry Guard had.  In California, you have to have a permit to sell insurance. NRA Carry Guard did not have said permit. When the state of California found out, the NRA came under fire.

Unfortunately, for NRA Carry Guard, this didn’t just happen in California. If you haven’t noticed, NRA Carry Guard’s website has had a complete makeover and they no longer associate themselves with any type of insurance sells. In fact, they talk about training and more training (which by the way isn’t a bad idea; the more training the better).

NRA Carry Guard Then

NRA Carry Guard was actually a firearms liability insurance sponsored by the NRA. This is why you couldn’t sign-up for an NRA membership through NRA Carry Guard. The NRA was pretty much just attaching their name to it. Various news sources have suggest that the NRA was going under financially (because Trump assured everyone their gun rights weren’t going to be taken away when he came into office) because people stopped signing up for an NRA membership. When this happened, the NRA wasn’t getting an influx of funds like they were when people thought their rights were being infringed upon.

So, the NRA decided to attach their name to self-defense insurance to help make up for what they’d been losing in regular NRA membership fees.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out because, well…look where they’re at now. Back to being the regular NRA, we suppose.

NRA Carry Guard Now

Today, NRA Carry Guard offers several free and paid for training guides and programs.  They offer a free “aftermath” guide to help you answer questions like what to say to the 911 dispatcher after you’ve shot someone in self-defense and what you should and shouldn’t say to the cops when they show up on scene.

However, you don’t actually have to be a member of NRA Carry Guard to take advantage of these resources. Even the training courses are offered to almost anyone who wants it. While don’t have to be a member of the NRA or NRA Carry Guard to attend these courses, you do have to have a CCW permit. Unless of course, you live in a constitutional carry state, then this is not a requirement.

Since NRA Carry Guard isn’t what it used to be, look at companies like USCCA for help with legal protection after self-defense. You can read about USCCA in our blog, USCCA Insurance.

NRA Training Courses

NRA Carry Guard offers three types of training, the basic course, intermediate course, and a scenario-based course, ranging from $300 to $859, for 1 to 3 days.

NRA Carry Guard Basic Training

This is the most basic course you can take through NRA Carry Guard, although it’s not the cheapest of the three. That’s because this course involves 1.5 days of training. Along with your training, you get materials and some apparel. This course will run you $425/person.

NRA Carry Guard Intermediate Training

Intermediate training is the next step up from basic. You’ll receive 3 days of training along with the stuff you get in your basic training course. This course will run you $850/person.

NRA Carry Guard Scenario Training

The cheapest training option you can go with is the NRA Carry Guard Scenario Training course. The course is only 1 day, so it’s a bit cheaper than your 1.5 day basic course. You’ll still get materials and some SWAG, but it’ll only cost you $300. And in case you were concerned, your weapons and ammo, and safety gear, of course, are all included in the cost.

Why NRA Carry Guard Training

Unlike many other weapons courses you can take, the NRA Carry Guard courses, particularly the scenario-based one, shows you how to confront situations where you might need to use your firearm. You’re doing more than simply shooting at a target and working on technique. You’re working to be able to effectively take down the adversary through training that puts you in that mindset.

If you’re interested in an actual self-defense legal service, you should check out CCW Safe, one of our number one picks. You can read about them in our blog, CCW Safe Review.

‘Ridiculously given’ Awards to Military Prosecutors Revoked

Edward Gallagher, Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief, was court-martialed for murdering and then posing in pictures with the body. Gallagher was acquitted of most charges, but charges of unlawfully posing with the body stand. However, the news here is that the prosecutors of Gallagher’s case received awards after the acquittal. According to some tweets written by President Trump, the awards were “ridiculously given” since the prosecutors “lost the case.” Apparently, the president didn’t agree with the awards and wanted U.S. Navy Secretary, Richard Spencer to rescind them.

 

Spencer has revoked prosecutors of said awards.

Breaking News: Son, Heir of Osama bin Laden is Dead

Apparently, sometime in the last two years, it has been said that Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza bin Laden died, NBC News reported three U.S. officials saying. However, no details, including any comments from the President have been made.

 

Photo Credit: News Nation

 

There’s no confirmation on where or when Hamza died, but it is said, he was Osama bin Laden’s prospective heir. According to letters found, following his father’s death, Hamza was intended to go to Abbottabad for leadership grooming.

In 2017, former FBI agent Ali Soufan said, “Hamza is being prepared for a leadership role in the organization his father founded” and is “likely to be perceived favorably by the jihadi rank-and-file. With the Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’ apparently on the verge of collapse, Hamza is now the figure best placed to reunify the global jihadi movement.”

The U.S offered up a  $100,000,000 reward to find Hamza’s location while he was living. However, there has been no word as to the U.S. government’s involvement in his death.

 

 

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Concealed Carry Classes

Stepping into your very first concealed carry class, or any class revolving around firearms, might be a daunting task. Especially if you’re not used to handling weapons. If this is you, don’t worry. We all have to start somewhere, and taking a step toward educating yourself on proper carry is a step in the right direction. And in order to help ease your nerves as you make that step, we decided to put together a full article on what to expect in a concealed carry class.

Before we continue, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind. A concealed carry class is not the only firearms training you need. If a concealed carry class is your first class, we highly advise you take an actual training course where you can further your training. You can know all the safety procedures for carrying concealed, but if you can’t aim and hit your target, you’re more of a danger than anything else. Ideally, we’d advise you to take a training course prior to a concealed carry class, especially if you’ve never laid your hands on a weapon. Because safety is a priority. Knowing how to safely handle and use your gun is highly important, and we can’t stress that enough.

In some cases, instructors might turn you away if they feel you won’t be able to complete the course because you don’t have basics safety and gun handling skills. So, to keep this from happening to you, it’s important to consider a training course prior to a CCW course. Then, once you’ve completed a CCW course, continue your training.

Everything you need to know about Concealed Carry Classes

Before you go to class, there are a lot of questions you may have. Like, what to expect. Who will be there? Should I feel intimidated? What will I do in the class? Will I actually get to shoot? Do I need to bring my own firearm? Do I need to bring my own rounds, if so how many? What about targets? Can I bring my own or will the range supply them? Are there qualification standards? All of these are valid questions and you shouldn’t feel stupid for asking them. Typically, however, before you attend any firing course the instructor will send out an email with a list of all the essential items you need to bring. Make sure you read and follow all instructions, trust us, it will make your life easier. If the instructions are unclear, contact the facility or instructor of the course and ask. It is better to ask first than get there and be unprepared and lost.

Who Needs a Concealed Carry Class

Depending on the state you live in, if you want to carry concealed-you might need a permit. In order to get a permit, again, in some states, you first need a concealed carry course. So, who you meet in class can vary from complete beginners to advanced shooters. Even if you don’t have to legally attend a concealed carry course before carrying concealed, it’s a good idea to go and add a little more education to your weapon’s knowledge toolbox. So, realistically, everyone should take advantage of the opportunity to take a CCW course, even if you don’t have to, per law.

What will you Learn in a Concealed Carry Class

First off, every state is different. If your state requires a permit, then your state will have a set list of requirements. Some courses may be one day, others two. You might sit in a class for 8 hours or 12 over the course of a couple days. So, we can’t give you an exact answer on this one because CCW classes aren’t standardized across each state.

However, in general, most classes will cover the following:

How to safely carry your firearm (both at home and on the range to go along with safely carrying concealed, of course).

And since we’re on the topic, here are some safety musts to live by:

  • Know what’s behind your target
  • Don’t point your weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot
  • Always treat your weapon as if it’s loaded, meaning imagine there’s a round in the chamber and it’s on fire
  • Don’t put your finger in the trigger guard unless you’re aiming to shoot
  • Always keep your weapon steady and downrange
  • Don’t joke or jester with your weapon, because guns aren’t toys

Typically you’ll also go over how to safely load and unload a weapon. Since you’re in a CCW class, the instructor will most likely use the most common CCWs to be used, such as a revolver and semiautomatic pistol.

You’ll probably learn some basic marksmanship skills. This means breathing techniques, sight picture/sight alignment, and slow steady trigger pull.

You’ll most likely learn how to properly care for and clean your firearm as well-because a clean weapon is more reliable than a dirty one.

You’re also likely to go over how to store your weapon when you aren’t carrying it. This is an important piece of information here, especially if you have little ones running around. Although, even with safe storage, you should teach your children firearms safety as well.

There will also typically be a period of instruction to go over gun laws for the state you’re in. This will most likely include who can and cannot legally own/carry a firearm and laws on transferring a weapon to someone else. Use of force laws will probably be discussed as well.

Finally, you’ll fire your weapon. Again, every state is different. But, just as an example: you’ll do some dry firing first, then you’ll get to practice and work on the techniques you’ve learned in class. After, you’ll have an assessment where you’ll be required to get 75% of your rounds on paper.

Again, the above is an example. Every class is different, but the above is a good idea of what you’re most likely to see in a CCW class. The best way to find out what’s going to be covered is to talk with someone facilitating the CCW course you’d like to attend.

Should you feel Intimidated

Absolutely not! You and everyone else is there to learn. That also means you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. Because honestly, the guy (or gal) sitting next to you probably has the same question and is too afraid to ask. Even if you happen to be in a class with a “know-it-all,” don’t worry about them. At the end of the day, they probably won’t remember your name anyway. What’s important is that you learn everything you can so you can take it into your daily carry. It’s better to ask questions now than to not know what you’re doing later. And if anything, your instructor is probably more than happy to clarify confusion off to the side – before you get out on the range and shoot someone.

Important Considerations before Carrying Concealed

Maybe you aren’t quite ready to sign-up for a CCW course, that’s okay. Your first step is to make the decision to carry, and that involves a little more than choosing what type of pistol you’ll carry. How you carry, where you’ll store your firearm when not carrying, and if you want carry insurance are all things worth consider prior to actually holstering up.

How you’ll Carry

This may seem odd to those who’ve never carried, but how you carry depends on a few factors. Do you want to carry IWB or OWB? Will you carry on the hip or appendix? Do you typically wear tighter fitting clothes or a dress? Will you have to carry in a purse, backpack, or with a belly band? Will you be carrying a revolver or a semiautomatic pistol? Will you carry every day?

Storing a Gun

Believe it or not, you won’t have your gun on your hip 24/7. There will be times when you need to store it, and places you can’t carry. When this happens, where will you store your gun? Do you have a safe? Do you have a hard carrying case with a lock? Do you have a trigger lock? All are important things to consider prior to purchasing a firearm.

Concealed Carry Insurance

Concealed carry insurance holds a bit of controversy. Do you really need it? If you did have to use your weapon, would the insurance or legal defense service actually do their job? Is it a waste of money? Again, all questions you should ask and do some research on. We suggest starting with this article we wrote: Best Concealed Carry Insurance 2019.

 

Will you actually be able to use your weapon?

Finally, something too many people don’t consider: Will you actually be able to draw and effectively use your firearm if need be? Unfortunately, intention and action are too often very different things. Carrying a weapon holds a lot of responsibility. Not only should you be able to effectively use your weapon, but you should also be mentally prepared to shoot someone. You can have all the training in the world, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get nervous and “forget” how to pull the trigger when needed. This is only one more reason consistent training is so vital. You need muscle memory to kick in when your nerves get the best of you, and that only comes with practice. Remember, shooting at a target and shooting at a living thing are very different, you have to be mentally ready as well as physically. Carrying concealed isn’t about looking cool, it’s about being able to protect yourself and those around you. And if you aren’t prepared to pull the trigger in defense of self or others, what’s the point in carrying a weapon?

IRS: Tax Refund for Disabled Veterans Available, but not for Long

Depending on when you filed your taxes and if you received a notice from the DoD, some combat disabled veterans qualify for a significant refund from the IRS. If for some reason you paid taxes on your disability compensation (a tax-free benefit) between January 17, 1991 and January 1, 2017, then the IRS owes you money.

Unfortunately, you can only reclaim your refund within a certain period of time, otherwise, you’ve lost the ability to get that money back.

• Must file for a refund one year from time of DoD notification or
• Three years after the due date for filing or
• Two years after you paid taxes on your disability benefits

To file a claim with the IRS, you will need to mail a copy of your 1040X and your notification letter received from the DoD to:

Internal Revenue Service
333 W. Pershing St. Stop 6503, P5
Kansas City, MO 64108

If for some reason, you have paid taxes on your disability benefits after January 17, 1991, but never received a letter for the DoD, you will need to either contact the National Archives, National Personnel Records Center, or the VA so they can send you the proper documentation needed to go with your 1040X. Once you receive the letter, then you can include it with your 1040X and get your tax refund.

Schwab Corporation to Acquire over $90B in USAA Investment Management Assets for $1.8B in Cash

According to Business Wire, Walt Bettinger, president and CEO of Schwab said, “We are honored to be entrusted with serving the financial needs of USAA’s members. We have long admired USAA’s mission to enhance the financial security of our country’s military service men and women and their families. Both of our companies share a commitment to integrity and service, and both have strong track records of achievement for those we serve, which is why we believe this relationship makes so much sense for everyone involved.”

This statement was made as a result of a definitive agreement made on July 25 with USAA to acquire USAA Investment Management assets.

Bettinger continued by saying, “We know USAA’s talented employees have set a high bar for its members. We believe Schwab’s commitment to value, service, transparency, and trust strongly aligns to the USAA community’s expectations.”

So, what does this mean for current USAA investing members? According to the Schwab Corporation, it means that USAA members will have 24-hour support, 365 days a year and at a low cost with no brokerage account minimums (unless you’re opening a new account, then a minimum is required). Ultimately, there will be a broader platform for USAA members with a lower cost than what they’re currently getting.

Stuart Parker, CEO of USAA, said, “Our mission is to facilitate the financial security of the military community through highly competitive products. This agreement with Schwab can help enhance our members’ financial futures with a client-first approach that offers access to more choices in investment products. We are committed to making this a seamless transition for members and providing opportunities for employees. USAA remains focused on providing award-winning customer service and advice on products and services across property and casualty, banking and life insurance.”

And if you’re not happy with this change? Well, Schwab Bank claims to refund you any eligible fees.

You can listen in on the conference call with the Schwab executives as they discuss the transaction Friday, July 26, 2019 at 10:00 AM EST at www.schwabevents.com/corporation (you’ll have to register first, takes only seconds, but give yourself enough time to set up an account if you plan to listen and ask any questions).