Credit Score Basics

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension,

Photo by Jason Rogers
Photo by Jason Rogers

Remember those report cards that told you (and your parents!) how you were doing in school? Maybe you thought those days were over, but they’re not. Every day, millions of people are “graded” with credit reports and credit scores.

Today at 11 a.m. ET, the eXtension Military Families Learning Network Personal Finance Team will host a a webinar called Credit Scores: What’s New? Below is a list of basic information about credit scores that military families and the financial educators and counselors who serve them need to know:

  • A credit report is a summary of someone’s history of paying debts and other bills. It is prepared by credit reporting agencies (a.k.a., credit bureaus) and used to make business decisions by those who have a legitimate need for the information. The three major credit bureaus are Equifax , Experian, and TransUnion. A good analogy for credit reports is report cards at elementary schools that provide a detailed summary of students’ performance.
  • Credit scores are a three-digit number calculated by statistical analyses to measure the risk that a borrower will become delinquent or default. It is a weighted average of factors that have been shown to be related to the creditworthiness of individuals. The higher a person’s credit score number, the better. A good analogy for credit scores is a grade point average used to measure college students’ academic success.
  • The most commonly used credit score is the FICO score, which ranges from 300 (low) to 850 (high). The average FICO credit score in the U.S. in early 2015 was 695 according to Fair Isaac Corporation, the FICO score creator.
  • The better your credit score “GPA,” the better your chances of obtaining a loan or credit card and obtaining lower-cost credit that can save hundreds, or in the case of home mortgages, thousands of dollars of interest over the length of a loan. Credit scores are also used in setting rates for insurance policies. In addition, potential landlords and employers use them as a character reference.
  • The most important factor in a person’s FICO credit score is bill payment history, which is weighted at 35% of the total score. Other key factors are the amount owed as indicated by the proportion of outstanding debt to available credit limits (30%), the length of a person’s credit history (15%) , the number of recent credit inquiries (10%), and the mix of types of credit (e.g., credit cards, auto loan, mortgage, etc.) used (10%).
  • There is no federal law on the books (yet) that mandates free credit scores upon request like there is for credit reports. However, many credit card companies now provide free credit scores on monthly statements or online as a way to attract and retain customers. Examples of companies that provide free credit scores include Barclaycard US, Capital One, Citibank, Commerce Bank, Discover, First Bankcard, and USAA.
  • Another way to get a free credit score is for persons applying for a car loan, mortgage, or home refinancing to simply ask their prospective lender for this information. Especially for mortgages, lenders have probably already charged loan applicants a fee to check their credit score.

So, if you thought your report card and GPA days were over, think again. Your credit report and credit score are a “snapshot” of your credit history at a particular point in time and you are constantly being “graded.” Paying bills on time and not becoming overextended are the two best ways to raise your credit score.

For more information about credit scores, take the Credit Score Quiz.

Picking Up the Pieces: Working with Children Exposed to Family Violence

By Isadora Burnham and Violina Lilova

Shattered Glass
Flickr [Px4u by Team Cu29, September 1, 2013, CC BY-ND]
Little ears and little eyes.  When whispering turns into shouting, who hears it?  When yelling turns into shoving, who sees it?  Couples often do not realize the impact their actions and words may have on their children.  Witnessing a traumatic event can hugely impact a child. Little and Bogel (1998) noted that “witnessing” can have such a large impact on a person that the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was amended in 1987 to include it [2].  However, when Initmate Partner Violence (IPV) is occurring in the home, “witnessing” does not correctly encompass the full experience of the child.  Children “exposed” to IPV in the home witness, intervene, and are used as property to continue a pattern of abuse between parents [1].

When treating victims of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), why is it relevant to consider the children exposed to IPV when they have not been abused as well? As service professionals, we tend to focus on the victim of IPV and may disregard the children in the home as potential victims, themselves. Thus, we would like to focus on the effects children may obtain when exposed to IPV.  Effects may include: fear, depression, anxiety, PTSD, loneliness, lowered self-worth, self-blame, lowered verbal intellectual functioning, lowered reading ability, and many more [1].  Some of these effects align similarly to the effects experienced by the actual victims of IPV, which provides evidence for the significant impact children exposed to IPV experience. So, is it important to inquire about the amount of exposure to IPV a child has experienced?  Absolutely. Multiple family types may experience IPV in the home, including military families.  Soldiers who serve in the military and do tours overseas may have experienced or were exposed to traumatic events. Some may even experience second-hand trauma.  Thus, when returning to the US and their families, some soldiers may find it difficult to disable the effects of the traumatic experiences from spilling over into other aspects of their lives.  If one continuously relives those experiences, then those around them may experience a form of second-hand trauma themselves.  Hence, it is important to consider the traumatic military experience and the trauma one may inflict on others as a result of that experience.  If a child were to experience some form of second-hand trauma based on the parent’s military experience along with exposure to IPV between parents, the effects might be likely to increase.  Thus, children in military families may be considered at greater risk of obtaining negative effects from exposure to IPV and related second-hand traumatic experiences.  According to Little and Bogel (1998), children exposed to IPV in the home are also likely to become victims of violence [2].

Little and Bogel (1998) state that witnessing IPV occurring in the home should be considered a form of psychological child abuse [2].  As time and research progressed, the impact of IPV on children became more prevalent, and policies were adopted to recognize this as a form of psychological child abuse [1].  While the legal system does recognize this, there will always be discrepancies in what is truly considered child abuse. Thus, there will be instances where the impacts of IPV on the children in the home go unnoticed, and children go untreated. Hence, when working with families experiencing IPV in the home, the effects on children should never be overlooked.  Moylan et al. (2010) found that 3.3 to 10 million children are exposed to IPV in the home every year, which indicates the relevance of being aware of the impact IPV may have on children when exposed [3].  There is a strong indicator that children exposed to IPV in the home may also become victims of abuse [3].  The effects children may experience as a result of exposure are copious and subject to vary per child.  Although our focus was not on gender differences, research has found a difference in the impacts of exposure to IPV based on gender [3].

When working with families experiencing IPV in the home, it is important for service professionals to inquire about the family structure and dynamics. It is also important to attend to the potential second-hand trauma the children in the home could experience without making therapy solely about the children and not the victim. Service professionals should communicate with clients about the effects children in the home may experience from IPV and some common signs and symptoms among this population of children.  It may be helpful for the service professionals to mention the child’s presence during an altercation for the client to become aware of the events witnessed by the child.  As service professionals, we must be mindful of how we language terms and phrases when dealing with children who have experienced second-hand trauma to refrain from encouraging a child to relive a traumatic event. We must be aware of the fact that children have less of a choice and voice to violence occurring in their homes than do victims. Put simply, children are forced to live with IPV [1].  Service professionals, including mental health clinicians, are mandated reporters of child abuse. Laws may vary from state to state regarding reporting child abuse solely based on exposure to IPV in the home [1]. Thus, it is important to be familiar with the laws of your state.

Resources for clinicians:
  • For more research findings on the effects children experience when exposed to IPV in the home, click here.
  • For information to provide to a parent who is curious about the ways IPV in their relationship may impact their children, click here.
  • For a short video to provide insight as to what life looks like for child exposed to IPV, click here. Another video about a family experiencing IPV in the home can be found, here.



[1] Goddard, C. & Bedi, G. (2010). Intimate partner violence and child abuse: A child-centred perspective. Child Abuse Review, 19(1), 5-20.

[2] Little, P. L. & Bogel, C. M. (1998). The effects of spousal abuse on children: Awareness for correctional educators. Journal of Correctional Education, 49(1), 30-39.

[3] Moylan, C., Herrenkohl, T., Sousa, C., Tajima, E., Herrenkohl, R., & Russo, M. (2010). The effects of child abuse and exposure to domestic violence on adolescent internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. Journal of Family Violence, 25(1), 53-63. doi:10.1007/s10896-009-9269-9

This post was written by Isadora Burnham and Violina Lilova, guest bloggers for the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Isadora and Violina are masters-level marriage and family therapist (MFT) in training enrolled in the Marriage and Family Therapy Department at Valdosta State University. They also work as MFT interns at VSU’s FamilyWorks Clinic, a community-based family therapy clinic. You may find more about the authors, here. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD team on our website, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.

MFLN “Network News” – May 2016


Looking for something to enrich your daily commute or for a unique professional development opportunity? Look no further! For this month’s “Network News,” we’ve rounded up a variety of podcasts and audiocasts from across the MFLN for your listening pleasure. You’ll find expert interviews, practitioner perspectives, mindfulness practices, and more.

If you are new to the world of podcasts and audiocasts, we recommend you give them a try. You can listen on any portable device or on your desktop with just the click of a button. Below you’ll find a comprehensive list of the podcasts and audiocasts currently available from the Military Families Learning Network.

  • The Family Transitions concentration area has developed a rich variety of bite-sized audiocasts ranging from 5 to 15 minutes in length. You’ll hear personal stories from couples in transition and perspectives from practitioners and researchers in the field of military family transitions. A series of blog posts is also available as a supplement to several of the episodes. Find the complete listing of Family Transitions’ podcasts on their blog page:
  • The Family Development concentration area will be releasing a 5-part podcast series entitled “Anchored” early this summer. The episodes will delve into the real life struggles and topic areas that many families encounter and practical solutions used to lessen ripple effects. Further information on the series is available on Family Development blog page:

As always, we’ve got an array of professional development webinars on tap for May. Be sure to tune in for one or all. To stay in the loop with all the latest from the MFLN, you can:

MFLN Webinars - May 2016 (1)

Three Key Take-Aways from the webinar “Building Community Partnerships to Meet Transitioning Service Member & Family Needs”

by Dr. Karen Shirer

karen s

Most transitions in the course of one’s family and military life can be predicted and planned. However, sometimes due to the unique nature of military service, a family may become overwhelmed and seek out community services for assistance. In addition, family readiness services may be overtaxed by the requests for help due to the complex nature of the problems and their own reduction in resources to provide services.  So what can be done?

The webinar, Building Community Partnerships to Meet Transitioning Service Member and Family Needs, provides important solutions to these complex problems.  Strong community partnerships provide invaluable capacity and resources as you work with military service providers to meet the transitioning needs of service members and their families.  However, partnerships don’t just happen; they are created and developed over time with intention.  Here are three key take-aways from the webinar that will help strengthen your partnership ability.

  1. Military service members and their families are diverse and possess unique strengths and challenges. This fact seems obvious but is crucial to keep in the forefront. Just like non-military families, military families have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. They are headed by single parents, unmarried parents, married parents, and step parents. Some are grandparents raising grandchildren. Some parents are same sexed and others are heterosexual. In addition, those who serve in the military have become more diverse, not just culturally, but where they live and how they serve. More serve in the guard and reserves where the military is not their first job. And their families may not see themselves as military and live far from military installations. Yet they also experience both normative and difficult transitions without the formal military family support system.
  2. No organization or provider can meet all the transition needs of military families. Families, whether they are military or civilian, live within communities, and to thrive need both formal systems of support, like Family Readiness Services and other community supports, and informal networks, like their family and friends. Ideally, formal systems of support complement informal networks. Most families prefer asking for help from their informal networks. However, at times a family’s informal network is weakened due to a transition or crisis as well as separation from their support system. Formal systems may need to be accessed to provide critical support until informal networks can be rebuilt.
  3. Building community partnerships takes knowledge, skill and experience to be done effectively. Most professional who work with families did receive training and education on effectively developing community partnerships. Yet, capacity to work effectively with formal organizations and informal networks in the community are critical for effectively helping military families through transitions. The webinar provides a number of high quality and credible training resources and materials on partnership, much of it available on the Internet. You can also surf the Internet yourself and find toolkits that will support your partnership building efforts. I have found the best way to learn how to build partnerships is “just do it” as a famous athletic shoe maker promotes. Training gives you the initial confidence to try partnership building but doing it, learning from mistakes and going back to it will build your capacity even more.

In summary, to effectively serve military families through transitions engage organizations in formal community networks and find ways to help family members better use their informal supports. Families will become more resilient and thrive.

Karen Shirer is a member of the Military Families Learning Network Family Transitions Team and the Associate Dean with the University of Minnesota, Extension Center for Family Development. Karen is also the parent of two adult daughters, a grandmother, a spouse, and a cancer survivor.

Communication “In the Crunch”: Upcoming Caregiving Webinar

May Webinar Announcement

We invite you to join us Wednesday May 4, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for our free webinar Communication “In the Crunch.”

This webinar will focus on practices that open communication possibilities, and provide strategies for improving communication when under pressure.

Although we all have the intention to communicate clearly, during times of high stress or when we are “in the crunch,” we often revert to less skillful styles of making our point.

In this interactive 60-minute online session, participants will have the opportunity to discover how personal ‘agendas’ repeatedly interfere with effective communication, and will take away a RECIPE for more effective and efficient communication.

Reflective listening
Compromise and cooperation
I” Messages



Jane B. Riffe, Ed.D., LISCW, LPC

West Virginia University Extension Specialist in Family & Human Development, retired.


A certificate of completion will be available following the webinar. For more information about this event please go to the learn event page at

Interested in Joining the Webinar?

To join the webinar, simply click on Communication “In the Crunch.” The webinar is hosted by the Department of Defense APAN system, but is open to the public.

If you cannot connect to the APAN site, an alternative viewing of this presentation will be running on Ustream. Mobile options for Ustream are available on all Apple and Android devices.

This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on April 29, 2016.

Friday Field Notes

In our third Friday Field Notes blog post we are welcoming back Jessica and Sandy from our first Friday Field Notes to hear the second part of their story.  The previous post told how cooperative extension educators in Wisconsin worked with County Veterans Service Officers in their community to build capacity to address PTSD and Criminal Justice Response to Veterans in Crisis.  Now their story continues.  As you read this post, consider how your efforts to build community capacity to enhance the resilience and well-being of military families via job and career assistance might benefit  from a collaboration with cooperative extension in your community.

Friday Field Notes

Jessica photoHello and welcome back to the rest of our story (so far). In our last Friday Field Notes update, we shared the story of how we began working with our local County Veterans Service Officer on an educational program geared toward helping various service providers and emergency workers understand appropriate responses to veterans in crisis. It was clear from the discussion and evaluations that there was a lot of interest in continuing to network with the agencies in attendance (and those not in attendance).

Sandy Liang 001 resized 2015We never expected this one event to lead to much more than assistance in coalition building (in fact, we didn’t even have that expectation until after the first event). As it turned out, the local veterans home sent a few people to the event. Thanks to their incredibly dynamic PR Director, Amber, they had already been interested in doing their own educational programming and wanted to find out what others were doing.

Planning the Second Event – Forging a New Partnership

Amber and other staff at the Wisconsin Veterans Home – King had never heard of UW-Extension, and certainly had no idea that we could assist with educational programming in any way. When they connected with our local CVSO, Jesse, they were hoping to just find out how they could get Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for their speakers and professionals attending their event. Since we managed that process for Jesse, he connected Amber to us.

You could say that we initially injected ourselves into Amber’s programming – she needed CEUs, and we needed to be an integral part of the educational programming to provide the CEUs. However, once we sat down with Amber and explained UW-Extension’s mission in the community, that it included assisting non-profit and governmental entities such as the Wisconsin Veterans Home – King, the possibilities of a collaboration between our organizations became apparent – and seemingly endless! In fact, one of the requests from Amber’s office was for us to teach them about using Google Forms – which they ended up using to take in registrations.

So we were enthusiastically welcomed into the planning process for the first educational event, which occurred in January of 2016. Because of WVH – King’s connections across the state and its extensive email contacts, this event drew a larger crowd of just under one hundred. In attendance were local service providers that had attended the county sponsored event, people from surrounding counties, and even several from across the state.

Mental Health Awareness Summit, January 2016

Each of our planning meetings seemed to buzz with endless ideas. There was no lack of passion in the room, that’s for sure. In a room of endless ideas, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. At times it felt like we were moving forward with only a small understanding of intended outcomes, and we were running up against a very tight timeline. There was a need to find a way to come together to think about what we wanted the summit to accomplish. In the Extension world, we are often drilled to think of logic models—or, the importance of being purposeful in our programming to ensure we achieve our intended outcomes. Because we were brought into the planning process late, we did not have the luxury of time for this level of planning.Mental_Health_poster for FFN Jessica

One way we were able to incorporate deliberate outcomes planning was by involving the stakeholders in the revision of the evaluation. When we work with groups, shared measurement and a common agenda are key components for collective impact. Using this thought process, we revised the evaluation tool, in collaboration with Amber and her staff at WVH – King. The changes were minor, but they offered an opportunity to consider outcomes.  The edits to the evaluation also helped guide us for future planning by asking participants about potential topics for future events.

When planning the facilitated discussion, we decided to keep the format of the discussion very similar to the event we collaborated on with our CVSO. Again, this decision was not made without the input of our partner. Just like the first event, all of us were also interested in obtaining behavior change. We wanted to offer more than just “information and education.” Our hope was that this would provide some comparative data and the chance for deeper discussion. And it did.

After learning about suicide, various mental health resources, PTSD & Traumatic Brain Injury, dementia, and listening to heart-wrenching testimonials (agenda),mental health summit it was time for discussion.

Given the size of the crowd, the configuration of the room, and the wide variety of organizational affiliation, we had to give up on our idea of separating the participants into “like” groups according to industry or profession. We asked participants to discuss possibilities for serving veterans and their families, and to identify things they can do without more resources or authority.

What were the top needs for serving veterans in our community/region?

The small group discussions provided a wealth of information, as well as two areas of overlap with the discussions at the smaller county-sponsored event. Qualitative analysis of the discussion notes revealed these top six needs for serving veterans in the community/region:

  1. More educational opportunities.
  2. More listening & understanding.
  3. More commitment/political support.
  4. More opportunities for collaboration/networking/coalitions.
  5. More outreach.
  6. Support for female veterans.

The two areas of overlap between the two events were: the need for more educational opportunities and more opportunities for networking.

The evaluations were another key role we played as Cooperative Extension educators. As a group, we had acknowledged the importance of the evaluation. Amber offered to have a raffle for those who turned their evaluation sheets in at the end. Now, if you have ever held a workshop, it often takes some nudging to convince people to take a few minutes. We were the only thing between them and lunch.

Well, we ended up having a long line of participants eagerly waiting to turn their evaluations in…that was a career first for both of us, and we couldn’t have done it without the generous dedication from Amber.

jessica chart for FFNOverall, about 60% of the participants turned in an evaluation, and 100% of those that completed an evaluation stated that the workshop fulfilled their reason(s) for attending. By a large margin, participants found the testimonials to be the most helpful to them. No one reported that they found the discussion to be helpful, which we expected, but it was instrumental in helping us understand where to go next with this.

Cooperative Extension Adds Value

We have felt incredible lucky to have been able to work with Amber, and it seems that the feeling is mutual: “Collaboration with UW-Extension has opened up so many great opportunities to reach and educate various professions and community stakeholders.  The resources UW-Extension provided and is able to provide opens up so many opportunities to reach more people, offer continuing education credit to pull in more interest, access to better processes and technology and software that enhances an educational event, etc. This partnership has me so excited for what we can do to bring much needed education to community stakeholders that ultimately can impact people’s lives in a positive way!” ~ Amber Nikolai, Director of PR at WVH-King

On the evaluations, participants were asked to share how they intend to use what they learned during the summit. While we had many passionate answers, this one was the most common – and it is a great example of a ripple effect.

jessica quote for FFN

What will the future bring for us and this effort?

This partnership – both internal and with our external partners – is a good example of how Extension helps transform communities. Today, more than ever, we know the value and necessity of coordinated, collaborative efforts. Whether it is within our own organization  (in our case, Family Living and Community Development program areas) or with external relationships, we achieve more when we work together. One thing we noticed during the discussion portion was the time spent on introductions in the beginning, rather than immediately answering the questions. In our opinion, this was time well-spent because although all of the participants shared an interest in veteran issues, this summit became a place to meet new colleagues, friends and potential partners.

This fledgling network has led to some additional efforts, also. Shortly after the summit, Sandy introduced Amber to the local suicide prevention coalition, as well as an annual community services resource event—neither of which she or her staff had been a part of before. There is now a mental health awareness walk planned in the fall, as the result of the organizations joining forces.

As Coop Extension educators we may not always be directly in front of a classroom teaching, but we educate and transform in other ways. Extension is often known as the “backbone” organization, working to sustain and move work forward. But we obviously don’t do it alone—we need our partners, too.

Thank you for reading our story. We hope you found it helpful!

Freedom isn’t Free video –

Caring For America’s Heroes at the Veterans Home In King video…

About us:

Jessica Beckendorf
Jessica became passionate about communities while growing up as a military kid, making frequent cross-country moves and living in many different cities. After obtaining her Bachelor of Arts in Urban and Regional Studies at UW-Green Bay, she proceeded to work in just about every sector of community development – Geographic Information Systems, urban planning and zoning, and economic development. In 2014, Jessica finished her Master of Arts degree in Communications & Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University, and began her journey as an educator with the University of Wisconsin Coop Extension where her current focus includes building capacity and facilitating an environment conducive to resilient communities.

Sandy Liang
Sandy Liang is a Family Living Educator for Waupaca County with the University of Wisconsin-Extension. Her work includes community assessments, parenting education and family support for at-risk populations. Liang enjoys collaborative efforts, and is on several coalitions to support families in the county. She believes that together, we create a community to support thriving, resilient individuals and families.
Liang has a M.S. from Purdue University in Child Development and Family Studies. One particular project she enjoyed working on at Purdue was “The Purple Wagon” project, investigating children’s understanding and emotions relating to issues of war and peace.

Interested in learning more about this subject? Want to share a story? We invite you to comment.

Audio Cast with Rose Straeter MA, RLC, IBCLC and Dr. Karen Chapman-Novakofski

WHO AAP Breastfeeding

by Robin Allen, MSPH, RDN, LDN

What a great webinar, April 26 with Rose Marie Straeter, MA, RLC, IBCLC Breastfeeding-Nature’s Best.

If you missed this webinar, you could still obtain CPEU by listening to the recording located on the Learn Event page

Listen to this audio chat with Rose Marie Straeter, MA, RLC, IBCLC  and Dr. Karen Chapman-Novakofski to get insight into how to help your clients feel comfortable breastfeeding.

Rose Straeter audio cast with Dr. Karen Chapman-Novakofski

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirms its recommendation of breastfeeding exclusively for six months. After six months infant foods can be introduced with breastfeeding continuing for one year. Breastfeeding and human milk are the standards for infant feeding and nutrition.  According to the AAP, breastfeeding results in improved infant and maternal health outcomes.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) “Breastfeeding Report Card” highlights the progress of achieving the breastfeeding goals outlined in Healthy People 2010 and 2020.  The overall rate of breastfeeding according to National Immunization Survey data are 75%. However, this varies significantly by sociodemographic and cultural differences.  The breastfeeding rate of the Hispanic or Latino population was 80.65%, the non-Hispanic or African American population was 58.1%.  The rate of breastfeeding in low-income mothers receiving Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) was 67.5% but with higher income mothers the rate was 84.6%.  Mothers younger than 20 years were less likely to breastfeed than a mother over 30.

With all the benefits of breastfeeding, how do we as providers encourage mothers to breastfeed?


American Academy of Pediatrics, March 2012, Volume  129/Issue 3 Policy Statement Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.   accessed April 28, 2016


This post was written by Robin Allen, a member of the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the MFLN Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website, on Facebookon Twitterand LinkedIn.

FD Webinar|Battles on the Home Front: Working with Multi-Crisis Families

Battles on the Home Front: Working with Multi-Crisis Families

Date: May 19, 2016

Time: 11:00 am-12:30 pm Eastern


Window on red house
Flickr [Broken by Lambert Rellosa, April 16, 2012, CC BY-ND 2.0]
Dr. Andrew Behnke, PhD, CFLE  is an associate professor of human development and an extension Latino parent specialist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. In this webinar, Dr. Behnke will assist service professionals in identifying available resources for helping individuals and families with multiple, complex family issues. He will outline similarities and differences within treatment issues, such as addiction, and discuss various treatment approaches from an Addiction Interaction Theory framework. Join us on May 19th at 11:00 am Eastern!

We offer 1.5 National Association of Social Worker CE credits and CE credits for licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in the state of Georgia for each of our webinars, click here to learn more. For more information on future presentations in the 2016 Family Development webinar series, please visit our professional development website or connect with us via social media for announcements: (Facebook & Twitter)

Credit Score Refresher

By Ayesha Haider, BA, MBA, AFC Candidate

Your credit score is often the first indicator that banks, potential employers and landlords and financial institutions turn to when assessing your financial health and deciding whether to do business with you. But what exactly makes up a credit score? Are certain items given more weight than others in determining a score? And how good or bad is your score compared to the rest of the Nation?

Let’s start with the basics:

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a number derived from your current and past financial behaviors which lenders and other organizations use to assess how much risk they will be taking on by extending you credit. There are numerous credit scores that are used by financial institutions, and each of these has a different formula for calculating your level of risk. The most well-known and widely used score is the Fair Isaac Corporation’s FICO score.

What makes up a credit score?

A credit score is determined by collecting and classifying individuals’ financial transactions. The FICO score is calculated based on payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), credit mix (10%) and new credit (10%). Keep in mind that your credit score is constantly changing with every financial decision you make – from taking out a new loan, to paying your bills every month – so it is important to know what will have an adverse or beneficial effect on your score.

What is not included in a credit score?

Your credit score will never be affected by your race, religion, national origin, sex or marital status. It will also not take into account where you live, your salary or employment history, age or the interest rates that you are currently being charged. Oftentimes, your credit score may suffer as a result of stolen identity, illness or other unforeseen life events. It is important to know that you reserve the right to have a personal statement included in your credit report that can be viewed by potential lenders and may assist in explaining a poor credit score.

How “good” is my score?

A good or bad credit score really depends on which score you are looking at and what financial transactions you will be using your credit score for. Most scores range from 301 to 850 with anything above 650 being considered a “good” score and anything below this number to be considered “bad”. Experian’s 2015 state of credit report shows that the average score for Americans last year was 669 (up three points from the 2014 average of 666).

Knowing how your credit score is calculated and what it is used for is the first step to working towards (or maintaining) a favorable credit score. To obtain your FICO score, visit the myFICO website or visit your base Personal Financial Counselor who may be able to obtain your score free of charge.

Credit Scores- What's New- (1)Join us next week on Tuesday, May 3 at 11 a.m. ET for Credit Scores: What’s New? with Dr. Barbara O’Neill and Rod Griffin from Experian. This 90-minute webinar will cover the fundamentals of credit reporting and credit scoring and what you must do to get the credit you want and need. This webinar is approved for 1.5 CEUs for AFCs through AFCPE and CPFCs through FinCert.

Financial Tips for a Stress-Free Relocation

By Ayesha Haider, BA, MBA, AFC Candidate

Relocation is a challenging time for even the most seasoned service members who have experienced numerous PCS moves. In addition to the emotional difficulties of leaving friends and familiar surroundings behind is the burden of starting from scratch in a foreign location. While finances may be the last thing on your mind during this hectic time, the following tips are sure to ensure a smoother, less stressful relocation for you and your family:

Photo by Chris Waits
Photo by Chris Waits
  1. Really know what your expenses are: On the surface, the expenses associated with relocation may seem fairly obvious but there are many other “hidden” costs of relocation that are often overlooked and may result in a stressful relocation experience. Basic examples include, fuel (if you are driving to your new location), furniture/appliance replacement (for damaged items not covered by insurance), and costs associated with buying/selling a house or car. Some less obvious examples include the costs of living “on the go” such as eating out more. Keep track of your expenses by creating a list of potential expenditures associated with the move. This can even be a brainstorming activity for the whole family and a great way to introduce your children to the basics of financial management.
  1. Have an emergency fund: It is important to have an emergency fund that covers 3-6 months of expenses regardless of if you are relocating or not. However, during relocation an emergency fund can provide you with an unprecedented level of financial security. Many of the costs associated with relocation are reimbursed but you are not likely to receive reimbursement for many weeks after they have been incurred. Knowing that you have a cushion to cover any short term financial needs associated with the move can give you the peace of mind to focus on other important matters such as finding accommodation or researching school districts.
  1. Update your bank and utility accounts: it is crucial that your banking institutions and credit card companies are aware of your move and have your new address as soon as possible. This prevents them from sending sensitive information to an older address that may be occupied by another tenant now. It also prevents credit card companies from freezing your account due to transactions you make while on the move. In addition to your financial accounts, remember to close any utility accounts under your name that you will no longer be using. To avoid penalty fees for early termination of contracts, refer to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
  1. Create a new budget for your new life: A new living situation is most likely going to have an effect on your financial situation as well. You may be paying more or less rent, have a higher or lower BAH, and may have less disposable income as a result of one spouse having to resign from their job as a result of the move. Once you’re settled into your new home, be sure to create a new budget to reflect these changes and to see how they affect your saving and investment goals.
  1. Make use of your resources: Knowledge is power – and knowledge is also the most important tool you have at your disposal when PCSing. Conduct research on the new location you are moving to and shop around for the best deals on housing, cars and other purchases early on in the moving process. The internet is a great source of information on both your new location and any obstacles you might be facing while planning your move. It’s also a good idea to tap into your network of friends and family to get first-hand information from anyone who has lived at this location in the past or currently resides there. There are also numerous organizations on base to help with your transition, such as the Airman & Family Readiness Center that offers a Plan My Move tool.

Following the tips listed above and staying positive and focused throughout the PCS process is sure to make your relocation experience less stressful and virtually hassle-free. Treat relocation as a valuable life lesson that allows you to practice your flexibility and planning skills and remember to share best practices of your moving experience with those around you to help them in their time of transition.