There are financial resources available for active members provided by both the government and outside organizations, but do your homework.
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“You have to consider the sources. Sometimes it looks like it’s a military site, but it’s not. People make their names sound very patriotic. They may even have retired military officers or enlisted folks on their staff, but that doesn’t make them necessarily credible or honest,” says Jean Wilczynski, who served seven years in the Coast Guard and is now a financial advisor at Exencial Wealth Advisors.
Here are four nonprofit financial resources available to military personnel and their families.
FINRA Foundation’s Military Financial Readiness Project
Launched in 2006, the Military Financial Readiness Project developed by the FINRA Foundation provides free financial education tools and training to servicemembers and their spouses. The multi-faceted project includes educational toolkits for trainers and investors, an online resource center—SaveAndInvest.org—and on-base activities and events.
“Saveandinvest.org is a pretty rich storehouse of financial articles, action guides, publications, and information for servicemen and women that are hopefully going to empower them…to manage their money with confidence,” says Bud Schneeweis, director, Military Financial Readiness Project at FINRA Investor Education Foundation.
Originally funded with fine money levied against a firm that was providing misleading statements in selling products to military personnel, the project now aims to give servicemembers the tools and information they need to make informed saving and investing decisions. It is also one of the Department of Defense Financial Readiness collaborators.
“What we say is: free and unbiased information. So there’s no hard sell, we don’t allow any advertising on our products, website, or publications we put out there. We think it’s a place that servicemembers can come to and trust. We’re a foundation after all, we aren’t in this to be making money,” says Schneeweis.
Military OneSource is a Department of Defense-funded program that provides educational materials on every aspect of military life at no cost to active duty members. It’s a one-stop shop on all things military life and features articles, tips, helpful resources and program information about topics like deployment, grief, parenting and spouse support. Military members can also have their taxes done for free through the program.
“It’s actually not a dot com, it’s not a commercial website, it doesn’t have any commercial endorsements, it’s actually set up by the government,” says Michael Meese, a retired brigadier general with the U.S. Army.
The site offers some resources provided by the government and some links to private organizations. It has a confidential call center and online support available 24-hours a day, as well as face to face non-medical counseling for such issues as everyday stress, marital problems, financial assistance and more.
“They definitely use accredited counselors and people with their certifications. [They’re] very careful about who provides the guidance,” says Wilczynski.
The Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA) of 2003 is meant to help members “devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation,” according to the wording of the Act itself.
One main provision allows members to cap interest rates at 6% while on active duty, if the debt was obtained before duty began and the ability to pay said debt is affected by military assignment. This extends to credit card, mortgage or loans for military personnel or their spouse, and, as of 2008, includes federal student loans.
The SCRA also provides credit rating protection, cancellation/termination of automobile and property leases under certain conditions and ensures protection against eviction and foreclosure. It is recommended that members talk to their Armed Forces Legal Assistance Attorney regarding the SCRA to get help in taking advantage of the provisions that apply to them.
The American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association is the oldest nonprofit organization that focuses on taking care of military members and their families. Established in 1879, the original purpose of the organization was to aid the families of deceased military members. Today, membership has grown to over 90,000 current and former soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines and Coast Guard members.
“AAFMAA helps current and former military families manage life’s uncertainties with high-quality financial solutions, life insurance, and unique survivor assistance at affordable prices that only a nonprofit military mutual aid association can provide,” says Meese, also current COO of AAFMAA.
AAFMAA offers affordable life insurance—the same insurance the government gets at a discounted rate—as well as an “INTEL Center” that has information on financial planning, personal finance and government benefits information. To become a member, visit the website, fill out the application, and if medical requirements are met, you can purchase a life insurance policy. Members can then purchase additional policies for themselves, their spouse, children and grandchildren.