Saving money is a goal that should be firmly entrenched in our thoughts and actions every day. To steer the military community toward those habits, Military Saves Week, the last week in February, suggests tips and incentives for saving.
One incentive: a free credit score for troops and their spouses who take the Military Saves Pledge. The FICO score, provided by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, normally costs $19.95. By law, everyone can get three free credit reports per year, one from each of the national credit reporting agencies. Credit scores are based on information from those agencies, used by lenders to decide whether to loan you money and at what interest rates. Sometimes others use the credit scores, too, such as insurance companies.
When you take the pledge any time this year, you'll get a code that lets you request your free FICO score.
Many financial institutions are offering saving incentives, too. Some military banks are will give matching funds when a saver uses automatic deposit and takes the Military Saves Pledge. Special interest rates and other incentives are in the mix. Fort Hood National Bank in Texas will pay a one-time bonus of $100 into a Military Savings Account if account requirements are met.
Military Saves is part of the nonprofit America Saves initiative and a partner in the Defense Department's financial readiness campaign. To start or beef up your good savings habits, visit www.militarysaves.org and click on the "For Savers" icon. "Make a Plan: How to Save" offers 54 ways to cut spending and save money, 10 tips for saving money on a tight budget. A couple of examples: Ask your local electric or gas company for a free or low-cost home energy audit; make your monthly credit card payments on time to avoid late fees; bring your lunch to work; cut out some of your daily coffee runs.
Home Depot and Lowe's
Another way to save money is to ask if a military discount is available.
Some companies have long offered discounts to the military community, such as 10 percent price cuts at The Home Depot and Lowe's. Know the policies before you go — and be prepared occasionally to encounter an employee who is unaware of the policy.
An Air Force widow visited her Home Depot store in San Rafael, California, earlier this year to buy an oven. "I was told they no longer give a 10 percent discount to ID card holders unless they are on active duty. I thanked him for the information and left," she said.
She contacted Military Times, and we contacted The Home Depot.
"If anyone told her that, they were incorrect," said spokesman Stephen Holmes. "We have really worked hard to get consistent execution of the policy."
If you run into a situation in which you think the policy has been misinterpreted, you can call customer service at 800-HOME-DEPOT (800-466-3337).
The Home Depot and Lowe's have two tiers of eligibility for military ID card holders and veterans. The everyday 10 percent discount is available to active-duty, reserve and retired members and their dependents with ID cards denoting their status. Veterans with an ID card indicating they are receiving benefits from the Veterans Affairs Department also are eligible.
The second tier provides the discount on three holidays — Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day — to all veterans who served honorably.
Some limits apply, so check online or call customer service for details and to find out what proof you can use as a veteran on those three holidays. The customer service line at Lowe's is 800-445-6937.