Military mother talks with her daughter

The AFC® designation is used in several career fields, one of which is working with military families. Inside the government are service roles and government contract roles. Additionally, there are relief societies that assist Service members and their families.

A government service financial professional is hired through a government posting. One such role, done by an active duty Service member, is Command Financial Specialist. Others can include titles such as Personal Financial Readiness Specialist, Work and Family Life Consultant, Work/Life Specialist/Consultant, and Emergency Financial Assistance Specialist.

There are several programs provided to military families free of charge but are supported by government contracts. These individuals work for the company holding the contract directly, or indirectly as a subcontractor. Some examples are Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program (SFL-TAP), Survivor Outreach Services, Personal Financial Counselor, Military OneSource Financial Counselor, or Accredited Financial Counselor. Relief societies have volunteers and paid positions providing financial counseling to those in need as part of emergency relief.

Some programs will allow someone to obtain the certification while on the job, and others require the certification and experience prior to beginning the role. So read job descriptions carefully to see if you qualify.

Accredited Financial Counselors® will find the education and ethics of AFCPE® to be a good fit for working with military families. Each role may have specific aspects of personal finance that are covered, or it may be broad in nature. One thing that is a norm across all positions working with military families is that financial counselors educate Service members and their families on all areas of personal finance, but do not tell them where to put their money, how to invest or spend, nor guide them to resources and tools that are not approved by the government. One great resource to become familiar with is the website for the Office of Financial Readiness. This website contains a great number of government-approved resources, information, referrals, and tools.

There are aspects of working with military families that will be very similar to the civilian world when it comes to personal finance. Credit and debt management are popular topics as people learn to take charge of their credit scores and use credit wisely. Debt management is a goal that many have as they begin learning about personal finance. Money management is one that is covered by many young individuals and families. Saving and investing, as well as planning for retirement are also areas that all AFC®s may find themselves working with clients. 

While each of these topics are standard topics of discussion for financial counseling, there is a side of each that has a military spin to it. Credit and debt management has an impact on the Service member’s career. They must maintain responsible credit and debt management to maintain their security clearance. When a Service member has a poor credit score, something in collections, or other negative aspects of credit and debt, they will be required to work with a financial counselor to make a plan so that they resolve issues and keep their job. Money management can have challenges for military families when the family moves to a new duty location and the spouse has a difficult time finding a job. Living on one income for families can be a challenge. Also, many join the military at a young age, and may not have good money management education prior to joining the service. Saving and investing as well as retirement planning are topics common to discuss in financial counseling, but there are some specific programs and resources for Service members that the civilian population does not have available to them. Things like the Savings Deposit program where during a deployment a Service member can earn 10% interest for up to $10,000 while deployed, or they can take the tax-free money they make during deployment and contribute up to $61,000 during the time deployed in a year to their Thrift Savings Plan which is similar to a 401k plan provided for military.

Other financial counseling sessions with individuals or couples, and classes provided by financial counselors include things that are specific to military life. Financial counselors help Service members understand their benefits and how to navigate changes in life and career. Getting married or divorced, deploying or returning from war, getting promoted to a new rank, or moving to a new duty location, and transitioning out of the military are all things that are areas an AFC® will provide education and/or one-on-one counseling. An AFC® would need to know all the specific financial aspects of each of these types of changes in life and career and assist the Service member. This can be learned by experience, training on the job, or research and resources available. Again all materials and resources would need to be government-approved when working with military clients. 

Financial counselors that work with military families do help clients with SMART goals when it comes to their finances. Goal setting is a big part of the work done with Service members and their families. Helping Service members learn all they can related to personal finance so that they make the most educated decisions they can is what the work AFC®s do with military families.

Andi Wrenn, MA AFC® has been working with military families since 1994. She is on the AFCPE® Board of Directors.

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