9 Ideas Advisors Can Use to Offer Pro Bono Help to Soldiers

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If a soldier is paying a usurious rate on a payday loan – in some states they can legally be triple digits -- federal law mandates the creditor drop the rate to 6% during a soldier's period of active enrollment.

Dick Power, a CFP and head of the FPA's military pro bono program in Massachusetts, offered specific tips like that and several others on helping active-duty soldiers as well as veterans at the spring conference of the New York chapter of the FPA.

"This is the way I can still serve," says Power, who spent 30 years in the Army, retiring as a colonel. "It sure does feel good to do this kind of work," he said, adding that planners working with members of the military on a pro bono basis are forbidden from conducting any business with them that leads to compensation.

The need is great right now, he says, with 20 million veterans in the country and 3.6 million who are disabled.
Power’s ideas on helping military service members included:

  • When working service member with emotional or cognitive difficulties, seek out a member of his or her family – typically a spouse – as part of the planning process. "You have to think about this stuff," he says. In the worst cases, "They have cognitive issues. They can't focus. They get overwhelmed." In addition, he added, make sure the person has a durable power of attorney over the affairs of the service member.
  • If soldier leased a home or bought a car right before learning she’s being deployed, by law she can cancel those agreements without penalty. "If a soldier's 22," Power says, "have them stick their TV and possessions in their parents’ basement. They don't need the apartment."
  • Advise guard members and reservists not to quit their jobs upon receiving orders to deploy. Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, they have the right to return to their civilian jobs – but not if they quit before deploying.
  • In the case of soldiers with a high percentage rate on a credit card balance, make sure they make a formal request to get that rate reduced to 6% upon deployment. "Many people don't know to do this," Power says.
  • Advise on setting up an emergency fund for a soldier and his or her family.
  • Help prepare a post-activation household budget.
  • Enroll that service member in the government's Thrift Savings Plan, a defined contribution plan for service members and other federal employees. 
  • When working with a service member who runs a business, discuss training key employees to run the business when he or she is away on deployment. 
  • Look into having that service member apply for a U.S. Small Business Administration military reservist economic injury disaster loan to pay some costs until he, as an "essential employee," returns. 

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