ST. JOSEPH — They stand out from the crowd for serving their country with honor and dedication.
But military veterans are subject to the same financial pitfalls as civilians, with some added burdens, from frequent moves to overseas deployments.
The Berrien County Veterans Services office is offering Dave Ramsey’s nine-week Financial Peace University’s Military Edition course free of charge, starting Thursday, to help those who served or are serving in the armed forces handle their money better.
“It’s for all veterans, whether it’s wartime or peacetime, rich or poor, active duty or those who have left the service,” said Lee Lull, director of the veterans service office and himself a Navy veteran. “Everyone should know about finances.”
Classes will be held from 6-8 p.m. at The Chapel, 4250 Washington Ave., St. Joseph. A veteran can bring their spouse, a different family member or any significant other.
It is the second time the office has offered the course this year, with the earlier session signing up about two dozen participants. Lull had hoped to widely advertise the second round, but the governor’s line-item vetoes eliminated a grant earmarked for that purpose. He is counting on local media and word-of-mouth to get the message out.
Lull said he himself benefited from the course with its budgeting and financial planning advice. “It’s a fantastic course,” and it’s an $85 value, he added.
The first session includes a video message from Ramsey, a financial authority who is heard on radio and podcasts around the country. Topics to be covered include Super Saving; Relating with Money; Dumping Debt; Buyer Beware; The Role of Insurance; Retirement and College Planning; and Real Estate and Mortgages.
The facilitator of the course is a local military veteran and financial expert, Lull said.
Many of the veterans in financial trouble that Lull sees are disabled or low-income, and some have mental health issues, making it difficult for them to hold jobs. He also sees those in higher-income brackets that fail to save and plan for the future.
During his time in the Navy, Lull said he saw those who preyed on veterans by offering them phony jewelry for sale on payday, or even through loan sharking.
Yoketha Sims, of Benton Harbor, who served in the Air Force from 1994 to 2013, came to the previous session as a refresher course.
“It helped me get back to basics,” said Sims, who served in Europe and elsewhere, achieving the rank of senior master sergeant.
She even brought along her 21-year-old daughter to impart some of the lessons of financial planning. She said her daughter enjoyed Ramsey’s sense of humor and the way he explained things so they were easy to understand.
Ramsey is big on “dumping debt” and being careful about what you buy, Lull found. “Debt gets to be like an albatross.”
The course isn’t just about climbing out of a hole, but also getting ahead, Lull noted.
The county veterans office provides other financial assistance. The Michigan Veterans Trust Fund offers money to those who served during wartime, or those with a peacetime expeditionary medal, to cover emergencies, such as a car or home repair or medical bills.
Lull says he encounters veterans who make good money but don’t know how to manage it. Some can’t pay their electric bill, but pay a lot for cable television, he said. Ramsey’s course, he added, shows that sometimes sacrifices might have to be made to get out of debt.
The Berrien office provides free financial counseling via Skype in its new media room, recently equipped through a state grant.
To register for the Dave Ramsey course, contact the Berrien County Veterans Services office at 983-7111, Ex. 8224.
Information is also available at www.daveramsey.com/military.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak