By Bruce McClary
In January 2016 the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) partnered with the American Library Association (ALA) to serve active members of the military, veterans and their families. NFCC member agencies are working with local libraries to offer financial education workshops that use the Wells Fargo Hands on Banking® for Military (HOBM) curriculum, access to personalized counseling, and other resources that help families reach their financial goals and contribute to the economic stability of their neighborhoods. Since the announcement, NFCC member agencies have seen incredible momentum in working with the military community. As libraries have long held the reputation of being a trusted source and safe space for learning, we attribute this in large part to program awareness raised by partnering with ALA and local libraries.
This effort was developed in part to support NFCC’s Sharpen Your Financial Focus® (Sharpen) effort. Sharpen is an initiative of the NFCC and a broad cross-section of supporters, including Wells Fargo, who are committed to increasing the financial well-being of Americans. As part of Sharpen, the NFCC has developed a targeted Three-Step Program designed to help consumers gain a better understanding of their financial situation. The Three-Step Program includes a Financial Self-Assessment utilizing the MyMoneyCheckUp® tool, a Financial Review and a Targeted Education Activity (which uses the HOBM curriculum when working with members of this military community).
In the first two years of the program from September of 2013 through August of 2015, 13% of clients were military. More recently, in Sharpen Year 3 to date (September of 2015 through February 2016), 39% of Sharpen clients are military reflecting a substantial increase in military participation. More interestingly, since announcing the ALA and NFCC partnership in January, we have seen more HOBM targeted education activities completed in two and a half months than in the previous five months combined. Furthermore this increase in activity with this part of the program is double that of what we saw in Years 1 and 2 of the Sharpen program.
We strongly believe at the NFCC that the awareness raised as a result of this partnership significantly contributed to the tremendous increase in momentum. As a result we encourage our member agencies and their local libraries to keep this relationship strong and continue to work together to promote the great services both parties offer to their communities.
Data from the initial Sharpen program revealed military families face unique challenges. They have $400 higher unsecured monthly debt balances compared to nonmilitary Sharpen participants. Military consumers have fewer tangible assets but higher debt related expenses. Relocation, frequent deployment, and changes in local economic conditions are factors that likely influence these results. The Ohio State University researchers also noted a decrease in revolving debt of $4,865 in a small sampling of military consumers who participated in the Sharpen program, along with 81% reporting they are better managing their money, 61% with improved overall financial confidence, and 74% paying off their debt more consistently.