Money matters: Bliss ACS Financial Readiness Program supports clients with education, provides AER assistance

1/27/21, 8:51 AM

Fort Bliss Army Community Service financial readiness team stands ready to serve Soldiers, civilians, and families in their office at Fort Bliss, Texas, Jan. 22, 2021. (By Stephanie J. Santos, USAG Public Affairs Office)

Money matters: Bliss ACS Financial Readiness Program supports clients with education, provides AER assistance

By Stephanie J. Santos, USAG Fort Bliss Public Affairs Office

The start of a new year can usher in thoughts of setting financial goals and discovering new ways to keep up with monetary decisions. This may sound like an easy task, but what rules define the best way to keep finances on track? What type of budget is effective? When is the best time to start saving? Is financial assistance available?

These are just a few of the questions answered through the Fort Bliss Army Community Service Financial Readiness Program. This resource offers counseling and educational support on managing finances, eliminating debt, setting financial goals, and developing money-management skills. Through the FRP, Soldiers experiencing financial hardship can also seek help through the Army Emergency Relief program.

Yet, despite all of the FRP services offered, there is still an uneasy stigma associated with reaching out to counselors, said FRP Manager Philip Chang.

As an Army veteran, Chang said he remembers working with young recruits who didn't know where to seek financial help and felt uncomfortable about receiving assistance from the military.

“It was so easy for these new Soldiers to get caught up with making large purchases and buying new cars,” he said. “Many of them were so excited to get their first check and spend all of their income without taking time to plan out future bills and expenses.”

Chang added that upon entering the military, many service members are usually anxious to sign for a vehicle, and don’t read the fine print detailing high interest rates, which will accrue over the length of the loan. “It’s not until the contract is complete that Soldiers realize that there may have been lower rates available to them,” he said.

“I’ve been where they are, and I know how it feels getting that first paycheck and wanting to spend it right away,” Chang said. “Now that I am part of the FRP program, I realize the importance of financial planning. Our first mission is to reduce the amount of debt from Soldiers and family members. We want to be their first resort—and never their last—strong finances are the basis for strong families.”

Military ID card-holders who enroll in the FRP are assigned to an accredited, licensed financial counselor who will focus on debt management and basic banking resources. The program starts with an assessment worksheet detailing spending, savings, and income ratios.

Virtual classroom sessions cover information on how to save and invest, planning out savings goals, reducing debt, and saving for emergencies. Financial highlights outline budget management, building credit, personal financial planning for deployment, transition and relocation insurance, and check writing.

ACS.jpgFRP team member Marion Walker said that requests for unit training and counseling have increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the staff is fully prepared to continue taking appointments and walk-ins. She explained that all incoming Soldiers receive practical financial solutions and avenues to avoid debt pitfalls during their in-processing briefings.

“Managing finances can be very overwhelming,” said Walker. “I try to always ask each client what money issue they want to tackle first, and then take it step-by-step to help them reach their financial goals.”

Active and retired Soldiers experiencing financial hardship can also seek assistance through the Army Emergency Relief fund, which provides eligible ID-card holders assistance in the form of interest-free loans or grants based on financial need.

AER loans can help with past-due bills, food assistance, rent, emergency leave, medical and mortgage payments. In addition, each AER loan can completely, or partially, be converted into a grant based on financial need and income.

AER Acting Lead Raul Minjarez said that Soldiers do not have to go through their chain of command to request a loan, and appointments aren’t required. In the event of an after-hours emergency, the request will be channeled through the American Red Cross. On average, loan requests normally take 24-48 hours, but times can vary.

Minjarez reinforced the dangers associated with “payday loans,” and said that he has worked with Soldiers who initially signed up for $100 loans, but with the hidden interest accumulation, an excess of $1,000 had been collected within a year.

“With an AER loan you will never pay back more than what you initially asked for, and there is never a hidden interest or fee,” he said. “It’s all about Soldiers helping other Soldiers.”

Fort Bliss AER has helped more than 3,000 Soldiers, retirees, and their families with more than $4 million of interest-free loans or grants per year.

To learn more about Bliss financial readiness programs offered through ACS visit: