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Operation HOPE and Experian Unite for Financial Empowerment in Military Communities

December 5, 2023 by Victoria Lim

By the time Vikki Nunnery decided to join the U.S. Army, she was almost finished with her nursing degree. It was her senior year, on the cusp of achieving her Bachelor of Science. A professor piqued her interest in the military.

“One of my instructors was an LPN. She deployed and did a presentation about being a nurse in the army. I came in (to the Army) as a registered nurse (RN) and am now a nurse practitioner,” Nunnery said.

Now Lieutenant Colonel Nunnery, DNP, is married to a fellow military member, has two children and has been on active duty for 17 years. Between student loans and credit cards, she also accumulated a lot of debt.

“We never talked about (money) at home. My family never talked about managing money,” Nunnery said. “Being married with kids, I’m trying to be more financially responsible for the future.”

Experian and Operation HOPE are helping Nunnery do just that. She is a client of the expansion of its partnership, which offers new, no-cost dedicated resources specifically for active duty members, veterans and military families across the country. The program provides financial coaching and wellness, credit education and financial disaster preparedness.

The unique circumstances of the military community impact their finances more than the general population. A survey shows servicemembers and their spouses have more difficulty paying some monthly bills and finding economic assistance because of overseas deployments and frequent moves, combined with rising inflation.

“(This work) is personal. I’ve been working around military communities for over 10 years. I know the challenges,” said Jessica Hamel, financial wellbeing coach for Operation HOPE Inside Experian program.

Hamel is a Gold Star sister and military spouse. Her husband’s divorce and her brother’s passing had negative financial impacts on their respective families.

“Often with some of our younger soldiers, younger service members, they haven’t had life experience in terms of needing to budget. We have members of the military right now right out of high school and there’s not a lot of experience managing their own money. They’re quickly thrust into a place where they don’t have a support system to do that,” Hamel said. “What we see at some major bases is a lot of predatory financial institutions – payday lenders, title max loans, pawn shops, buy-here-pay-here dealerships.”

“We have members of the military right now right out of high school and there’s not a lot of experience managing their own money. They’re quickly thrust into a place where they don’t have a support system to do that.”

Without a foundation of money management know-how, as service members move up in rank and earn more money, their habits can follow. Hamel stressed the importance of helping clients establish a foundation of knowledge and provide tools to help them address specific financial situations and their future.

“Clients know they need to do something different than the way they grew up, but perhaps they grew up in generational poverty and they’re using the military to secure a job immediately, get job experience or support. They can make a great living in the military,” she said. “They don’t know what they don’t know, but they know they don’t have all the right information.”

With Hamel’s guidance, Nunnery has set up a budget and developed habits that have led to increased savings, saving for a house, and a bump in credit scores. Hamel is also exploring whether Nunnery qualifies for public school loan forgiveness. The couple is planning to pass on these lessons to their kids, starting with opening their own checking accounts, and teaching them how to save, budget, and the importance of credit scores.

“Without Jessica, we’d still be living paycheck to paycheck. I wasn’t paying attention to my accounts. I was just spending and spending,” Nunnery said. “Little things like a budget, where our money is going – she really helps us focus on these things. That’s really good support.”

“We have so many people who haven’t learned about credit and then get blamed for a game they never got the rules to,” Hamel said. “I’m honored to be the coach for this program.”

For more information about financial coaching and resources for servicemembers, military family or veterans, contact Jessica Hamel atJessica.hamel@operationhope.org.