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ARLINGTON, Va. — Three of the four military services have teamed up with a national program to get military folks to set and work toward achieving a financial goal.

The Army, Marine Corps and Navy have joined the national America Saves program that encourages participants to set attainable goals for themselves — whether it’s investing in a retirement fund or paying down high-interest credit card debt — and then stick with it.

America Saves, run by the Consumer Federation of America, is geared toward low- and middle-income households, said CFA associate director Nancy Register.

The Air Force will join in the program once the CFA works through its backlog of getting already-committed programs up and running, she said. She did not know how long that would be.

“America Saves is a national campaign to encourage lower- to moderate-income households to save and build wealth,” Register said. “American Saves is a social marketing strategy to change behavior. We’re not selling a product. We want to work with them to get that light bulb to go [on], to save, save smart and over a long period of time to save wealth.

“The DOD came to us and asked us to be part of their financial readiness program,” Register said.

The various service programs primarily are geared toward the younger enlisted and officer communities, Register said. “For example, if they have an emergency fund, maybe they won’t have to take out a payday loan,” which often carries a high interest rate and has to be paid off in short time.

Based on demographic figures for fiscal 2001, the most recent, 33.2 percent of enlisted personnel are E-1s through E-3s, and 59.1 percent O-1s through O-3s.

Participants in the program set a goal they think they can achieve. Goals can range from setting up a savings account to paying off a debt or credit card, saving money for a down payment on a house, or setting up a retirement fund.

After setting a financial goal, participants are encouraged to follow through by signing a “contract” to help keep them on track, and get “reminders” such as a membership card, subscription to the program’s newsletter and tips on different savings accounts and ways to invest their money.

“We’re looking at this as a social marketing campaign, branching off of an existing effort to tell sailors about investing or paying down debts and incorporating that message into training and education efforts that we’re already doing,” said Jim Sawhook, personal financial management program manager for the Navy.

The program is about more than money, Sawhook said. “They pledge to set a goal, but it’s also a behavior change. That is what the program is really about.”

It’s been a bit of a “difficult sell” because it requires people to make a shift in behavior, said Dani Booth, personal financial management program analyst for the Marine Corps. “That’s why we’re launching this social awareness campaign.”

Some installations already have incorporated it in their existing financial planning classes. Others have circulated pamphlets announcing the program and ways to join. But if servicemembers don’t see ads for it around base, they still can sign up independently on the Internet at the following sites:

Army:

www.americasaves.org/army

Marine Corps:

www.americasaves.org/marines

Navy:

www.americasaves.org/navy

Anyone can sign up for the program at the parent company site: www.americasaves.org.

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