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Consumer Watch: Coalition offers financial tools, resources for vets

Jul. 31, 2014 - 02:21PM   |  
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Active-duty families enjoy many programs, services, laws and discounts designed to help strengthen their personal finances.

Financial educators teach troops to be smart about saving money and warn them away from predatory lenders. Military relief societies loan or grant money to troops in emergencies. Laws provide financial protections. Discounts and deals stretch paychecks.

But once you leave the military, most of those benefits vanish, unless you’re among the 17 percent of troops who serve long enough to qualify for military retirement.

The new Veterans Financial Coalition was formed in late June to address the financial well-being of veterans who leave service short of retirement. The coalition seeks to educate veterans and the community organizations that serve them about financial issues; conduct research and advocate for consumer protections for vets; and raise awareness of their financial needs.

Initial members of the coalition include the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action, Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, and Visa Inc. Consumer Action will host training programs for organizations in cities with large veteran populations, starting in September with Virginia Beach, Virginia, and San Diego.

The nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, made up of nearly 250 consumer groups, wants to increase visibility of its America Saves campaign and highlight the challenges troops face because of loopholes in the interpretation of the Military Lending Act, said Tom Feltner, CFA’s director of financial services.

Feltner notes that any debts troops rack up through predatory lenders while on active duty will transition with them when they leave the military — along with the potential financial instability that comes with such loans.

“If we highlight problems with abusive credit and the need to save, it makes transitioning easier,” Feltner said.

The coalition’s website, www.VeteransFinancialCoalition.com, has resources geared to vets, and general information about financial issues.

For example, Consumer Action has the “Economic Survival Guide for Servicemembers and Veterans,” steering troops and veterans to better alternatives for financial services, and describing common scams aimed at veterans.

“Credit Reports, Credit Scores and Specialty Reports” lays out what goes into your credit reports and score, how to interpret a credit score, and offers tips on improving your credit score.

Visa’s “Tactical Money Guide for Transitioning from the Military” delves into a variety of topics: life and health insurance, investment strategies, information on VA-backed loans, managing money and using credit.

The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education has tools to help find certified professional financial counselors.

It’s good to know someone is paying attention to veterans’ financial issues after they leave the military.

And if you’re still on the active-duty side of a transition, give yourself a head start by taking advantage of all these resources to better set yourself up for civilian life.■

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