Serving America’s servicemembers, military families and veterans

Published: Friday, December 05, 2014

Our Outreach team are involved in educating veterans and servicemembers.

Last July, Consumer Action announced it was joining forces with the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE), Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Visa Inc. to form the Veterans Financial Coalition to address the needs and financial challenges faced by servicemembers as they transition to civilian life.

In a joint statement, the Veterans Financial Coalition indicated it would address the needs of servicemembers through three main goals: (a) to educate transitioning servicemembers, veterans and the community service organizations that serve them, (b) to conduct research and advocate for consumer protection for veterans, and (c) to raise awareness of veterans’ financial needs.

Consumer Action has implemented activities to address those needs.

With a focus on educating transitioning servicemembers, military families and veterans, Consumer Action created a new educational module, “Economic Survival Guide for Servicemembers and Veterans,” and rolled it out at train-the-trainer workshops in San Diego, CA and Hampton, VA. The survival guide, developed by Consumer Action with a grant from Visa Inc., includes a question-and-answer backgrounder booklet, PowerPoint slides, a lesson plan with games and activities and a brochure. The materials are designed to help servicemembers, military families and veterans learn their rights and how to assert them when necessary.

When Consumer Action’s community outreach managers Linda Williams and Nelson Santiago teamed up for the rollout in San Diego, advocates with the Department of Defense, California Attorney General’s Office, Fleet & Family Support Center, Courage to Call and other local veteran support agencies gathered at the San Diego Convention Center for the train-the-trainer event. In Virginia, community-based organizations from all over the state and the District of Columbia turned out for a half-day training on how to use the new information, tools and resources.

The trainings were broken into three segments: “Engaging the Adult Learner,” a “leaders’ session” on effective ways to present the new module, and a “strategy session” on how to reach servicemembers, military families and veterans with the important information.

The Consumer Action outreach team opened each training session with an interactive pre-training activity. The activity—a true-and-false quiz—introduced participants to many of the topics that would be covered during the training, such as the Military Lending Act, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, signs of scams, student loans and facts about alternative and predatory financial services. Teams of participants competed for points, and the activity not only set the tone for the rest of the training, but afforded participants the opportunity to ask questions, tell stories and share their experiences working with servicemembers, military families and veterans.

Trainer Williams followed the true-and-false activity at both trainings with an interactive segment that provided participants with tips and strategies for engaging adult learners. Participants’ feedback on the training was 100% positive. When asked on the training evaluation to agree or disagree with the statement “With the information I learned today on adult learning principles, I can now more effectively engage my client,” 62.5% of the California training participants strongly agreed and 37.5% agreed, while 67.7% of the Virginia participants strongly agreed and 32.3% agreed.

Williams facilitated a robust discussion during the session on consumer protections for servicemembers and veterans, the credit side of alternative financial services and ways in which servicemembers and veterans can avoid and defend against identity theft. She reviewed consumer protections in detail, including the Military Lending Act (MLA) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

Currently, MLA protections apply to these “closed-end” loans:

  • Payday loans for no more than $2,000 and with a term of 91 days or fewer;
  • Auto title loans with a term of 181 days or fewer; and
  • Tax refund anticipation loans.

Closed-end credit is paid in set installments by a specific date, as opposed to “open-end” credit such as credit cards.

Williams noted that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Department of Defense are working on new rules that are expected to expand the types of credit products covered by the MLA’s 36% interest rate cap for servicemembers. Williams told the audience that if the proposed rules to improve the MLA are adopted, it would close loopholes that allow lenders to offer products that escape current regulations. Williams encouraged participants at both trainings to submit comments in favor of updating and improving the MLA by the Nov. 28 deadline. Read the proposal here.

Santiago led the portion of the session that focused on the transactional side of alternative financial services, such as check cashers, money transfers and prepaid cards. He told participants that a common concern with these products is that they charge very high fees and target a disproportionate number of low-income and minority households, including servicemembers and veterans, who can ill afford the cost of these predatory products.

Williams and Santiago rolled out segments of the new module using different techniques and strategies, including games, question-and-answer sessions and videos, to demonstrate how to present the module in their own workshops.

The evaluations for both trainings were overwhelmingly positive. A San Diego participant answered “What would you change to improve the training?” with “I wouldn’t change a thing.” Another participant wrote, “Great info. Great training materials. We will use it in our next train-the-trainer workshop.”

Consumer Action is distributing the new materials to our network of community-based organizations. They are also available for free download to consumers and community educators on our website.

 

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