- As part of Military Saves Month every April, institutions across the United States encourage military and veteran communities to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth.
- Community Resource FCU, Pioneer Valley FCU, and Travis CU earned Military Saves Month’s Designation of Savings Excellence in 2021.
Every year, hundreds of organizations come together in April to encourage military and veteran communities to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth as part of Military Saves Month, a component of the America Saves campaign sponsored by Consumer Federation of America.
According to the official Military Saves 2021 annual report, more than 489 installations, organizations, financial institutions, and government entities participated, encouraged, and supported the initiative in 2021, reaching 10.7 million military and veteran community members in April alone.
Military Saves awarded 11 military-affiliated banks and credit unions the Designation of Savings Excellence for 2021, recognizing their extraordinary efforts. Three credit unions were among those recipients. Here, Community Resource FCU, Pioneer Valley FCU, and Travis Credit Union share tips and best practices for serving military members, veterans, and their families.
Celebrating Community Heroes
The Community Heroes Program from Community Resource Federal Credit Union ($107.7M, Latham, NY) celebrates the service of military members and veterans as well as firefighters, law enforcement, and emergency medical and dispatch services providers. The program offers a 0.25% discount on consumer loans, including autos, recreational vehicles, and personal loans. To promote savings, the program offers a 0.25% bonus on all share certificates.
According to Toni Lynn, chief experience officer at Community Resource, the federal credit union is the only financial institution in the area that recognizes and thanks these individuals for their service with special discounts. The Community Heroes Program is available all year long, but the credit union ramps up its educational efforts during Military Saves Month.
“It’s an opportunity to give our heroes the resources and financial guidance they might not get from the military,” says Lynn, who knows firsthand about the challenges military personnel face from her own husband’s 10 years of service in the Navy. “They are trained for their job but not on how to manage their paycheck.”
Community Resource offers a free financial literacy platform to help military personnel and has developed its own financial wellness program tailored to its community’s needs. The cooperative regularly gives presentations to groups ranging from 1 to 2 people to 100 about building credit, budgeting, and reaching financial milestones such as purchasing a car, buying a home, or saving for retirement.
The credit union also customizes assistance for individual needs, whether that means discussing a specific goal, performing a credit review, or budgeting with members.
“No group is too small or too large for us,” Lynn says.
Most of the credit union’s staff have at least five years of financial services experiences and have built their expertise over time.
As a Military Saves participant, Community Resource uses the national organization’s tools to spread the message via the credit union’s branches, website, and social media. It also partners with local VFWs and is pursuing a partnership with the National Guard base down the road to expand the cooperative’s reach and ensure everyone knows the credit union is truly a resource for its community.
Lastly, the credit union is creating a partnership with local high school Sea Cadets a national program for youth who plan to join the military to ensure they are prepared and understand how to budget and manage their money before graduation.
In terms of advice, Lynn encourages taking a step back and tailoring what a credit union offers to its community.
“The military is an underserved community when it comes to finance,” she says. “Ask how your cooperative could elevate this special community within a community.”
Pioneer Valley Federal Credit Union ($132.3M, Springfield, MA) is the oldest postal credit union in the nation. It started by serving government employees in 1923, well before it partnered with its neighbor, Westover Air Reserve Base, in 2008. That’s when opportunity knocked.
“They had a financial need, and we’re literally next door,” says Pioneer Valley CEO Anabela Grenier.
That partnership now includes an on-site ATM, regular financial seminars on base, and working with the Family Readiness Center and USO to provide whatever support is needed throughout the year, including for fun events such as Burger Burn block parties to thank military personnel for their service.
During Military Saves Month, Pioneer Valley encourages military members to save through special certificate and money market promotions. It also assists them in paying down debt and relieving monthly payments to increase disposable income.
“We have financial coaches on staff,” Grenier says. “We review [military members’] individual budget and look for ways to reduce expenses or help them find different ways to put more money aside.”
The structure of working with the base has been an evolving one with the CEO leading the charge and the vice president of member services coordinating events with the support of a marketing specialist. The credit union’s participation includes staying in touch with the commander and their direct reports.
“In our situation, we usually have a new commander every two to three years, so we make sure to visit and welcome them,” Grenier says. “It’s an opportunity to introduce ourselves and let them know we’re here to provide support and resources. They are new to the area, too, so appreciate knowing they have a local organization they can reach out to for events and other causes.”
These ongoing efforts have paid off. In 2021, the credit union’s social media posts reached 258 people on the topic of paying down debt, 283 on preparing for retirement, 207 on saving for the unexpected, and 341 on savings in general. Altogether, that’s a reach of 1,089 individuals in one month for a credit union with a total membership of 10,000.
For others looking to better encourage military members to save, Grenier says it’s all about distinct needs.
“It’s a unique job,” the CEO says. “They get deployed and leave their families behind, so it’s about being available to help support those families whether that means assisting with their accounts, sending wires overseas, or participating in events for their kids. You can’t just participate once a year, you have to be there as a consistent resource and stay involved to show your support.”
A Dedicated Officer For Military And Veteran Services
Travis Credit Union ($4.7B, Vacaville, CA) not only earned the Military Saves Designation of Excellence in 2021, it also was named U.S. Air Force Distinguished Credit Union of the Year two years in a row.
“We’re committed to serving the Air Force and ensuring military families understand the importance of saving,” says Damian Alarcon, director and assistant vice president of community relations at Travis.
In fact, the credit union recently hired its first-ever military and veterans services officer. This individual brings 30 years of military experience and will focus on Travis Air Force Base along with serving all of the cooperative’s military families and veteran communities.
The credit union’s Military Saves Month activities traditionally kick off with the kids on base through storytelling to promote savings and a piggybank giveaway. Travis also provides webinars focused on specific topics, such as retirement and investment planning, military transitions, and more. As an added incentive to gain financial knowledge throughout the month of April, attendees earn entrance into drawings for various giveaways.
According to Alarcon, financial literacy is a prominent ingredient in the recipe for military success.
“Everyone on base has a shared mission,” he says. “It’s important to understand how savings and financial wellness support that mission.”
That’s why, beyond its Military Saves Month activities, Travis has an ongoing partnership with the USO and welcomes each new cohort of airmen and airwomen with an educational session to explain how to use the credit union as a resource. It’s also why Travis is so focused on enriching the communities it serves, military and civilian, through ongoing financial education efforts. Check out the credit union’s 2021 community commitment report for more details.