(Updated at 12 p.m. Jan. 5)
Troops and families have one more way to shore up their finances, thanks to personal finance expert Suze Orman.
She's volunteered her services to help educate service members and their families on the basics of making the right choices with their money.
Orman has signed an agreement with the Army to provide videos aimed at helping troops make choices about the new blended retirement system, answering common questions. She also hopes to visit installations for face-to-face interaction with troops and families and answer their questions about finances, she said during a Wednesday news conference. The legalities that would enable such visits are being worked out, an Army official said.
Orman said she'd also like to work with the other branches of service.
In the meantime, Orman noted that her online personal finance course is and has been free to all service members and families, regardless of branch of service. The course, which normally costs $54, is available at https://www.suzeu.com. The activation code for the free course is USA.
This is not her first foray into helping those in the military with their finances. Orman has provided the program to those in the Army Reserve component.
"This is not a financial partnership where I'm getting paid, or they pay my travel. All of this is really on me," said Orman, who announced the partnership at the Pentagon at the news conference with Patrick Murphy, the undersecretary of the Army. Orman is not charging troops and families, nor is she charging the Army.
In her volunteer work for the Army Reserve, Orman has done a video informational series on various personal finance topics. The series is being broadcast on seven Armed Forces Network satellite channels through mid-2018, said Jamal Beck, a spokesman for the office of the chief of Army Reserve, calling it a "proven program."
The Army Reserve signed an agreement with Orman last spring.
"To see someone like Suze who is willing to give of her time for free to our soldiers and their families is a pretty incredible partnership that we're announcing today," Murphy said. He said the Army Reserve's efforts to improve financial literacy of its soldiers inspired his efforts to do the same for active-duty soldiers, civilians and their families.
"There comes a time in life when everybody has to serve their country, and they have to serve those that are giving us our freedom," Orman said, adding that she stepped away from her weekly television show a year ago to do pro bono work. Orman is a New York Times bestselling author, a columnist and a motivational speaker.
Orman bills herself as a needed, unbiased source. She noted that many people in the financial arena who are giving advice have something to gain from their work, be it money from book sales or financial products, or even an expanded client list.
"So we need an unbiased source, which I will serve as," Orman said.
Her aim is to "bring humanity to money" for the troops, she said, because formal financial education is often hard to understand.
"Even though I know the armed forces have trained financial people, and the message comes through them, are you kidding me? Nobody can understand it. So what led to the fame that I've experienced is something called 'Suze Speak.' Tell it like it is, Suze. Tell me what I need to know, but tell me in a language I understand.
"For some reason, when you start to get very formal with it, people just shut off."
She said she wants to help troops and families attain their dreams by giving them a path to get there.
"So whether it's from saving, paying off credit card debt, never leasing a car, [determining] when they are ready to buy a home, do they have a will; do they have a trust; how do they pay off a student loan. ... It'll be every aspect of personal finance that's out there."
The announcement comes as the Army and other branches of service are developing more comprehensive personal financial education programs, as mandated by law, to help service members deal with money issues at various stages of their lives, especially as the service members start to learn more about the new blended retirement system.
Service members who have less than 12 years of service as of Dec. 31, 2017 can choose to either stay with the old system or opt in for the new system, depending on their individual circumstances. Those with more than 12 years automatically stay with the old system; those who enter the service on or after Jan. 1, 2018, will be enrolled in the new system.
The seven lessons available to troops and families on SuzeU.com include overcoming financial obstacles; becoming debt free; saving for retirement; investing for success; buying big ticket items like a car or home; making finances a family affair; and aspects of protecting yourself, your family and your money, such as insurance and wills and trusts.
Orman said it wasn't easy to volunteer her services to the military. "I'll be the first to tell you if I were being paid for this, it would have been very easy to get it through," she said. "But to do something that's truly free on every level….. We've gone through a lot of legalities to get here."
REGULATIONS UNDER REVIEW
Orman has not yet visited Army Reserve components, as officials work through a "legally viable solution" to enable her to do so, said Erin Thede, director of the Army Reserve's private public partnership office.
"Nothing comes out of my office to the soldiers without a complete legal review," Thede said.
Requirements such as DoD's commercial solicitation regulations, and ethics regulations relating to gifts to service members, were put into place to protect service members. Some exceptions to policy may be needed to allow Orman's visits.
"[Orman] is not trying to sell her products," Thede said, adding that the finance guru's videos are an "amazing resource" to help get the personal finance information out to troops and their families.
"The intention is to bring someone with credibility in the financial sector, someone who is not in uniform, and can say what this means to them. This is a pretty significant change. It's important to bring someone in with the knowledge and dynamic personality to get that message to the service member," Thede said.
Those who take the online course will be entered into a drawing to win $5,000 each time they pass one of the seven lessons, Orman said. The drawing is held each month.
Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at email@example.com .