You're probably careful with your money. But if you're like most people, you may not be aware of the best ways to save, budget and plan for your financial future. Fortunately, each service has a Personal Financial Management program that can help you keep your finances in good shape, save for the future, improve your credit and resolve financial problems. Although financial planning services can be very expensive in the civilian world, the financial services offered at installation family centers, Military OneSource and the Military and Family Life Counselors program are available at no cost to service members and their families.
Although they vary by service branch, PFM programs include classes, seminars, one-on-one counseling and additional information to educate service members and their families about consumer rights and help them achieve financial stability.
Financial education classes
Service members and their families are invited to attend classes and seminars about a variety of financial topics. These classes can help service members and their families make sound financial decisions by educating them about good financial practices, helping them to recognize and avoid financial traps, and teaching them their rights and obligations as consumers. Special classes for youth and teens are also offered to help them make better financial decisions.
Training programs may be mandatory for service members who are at high risk for financial problems, those scheduled for their first permanent change of station, those preparing for deployment or those who have abused or misused check-cashing privileges. Topics include:
- Banking and credit union services
- Budgeting, goal setting, record keeping and cash management
- Credit use and abuse
- Consumer rights and obligations
- Military pay
- Planning for parenthood, deployment, college or retirement
Financial counselors are uniquely suited to help service members and their families take control of their finances and plan their financial futures. They understand the military environment, the financial challenges service members face, and the various programs, services and resources available to help them manage and plan their fiscal futures. Financial professionals can offer the following types of assistance:
- Give you personal finance basics. Counselors can go over your finances and suggest ways to pay down debt. They can also teach you about savings, managing your checking account, investments and making a family budget.
- Help you with your credit record. If there's something on your credit report that you don't think is correct, you can go to a financial management counselor for help. The counselor can provide information on consumer rights and make appropriate referrals to military and civilian resources responsible for resolving such complaints.
- Educate you about military savings programs. PFM counselors can give you information about the Savings Deposit Program for eligible deployed personnel and investment programs like the Thrift Savings Program (see links below).
- Help you develop a debt repayment plan. Counselors will help you contact creditors and come up with a plan to pay off your debts. Once a debt repayment plan has been established, counselors will help track the plan to ensure that debts are eliminated and that you can manage your finances independently.
- Talk with you about consumer advocacy and whether to make large purchases. If you're thinking of buying a car or a house, or getting any kind of personal loan, a financial counselor can talk with you about whether this step makes financial sense for you right now. If you decide to make a large purchase but don't have the money for it now, a counselor can help you make a plan to save.
- Coordinate with emergency financial assistance organizations. Counselors can help you learn more about the service branch emergency financial aid organizations (see links below) and request financial assistance, if necessary.
- Help you understand bankruptcy. Be aware that there are long-term consequences to filing for bankruptcy, such as difficulty in qualifying for mortgages or other loans. Seasoned PFM counselors report that in most cases, a viable financial plan can be developed in lieu of a service member filing for bankruptcy.
Financial professionals provide services for individual unit and command-level events (for example, family days and deployment readiness briefings) through the Joint Family Resource Center. To find a Personal Financial Management counselor, visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS and select "Personal Financial Management Services." For service members and their families who are not near a military installation, financial counseling is also available through Military OneSource (800-342-9647) and the Military and Family Life Counselors program.
Your Personal Financial Management counselor can give you more information about these financial programs for service members:
- Financial Readiness Campaign. The DoD and military service branch PFM programs have partnered with federal agencies and nonprofit organizations to educate service members and their families through the Financial Readiness Campaign. This campaign helps to increase financial awareness, reduce dependency on credit and increase protection for service members against predatory lending practices. Because of the Financial Readiness Campaign, some services now use the term "financial readiness" in place of "personal financial management."
- Military relief societies. Each service branch has an associated private, nonprofit organization that assists service members and their families in times of need. These relief societies can help with things like emergency transportation, funeral expenses, medical bills, food, rent, utilities, disaster relief, child care expenses, vehicle repair or other unforeseen family emergencies. For more information about the relief societies, please contact the Army Emergency Relief, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society or the Air Force Aid Society.
- Military Saves. A partnership between the Consumer Federation of America and the service branches, the Military Saves program helps service members create a savings plan and offers information about high-interest savings, consumer reporting, credit scores and overall financial well-being. A part of Military Saves, Military Youth Saves is a social marketing program to encourage kids and teens to develop good savings habits at a young age.
- The Savings Deposit Program provides service members serving in designated combat zones the opportunity to build their financial savings at the very high rate of ten percent interest. The Savings Deposit Program is available only during deployment.
- Thrift Savings Plan. The Thrift Savings Plan is a government-sponsored program providing retirement income for military service members and other federal employees. Although contributing to TSP is optional, many service members take advantage of the plan because their contributions are tax deferred. Your contributions to the TSP are yours to keep, whether you leave the military or stay in until retirement.
Financial information is at your fingertips through your electronic device, as well. You can download the podcast Financially Ready, Mission Steady to learn about the eight pillars of personal financial readiness and get a head start on planning your personal spending plan. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is another great place to learn about financial programs, especially how to protect your money from consumer fraud. With the easy availability of information and professional counselors, service members and their families can be sure to keep their finances in order!