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Have your December credit card bills arrived?

Has the New Year been a great start or are you looking at the bills from Christmas and the holiday season and shaking your head? Do you have credit card debt that is being carried month to month? Or do you have savings that you would like to invest for college or retirement?  In either case, you should read this blog!

I had the privilege to interview the president of an organization that can help with your financial issues and their services are free!  My excitement grew as I realized how many resources there were to help the military community.  FINRA – (who said civilians do not have acronyms?) Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has an Investor Education Foundation with a military resource section.  Gerri Walsh made time in her busy schedule to talk so I could help point you to their information and resources to make your lives better! End of purpose – not a sale, no agenda except to help you!

Gerri Walsh was friendly, well in tuned to military issues and was able to list off the names of the family services at each military service (do you know each one?) and a highly experienced financial expert and attorney. We talked for a long time and covered a lot of ground about your finances. I felt like she had walked the military life as we shared information.
Gerri Walsh, President FINRA
Investor Education Foundation
Let’s start with debt – the biggest mistake that military folks make is overspending and getting deep in debt. Walsh described it as an “endless cycle of debt” with “balances carried over” from month to month on credit cards, use of payday loans and other high interest loans to meet obligations. How do you track your spending? Do you know where your dollars are going? We recently purchased a new computer with software to track our personal spending but at SaveandInvest there are some handy tracking tools as well! She said, “we have resources” that are free and include Tips, Worksheets, Printable Budget Plans and Excel Products to track your spending. Did I mention this is free?

Let’s move on to employment! Gerri said that at the end of February/early March they will announce the 50 fellowships available for military spouses to learn and earn an Accredited Financial Counselor™ certificate. FINRA pays for the cost of training and military spouses then use an online program, webinars and two exams at the end of the program to earn this credential while supporting the military community with financial counseling. Great mixture of education, advancing your career and supporting the military at the same time!  Interested?

Starting to think about moving on to that video game you received as a Christmas gift? Instead let's play "Moneytopia!”. The military money center at SaveandInvest describes it as a way to “…learn more about managing your money while having fun.” This game has the purpose to help you reach "The Big Dream” and has short tutorials on every type of financial transaction. This is a resource for young couples and singles wishing to learn more about their finances, reaching a goal and having fun while doing it.  Or is military retirement or separation looming?  Find out if you are ready or what income you will need from that next job to maintain your lifestyle. 

Have you reached the point where you need to consider college plans for yourself or your family? Or do you want to save and invest for future dreams? After major headlines created by fraud and scams and the uncertainty of Wall Street where do does one turn? How do you avoid problems? The percentage of fraud and scams is very low according to Gerri who has extensive experience with the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) but the impact if it hits you can be devastating! “ASK and CHECK” were her headlines for the investor. Is the broker registered and licensed? Reputation? How about a free tool to help to find out?  FINRA BrokerCheck

Tough choices to be made in the age of frauds like Bernie Madoff; economic challenges with loss of employment opportunities; a housing crisis with foreclosure notices and of course the military personnel cuts that loom in the future too.

What is her biggest concern for scams/fraud? “Affinity Fraud”. A veteran sales person? Yes, and we did have this happen to us during an investment to save for our future. The veteran, the part time job, the spouse, etc can be the door opener for many sales to our community. She said to say “look beyond the sales pitch” and again, “ASK and CHECK”. The original funds that provided the Foundation resources were the fines that First Command and Fidelity Investment paid to the SEC for deceptive sales to fellow veterans.

Why should you be concerned about your finances? Did you know that the biggest factor for difficulties on security clearance approval? Eighty (80) percent of denials for security clearances are based on the members financial instability according to Gerri! Wow, and military personnel are so afraid to talk to mental health professionals to avoid problems with their clearances but instead should be talking to a financial counselor.  

So let’s get ready for Military Saves Week from 19 to 26 February by doing the research, finding a method to control spending, invest in your future smartly and share this information with friends! You might save a career, a marriage (finances are one of the leading causes of divorce as well) or prevent someone from falling into the fraud trap!  Send them a link to this blog or to more information at "Getting your Finances in Order for 2012" can be found in MilitaryAvenue's Reading Room.

Have a great 2012 financial year! A big thank you to Gerri Walsh is due. Your gracious attitude, helpful interview and concern for the finances for military families represent the best of America! Thank you from all of us at MilitaryAvenue and the military community.





Photo Credits:  FINRA


Photo Credit:  U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric J. Cutright

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