Peggy O

Many veterans return from service without the proper financial education to succeed. Sometimes the transition to civilian life can create financial ruin before they've even adapted to their post-military lives. The statewide UW-Extension financial coaching program is designed to help not only veterans in this situation, but citizens with financial issues across the entire state.

In 2012, UW-Extension was approached by the Department for Financial Institutions asking UW-Extension to train financial coaches across the state in preparation for their Veteran Financial Literacy Initiative. When I heard about the opportunity, I knew my workplaces (UW-Extension Family Living Programs) financial coaching program could help get the initiative headed in the right direction.

UW-Extension has financial coaching year-round. Their goal is to bolster citizens' knowledge while turning detailed plans into action. Coaches work with people to create specific plans and monitor progress on new financial habits.

One approach we have for our financial education is that we go out in the community. The purpose is goal-centered, based on an individual's unique financial goal, where they are and where they want to be going. Vital to that success is the leadership of trained financial coaches. UW-Extension helped lead the initial stages of the VFLI program as three coaches trained volunteers who wanted to pass their financial knowledge onto veterans.

Nearly 120 individuals participated in five financial coaching trainings conducted by UW-Extension throughout the state over the course of two years. The sessions featured typical financial knowledge accompanied by specific issues that veterans may face. One thing that was very unique, in addition to participants coming from county center veterans office, is that we had reps from Wounded Warriors. They gave a basic overview of the different types of services people may have, some of the things they do before they're deployed, maybe getting some financial ducks in a row.

After the sessions, they created a roster of volunteer coaches by county and sent it to the Department of Financial Institute. Among the list of over 100 volunteer financial coaches in Wisconsin, nearly a quarter of them are UW-Extension family living educators.

Once the list had been passed on, the DFI began running the educational sessions for veterans. The service was free, and provided a forum for them to voice their concerns and learn from people uniquely qualified to help their situation. I was somewhat familiar with some of the challenges and special situations. I think it was very helpful for the volunteers who maybe weren't as familiar.

By catering the sessions to aiding veterans, it improved the coaches' ability to serve the VFLI audience and expand their knowledge for any future sessions. UW-Extension, in partnership with UW-Madison's Center for Financial Security, also developed and continue to maintain a website designed to support their volunteer financial coaches.