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Consumer Watch: Take advantage of the military's valuable personal finance training

Jun. 8, 2012 - 04:54PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 8, 2012 - 04:54PM  |  
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When it comes to helping young troops maneuver the minefields of financial problems and scams, one of the best defenses is education.

But these programs cost money, and in the Navy the service that has been leading the way the trained personal finance instructors who teach young sailors will see their contract end June 30.

"Fiscal realities have forced us to make some tough decisions, which includes the decision to not renew funding for the personal financial management contract instructors," Doug Kibbey, executive director for the Navy's Center for Personal and Professional Development, wrote in an email.

The contract provided two days of specialized financial instruction to all sailors attending "A" school. That's the first school a sailor attends after boot camp.

Sailors will continue to have two days of personal finance training, instead delivered by their regular "A" school instructors, who "will cover all of the PFM topics required by current directives," Kibbey said.

The Navy has been doing exemplary work in this area. Hopefully the school instructors will be creative in keeping sailors engaged in an important topic.

Army Emergency Relief has been funding personal finance training for soldiers Army-wide since 2008, said AER spokesman Guy Shields. The Army has notified AER that it will be able to pick up the tab for the training for 2013, Shields said.

"We think of this training as an investment in the future," Shields said. "It gives these young troops a solid foundation. Many have never balanced a checkbook or bought a car."

Information was not available at press time about the training for Marines or whether the Corps anticipates any changes. The Air Force only provided a link to the Air Force Aid Society.

The Navy developed its curriculum for personal finance training in-house, and it is currently taught by instructors through a contract with San Diego City College, which also contracts with AER for its training of new soldiers.

Ron Jaeh, a retired Navy captain who is now a military consultant with San Diego City College, said it is "sad" that the Navy is discontinuing this contract because of the experience the instructors brought to the classes.

All instructors are required to have four years of financial background such as in banks or credit unions and about 90 percent of instructors are retired military or military spouses.

Soldiers and sailors asked questions in these training sessions that sometimes led to commands being able to help them after they were ripped off and in some cases, put unscrupulous businesses off limits, Jaeh said.

Among several examples provided by a Navy command at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas: A student reported in personal finance training that he had bought a $200 watch for $1,200. The command helped him return the watch and stop the allotment set up to pay for it.

Troops' financial well-being has received more attention over the past several years. Solving the problems will require a broad spectrum of approaches new government agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office of Servicemember Affairs, new laws, Defense Department and service actions, military relief societies stepping up in financial emergencies, and military financial institutions offering products and education.

Personal financial management professionals hold specific classes and counseling for financial problems, often at base family centers. Legal assistance officers, command financial specialists and other installation officials help some troops get out from under bad deals.

Watch for these deals

Keep an eye out for these in-store coupons and deals at your commissary in June and July:

Through June 30, Nestle Purina Pet Care is offering extra discounts on pet food and litter items.

From June 28 through July 25, Del Monte Foods will offer savings of up to 50 percent on a variety of dog snacks and 12 brands of dog and cat foods.

From June 14 through July 11, ConAgra Foods will offer specialty coupons, each for an additional $3 off 10 of their participating summer seasonal products. Each redeemed coupon will result in a 25-cent donation to the USO, up to $5,000.

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