By Jason Alderman
The latest generations of veterans face a particularly complicated financial picture, attributed to multiple deployments, a tough civilian economy, predatory lending threats at home and disability and health issues.
That’s why the Veterans Financial Coalition (http://www.veteransfinancialcoalition.org) was formed in June 2014 by a diverse group of organizations including Visa’s Practical Money Skills for Life, Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE), Consumer Action, and the Consumer Federation of America. The coalition welcomed three new members in November – Call For Action, the National Consumers League (NCL) and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).
The organization aims to meet the needs of veterans reentering civilian life by executing three goals:
Educate veterans and the community organizations that serve them.
Research consumer protections for veterans.
Raise awareness for veterans’ financial needs.
Aside from the Veterans Financial Coalition, returning veterans and reservists can also use the following suggestions and resources to build their post-military financial and career path:
Get personalized advice: Throughout the military career life-cycle, active military, reservists and retired military personnel have access to specific savings, investing and spending resources. But nothing takes the place of personalized financial/tax advice and lifetime personal finance education.
Veterans can view and download resources such as budgeting tips, tax break information and educational games from the Veterans Financial Coalition. As part of the Coalition’s free resources, the AFCPE also provides an online database to locate a certified professional financial counselor to help with savings, spending, investing and tax issues. On the credit front, Wells Fargo has partnered with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and its Sharpen Your Financial Focus initiative to deliver Wells Fargo’s Hands on Banking (http://www.handsonbanking.org/financial-education/hands-on-banking-for-military/) education program specifically for servicemembers.
Take advantage of all transition assistance programs. The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a first-step clearinghouse for information on VA career, educational, financial and vocational rehabilitation assistance. Workshop and video guides are available on the site in addition to links to the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) program and other VA training and career success programs. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Career One Stop site also offers additional information on military-specific career programs.
Avoid scams. Sadly, active and returning military personnel are often targets for a diverse range of financial fraud. Veterans Financial Coalition member Consumer Action offers an Economic Survival Guide for Servicemembers and Veterans.
Get tax help. The Internal Revenue Service website provides a variety of tax resources for active military and veterans.
It is also worthwhile to work with a licensed tax professional with expertise in military transition issues. It’s a good idea to rely on trusted friends and family for referrals to tax professionals who have experience working with active military and veterans, but you can also contact your state CPA (Certified Public Accountant) society to gather names of professionals in your area. Always remember to interview professionals before you hire them.
Go deeper on education breaks. Check the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website for its education benefits. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, for example, may cover the full cost of in-state tuition and fees for a public college for up to 36 months (four years) after release from active duty. A combination of VA tuition and training programs can offer more assistance. Student aid programs also exist for the children of deceased and disabled veterans. FinAid.org offers background on many of these programs.
Bottom line: If you’re a veteran or know one, take advantage of the full range of financial, career and training resources to secure a bright, post-military future.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.