By Monica Wood, Fort Sill PAOFebruary 16, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- It happens to most of us in our lifetimes -- financial problems whether it's credit card debt, mismanagement of money or lack of financial planning and saving. Some people go to financial institutions for help with making a budget or getting a consolidated loan but those institutions charge money for those services.
For Soldiers and their families the Financial Readiness Program at Fort Sill has the answers and it won't cost them any interest or hourly charges.
"Our mission is to provide financial education and training to Soldiers and families. These financial resources will help enhance their personal financial readiness and deploy-ability through the use of sound management and consumer skills," said Zilpa Oseguera, Financial Readiness Program counselor and trainer and Army Emergency Relief Officer at Army Community Service.
"Currently, Soldiers and their spouses can come in and each obtain a free credit report score. We'll explain how the score is calculated and also help analyze this information to show them ways to improve their score. We can also provide them with information on how to dispute charges. Knowing your score can be powerful in getting better rates on their loans," she added.
The FRP can offer Soldiers their free credit score because Department of the Army has partnered with saveandinvest.org to make sure Soldiers and families make sound financial decisions.
According to Oseguera, financial readiness is the program that will help Soldiers with important resources and tools to stay afloat in the current economy and financial situation we are in. The tools will benefit them throughout their lives, even after retirement.
"The young Soldiers just coming into the Army often have accumulated debt and many times if they don't address that debt, it's going to affect their military career. The information they acquire through the FRP gives them the power to help them make that change for their future and their career," she said. "Helping them set financial goals can make the difference in their present and future life."
The FRP goal is to prevent Soldiers from getting into financial trouble and educate them on avoiding financial problems and helping them plan for their future, she said.
Military Saves Week Feb. 20-26
The military is no exception to personal financial woes. To combat the mounting personal debt, the Military Saves campaign is a Department of Defense financial readiness campaign to persuade military service members, family members and the wider military community to reduce debt and save money, thereby ensuring personal wealth and stability and positively impacting the nation's personal and household savings rates.
"This year's theme is start small and think big," said Oseguera. "The idea is to motivate military service and family members to reduce debt and save money."
Military Saves is sponsored by the non-profit Consumer Federation of America. The campaign was launched throughout DoD in 2007. It is part of two larger campaigns the DoD Financial Readiness Campaign, and the national America Saves campaign.
While it is an ongoing campaign, the entire military community comes together to focus on financial readiness during Military Saves Week, Feb. 20-26.
According to military officials, personal financial security of service members is a crucial aspect of military readiness. "All members of our Army family should set a personal savings or debt reduction goal, make a simple savings plan, and take action on that plan, or take another positive wealth-building action during Military Saves week, and pledge to sustain that action the following year," said Oseguera.
The Military Saves campaign encourages: developing a personal financial plan; establishing good credit; saving a portion of each paycheck; enrolling in the Service members' Group Life Insurance, the Thrift Savings Plan, and, when eligible, the Savings Deposit Plan.
Military Saves workshops
The Military Saves Workshop is offered Feb. 22 and 23 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Rooms 209 and 219 of the Welcome Center, 4700 Mow-Way Road. The topics include creating a family spending plan, building wealth through savings and investing, taking control of debt, buying your dream car, protect your identity and personal information and what is a good credit score?
The workshops are free but pre-registration is required. Childcare is available if registered two weeks in advance. Call 442-4916 to register for the workshops.
According to Oseguera, financial workshops will be offered throughout the year and Family and MWR eligible patrons can also stop by ACS for one-on-one coaching and access to resources to increase their savings. "They can also get a free FICO score and credit report," she said. "The key is to live below your means -- not above your means. That means having a spending plan which covers the necessities first and then seeing if you have enough money for the variable expenses like entertainment."
Resources, assistance programs
The FRP offers other resources and assistance programs like Army Emergency Relief, command referrals, Emergency Food Voucher Program, Family Supplemental Subsistence, allowances and benefits, planning and budgeting, using credit wisely and information on the Military Thrift Savings Plan.
"Financial readiness provides the tools necessary to help Soldiers be prepared to deal with financial challenges." she said. "Soldiers that take a proactive approach and have a financial plan will find themselves more resilient and less stressed especially during a deployment."
FRP also oversees Army Emergency Relief which can provide grants or a loan for emergencies Soldiers and families may encounter from appliance or vehicle repairs to travel money to be with a dying family member. The loans are interest-free loans compared to going to a financial institution and paying a big chunk of interest.
"Our leadership wants Soldiers to steer away from payday lending agencies because these loans are often tagged with high interest rates that may put the Soldier deeper in the hole," she said. "Our command is so interested in the success of the Soldiers and their families and that's why we want them to seek out our resources so that we can help them succeed financially."
The program also offers consumer affairs to assist Soldiers to address issues with a business which is using unfair or illegal practices or when they have a dispute with the business things like getting out of a rental agreement or buying an automobile or appliance repair.
FRP also offers a Food Voucher Program which is a command initiative to ensure families have something to eat when they run short of money. Soldiers should go through their first sergeant to be referred for the program.
Coupons resource, workshops
"We are partnering up with Army Family Team Building to offer coupon workshops and classes which will educate Soldiers and spouses on saving money on groceries and household items, which is where a large percentage of the household budget is spent," said Oseguera. "We also have a table here with coupons available to pick up to help families save on groceries. It's another proactive approach that military families can take when looking at ways to save money."
Another upcoming program is commissary tours to assist Soldiers and spouses in learning to stretch the food allowance by comparison shopping coupon matching and knowing where to get the best price on consumer products.
So whether you want to learn your credit score, get information on managing your budget, look into an AER loan or grant, or if you're looking for ways to save for Military Saves Week, make an appointment or stop by ACS to learn more about it through the Financial Readiness Program. For more information, call FRP at 442-4916.