The staff of Fort Campbell’s Army Community Service-Financial Readiness program strive to empower Soldiers and Families to understand and take charge of their finances.
ACS-Financial Readiness also works with personal finance counselors who are embedded at brigades and major units across the installation.
“They are embedded at the units to be the Soldiers’ immediate source for financial readiness concerns,” said Terrence Jones, ACS-Financial Readiness program manager. “That prevents time and distraction away from units because personal financial counselors can take care of them on the spot.”
During April’s National Financial Literacy Month, the staff of ACS-Financial Readiness and the embedded personal financial counselors hope to arm Soldiers and their Families with information to make good financial decisions while raising awareness about the financial services available to them, Jones said.
Steve Stone, accredited financial specialist for ACS-Financial Readiness, said the 12 embedded private financial counselors, or PFCs, can often answer financial questions which saves Soldiers from having to take time away from their unit for an appointment at ACS, which is another option.
“They are here to provide financial counseling and education to Soldiers and Family members,” Stone said. “Our PFCs have been a great asset and provided needed support and financial education to the military community.”
Embedded personal financial counselors are eager to share their knowledge and help Soldiers establish healthy financial habits and build good credit scores.
“We work with Army Community Service to carry out the Department of Defense’s financial readiness mission,” said Wayne Crary, a personal financial counselor embedded with United States Army Medical Activity at Fort Campbell. “Our job is to help Soldiers be better with their finances so that they can focus on their mission within the military and not have to worry as much about their finances.”
Personal financial counselors can offer assistance with a variety of financial issues, from building credit for the first time, to saving for retirement. Counselors can tailor their advice to a Soldier’s specific needs, Crary said.
“For some, maybe they’ve never had a budget and they have issues with debt and credit,” he said. “For others, it’s the opposite end of the spectrum and they are trying to be better about saving and investing and making their money work harder for them, and everything in between.”
As part of the National Financial Literacy Month observance, Crary hosted an online Lunch and Learn session via Zoom April 7. He and other counselors have three more online sessions coming up, 11:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m. April 14, 21 and 28.
The first session focused on saving automatically by planning to set aside money each month, rather than hoping money is left over to put in savings.
The April 14 session will focus on saving for the unexpected, the April 21 session will be about saving for retirement, and the April 28 session will focus on handling debt and credit.
Links to the sessions will be posted on the Fort Campbell ACS Facebook page. Soldiers may not be able to join the Zoom meeting with their work computers but can access the link with their smartphones or personal computers, Crary said.
Counselors are a free resource to help Soldiers and their Families meet whatever financial goals they have in mind, he said. They also can provide free FICO scores and credit reports, help Soldiers establish budgets and show clients how to use money they might save to then pay off debt.
“We get them to understand what credit is, how it works, how it can be good for them and how they can get in financial trouble with it,” Crary said. “And then, we help them with ways to build their credit and/or improve their credit.”
One way he suggests establishing credit is by getting a secured credit card with a low credit limit.
“Credit cards themselves aren’t bad,” Crary said. “It’s how we use them, so if they’ve never had one, they might start by going to their credit union or bank, taking out a credit card with a low balance on it and charging one small thing a month and then paying the bill every month when it shows up.”
Paying on time is a key factor to building good credit, whether it’s a credit card, car payment or other bill, accounting for 35% of one’s credit score, he said.
“The next 30% of their score is credit utilization, and that boils down to what percentage of that available credit is being used,” Crary said.
For a credit card with a $1,000 credit limit that means keeping the balance at less than $300, he said. The goal is not to use the entire credit limit and then slowly chip away at the balance to pay it off as this will have a negative impact on the user’s credit score.
Credit card users don’t always consider how much extra they will pay when interest rates are added in, so he recommends paying off balances sooner rather than later, Crary said.
“As consumers, we live in a society that has lots of reason for us to buy now and pay later,” he said. “We don’t often pay attention to the small print on what kind of interest rate we’re paying on those credit cards, or even loans of other types.”
Crary said sometimes Soldiers might be afraid or embarrassed to check their credit scores, but knowing how it looks and how to improve that number can be empowering. That starts with budgeting and understanding how incoming dollars are spent, what bills have to be paid and how to spend or save what is left.
“Tracking how we spend makes it easier to figure out how to pay off debt faster,” he said. “That financial literacy really looks at our whole financial picture, and credit and debt are a big part of that. It takes time to get there, but it’s kind of like looking at everything in concert.”
Those interested in financial counseling have several places to turn at Fort Campbell, he said. ACS has experts who can address many topics and personal financial counselors embedded at the brigades are nearby for Soldiers who want assistance. To find the best counselors for their needs, Soldiers can call Crary at 270-570-1290.