Army calls in celebrity help to balance soldiers’ checkbooks

The Army is enlisting the help of one of the nation’s most famous financial gurus to help soldiers keep their checkbooks balanced.

Suze Orman is filling the Army’s ranks with her financial advice by offering free courses to soldiers.

“When our soldiers don’t have their hearts and minds on their job it is not good for their security and for the team and that’s why we are just so excited to partner with Suze,” Army Undersecretary Patrick Murphy said Jan. 4 at the Pentagon.

Orman is offering one of her online finance courses free to soldiers.

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Orman said it will cover credit scores, debt, credit plans, retirement plans, wills, trusts, life insurance, school loans and many other monetary lessons.

Military families are struggling with financial literacy.

The 2015 First Command Financial Behaviors Index found more than half of service members failed a financial literacy test. Middle class military families averaged a grade of 69 on the test.

“We are deeply concerned to see that military households appear less financially knowledgeable than their civilian counterparts,” said Scott Spiker, CEO of First Command Financial Services. “We agree with the Commission and other government and military leaders who are stressing the importance of strengthening the financial literacy of our men and women in uniform.”

The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission came to similar conclusions in its 2015 report.

“This shortfall in financial literacy training has been a long-standing issue,” the report stated. “Existing financial literacy programs do not adequately educate Service members and their families on financial matters. … Weaknesses in financial literacy are adversely affecting Service members and their families. A bad credit report, a debt-collection action, or other financial problems can be devastating for a Service member’s career and can affect the mission readiness of a unit, which often cannot use a Service member who has lost a security clearance due to financial problems.”

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The commission recommended increasing financial literacy training, enhancing the content and hiring professional training firms to provide the training.

It also wanted the Defense secretary and other top Defense Department officials to reinforce the importance of financial literacy.

Still, service members are not taking advantage of the financial training available to them. Only 32 percent of active duty service members go through financial training offered by the military and 26 percent go to free classes or counseling provided by the military, stated the 2015 Blue Star Families Lifestyle Survey.

Orman said she’d like to draw some more soldiers into the fray, especially younger ones.

“You reach out to them by giving them little examples. …You can only give them the information and hope that they use it. The chances of an 18-year old, I’ll be honest with you, doing it are pretty nil,” Orman said. “I can only hope they take advantage of it.”

The Blue Star Survey notes one thing Orman’s classes will have trouble doing and that is offer personalized financial advice.

The survey stated 88 percent of service members think financial readiness training should be more individualized to the specific needs of each family.

Orman said she’d like to tour to help with those needs.

“Nothing would make me happier than to personally go to every single base in this entire world because there is nothing like having it right live in front of you where you feel you are being honored to able to ask a question in person,” Orman said.

Orman said the base tours would be like seminars where soldiers can ask questions based on their circumstances.