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VA Homeless Programs


Money Management


Money Management

Financial Literacy and Homelessness in Veterans

A nationally representative study of post-9/11 Veterans found that 30% endorsed money mismanagement such as bouncing/forging a check, going over one's credit limit, being turned over to a collection agency, or falling victim to a money scam in the past year.

  • Mismanaging personal finances predicted quadruple the rate of Veteran homelessness in the next year.
  • 5% of those with higher income and good money management reported suicidal ideation while Veterans with poor money management and lower income were four times more likely to endorse suicidal ideation (20%).
  • Money mismanagement was as strong a predictor of Veteran homelessness as mental health problems, substance misuse, and criminal justice involvement.

When they separate from the military, Veterans who were active duty will have had less opportunity to use skills for financially independence compared to their civilian counterparts.

  • In a National Public Radio interview on Veterans' Day in 2010, Cherish Cornish, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan War, stated: "When I joined the Army, I was barely 20 years old.  I come out, and I'm 23, and so I just kind of came of age in the military.  I wind up on my own again in an apartment.  It's the first time I've had to pay rent since I was a teenager.  It's the first time I had to pay a light bill — pretty much ever — and all these responsibilities and budgeting and stuff that I'd really never had to deal with in the military."

A 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine reported that the largest concentrations of payday lending businesses in the U.S. are in zip codes near military bases.

  • Active duty service members were found to be three times more likely than civilians to take out payday loans, which has long-term impact when they transition from the military and become Veterans.
  • In consultation with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the 2012 National Financial Capability Study showed that among military families:
  • Nearly half of credit card holders engaged in costly behaviors such as paying the minimum, paying late fees, paying over the limit fees or using cash advances from their credit cards.
  • Over a third of reported using non-bank, alternative borrowing methods (such as payday loans, advances on tax refunds or pawn shops).
  • Thirty-eight percent of homeowners were "underwater" (i.e., owe more on their home than its current value).

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) published in April 2019 a report entitled "Financial Well-Being of Veterans," which found:

  • Military families were generally doing well when compared to other groups, but there are segments of the population that are struggling to make ends meet.
  • Military life had a significant impact on the financial well-being of servicemembers. Various aspects include the pay and benefits structure, frequent relocations, deployments, war-related injuries and/or trauma, and transitioning to civilian life.
  • Servicemembers' financial well-being, like their civilian counterparts, were influenced by other factors like cognition, age, financial knowledge, and financial skill.
  • Financial readiness impacted military readiness because servicemembers with poor financial management may not be eligible to deploy, which can lead to an involuntary discharge (i.e. termination).

Military families were reluctant to use the financial education resources they are provided by the military services because they either find such resources unhelpful or they have a perception that seeking financial help could harm their careers.

Financial Well-Being of Veterans. Office of Servicemember Affairs. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.



Why Financial Literacy Matters After Returning Home from War: Reducing Veteran Homelessness by Improving Money Management



Financial Strain, Mental Illness, and Homelessness: Results from a National Longitudinal Study.




Receipt, Spending, and Clinical Correlates of the Economic Impact Payment Among Middle- and Low-Income U.S. Adults. Tsai J, Huang M, Montgomery AE, Elbogen EB. Psychiatr Serv. 2021 Jun 2:appips202100001. doi: 10.1176/ Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34074140.

Financial Strain, Mental Illness, and Homelessness: Results From a National Longitudinal Study. Elbogen EB, Lanier M, Wagner HR, Tsai J. Med Care. 2021 Apr 1;59(Suppl 2):S132-S138. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000001453

Temporary Financial Assistance and Stable Housing Among Veterans in the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program. Nelson, R., Byrne, T., Gelberg, L., Kertesz, S., Tsai, J., & Montgomery, A. E. (February 2021). 

Financial Strain and Suicide Attempts in a Nationally Representative Sample of US Adults. Elbogen EB, Lanier M, Montgomery AE, Strickland S, Wagner HR, Tsai J. Am J Epidemiol. 2020 Jul 22:kwaa146. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwaa146.

Life Goals Over Time Among Homeless Adults in Permanent Supportive Housing. S.L. Wenzel, H. Rhoades, H. Moore, J. Lahey, B. Henwood, W. La Motte-Kerr, M. Bird Am J Community Psychol. 2018 Jun; 61(3-4): 421–432. Published online 2018 Mar 14. doi: 10.1002/ajcp.12237

Financial Capability: Clinicians' Assessment of Beneficiaries With Dual Diagnoses. Thornhill Iv TA, Black AC, Rosen MI. J Dual Diagn. 2018 Apr-Jun;14(2):130-136. doi: 10.1080/15504263.2018.1436732. Epub 2019 Feb 13.

Factors Associated with Money Mismanagement Among Adults with Severe Mental Illness and Substance Abuse. Moore BA, Black AC, Rosen MI. Int J Ment Health Addict. 2016 Aug;14(4):400-409. doi: 10.1007/s11469-015-9625-3. Epub 2015 Dec 30.

Homelessness and Money Mismanagement in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans
Eric B. Elbogen, Connor P. Sullivan, James Wolfe, Henry Ryan Wagner, Jean C. Beckham Am J Public Health. 2013 Dec; 103(Suppl 2): S248–S254. Published online 2013 Dec. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301335

Financial Well-Being and Post-Deployment Adjustment among Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans Eric B. Elbogen, CAPT Sally C. Johnson, H. Ryan Wagner, Virginia M. Newton, Jean C. Beckham Mil Med. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Jun 1. Published in final edited form as: Mil Med. 2012 Jun; 177(6): 669–675. doi: 10.7205/milmed-d-11-00388

Money management, mental health, and psychiatric disability: a recovery-oriented model for improving financial skills. Elbogen EB, Tiegreen J, Vaughan C, Bradford D. Psychiatr Rehabil J. 2011;34(3):223–231. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

A Quick Guide to Assist Homeless Veterans with Financial Management and Fiduciary Services

An intervention developed to improve financial literacy called $teps for Achieving Financial Empowerment ($AFE) teaches Veterans how to: save money, create a budget, work while receiving disability, avoid money scams, and access financial resources. Since 2007, the $AFE money management program has been a consistent educational opportunity for Veterans at the Durham VAMC Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC). 

A study funded by the Department of Education (Elbogen et al., 2016) showed that Veterans who used $AFE skills endorsed:

  • Less impulsive buying
  • Greater knowledge about finances
  • Higher participation in vocational activities
  • Increased number of hours at work/job
  • More responsible spending/saving

Based on $AFE, below are the top ten steps for Veterans to achieve financial empowerment:

  • The first step to financial empowerment is to figure out ways to save more money right now.  No matter what your situation is, the key to financial well-being is to be sure you save money when you can.  Try coin jars, lowering thermostats, florescent light bulbs, and other strategies.  Instead of eating out, cook food at home to save big.
  • Ask for veteran specific savings at home improvement stores, home appliance stores, cell phone plans, anytime you spend more than $100.  If you have a smart phone, search for military or veteran discount apps that can point out where you can find even more savings.
  • Take advantage of VA housing benefits (1-877-827-3702) and Veterans Life Insurance (1-800-669-8477), this can save you thousands of dollars over the course of your life and provide you and your family greater financial security.
  • Take advantage of Veterans education benefits which can boost your earning potential and the amount of money you take in.  The VA Education Call Center is available at 1-888-442-4551 (Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. CST) for any questions about your GI Bill benefits and entitlements.
  • Learn the difference between expense needs and expense wants.  An expense need is something that you must spend your money on to survive or promote wellness whereas an expense want is something that you would like to spend your money on for comfort or pleasure.  Every time you buy something, ask yourself: "Is this item something I need or something I want?"  If you need it, buy it.  If you want it and have already paid for your needs, buy it.  But if you want it and haven't yet paid for the things you need, you risk going into debt.
  • Working does not mean your disability benefits will automatically stop.  Disability recipients who work have more money on hand compared to those who don't work.  To find out about your benefits, call the Department of Veterans Affairs (1-800-827-1000) or the Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213).
  • Reduce your risk of financial exploitation.  Giving money to someone because of a phone call, letter, email, web advertisement, or TV advertisement raises risk of getting scammed.  If you exchange money for any reason, it is safest to do it in person and in a place of business (store, office, bank) with a solid reputation.  Or, if you transact over the web, make sure the website is reputable and secure, and that you use a credit card and use a good password.
  • If you are in debt, be cautious about TV, newspaper, internet, or mail advertised sources claiming to get rid of your debt.  Instead, ask about credit counseling at your bank, which you should check is protected and insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
  • Be aware that credit cards charge interest if you don't pay on time.  Also be aware that it is not enough to pay the 'minimum payment', you will start having interest added and you will never pay off your bill; instead, it'll get bigger each month.
  • Track your expenses for one week to discover the top three expenses items burning a hole in your wallet.  This could be cigarettes, lottery tickets, alcohol, or any other item.  Figure out how much you spend in a week on each item and multiply it by 52.  Now multiply that amount by 10.  This number is how much richer your future self will be in a decade if you stop buying that item.  What could you do with that money?  This knowledge will be critical for your not wasting money over the course of your life.

Bottom line: your financial health equals increasing the amount of money you bring in and decreasing the amount of money you spend.  The more you earn, the better your financial health.  The more you save, the better your financial health.  This means that your knowing the ten steps above is not enough: you need to put them into action to benefit.  Keep all this in mind as you strive to achieve financial empowerment.

No available resources

Consider referring Veterans to financial literacy and credit education programs as potential resources to bolster financial literacy and empowerment:
Fostering Financial Literacy and Security – National Alliance to End Homelessness 2013 offers helpful financial education tools and resources.

Repository for Career and Employment Resources is for unemployed Veterans, connecting them to job- search and skills-training resources.

For financial tools and resources for service members, Veterans, and military families, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

From reducing debt to finding a home loan to creating a family budget and protecting your identity and VA benefits, VA and its partners have resources to assist with managing your personal finances. For financial-related resources and links that can help you and your family manage, secure and protect your financial resources and well-being, see the VBA’s Financial Literacy website.

External Link Disclaimer: This page contains links that will take you outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs website. VA does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of the linked websites.

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