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military spouses Learn to be fiscal advisers

Tue., Oct. 28, 2008

Americans have a dismal grasp of fundamental economics, says Alicia Silfies, but soon the former art major will be in a position to help change that. The Eastern Washington University graduate last week was one of 189 military spouses in the nation and one of 14 in Washington accepted into a fellowship program for military spouses that helps participants earn designation as accredited financial counselors. In return, they agree to counsel military families for as long as two years.

The fellowships are a cooperative effort of the Association of Financial Counseling and Planning Education, National Military Family Association, and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.

The program, launched in 2006, pays for training and testing for financial counselors.

FINRA foundation Chairwoman Mary Schapiro said the fellowship program helps train people who understand the challenges of military life at a time of financial difficulty.

Silfies, who already volunteers at the Fairchild Family Resource Center, said she’ll attain her accreditation in about six months.

“I think I’ll be able to give more to the students after I finish the entire program,” she said.

Meanwhile, Silfies is taking online classes and acts as a patient advocate at Valley Hospital and Medical Center and Deaconess Medical Center. She must have 700 counseling experiences, of any kind, to qualify for accreditation. She has worked with 110 patients.

“It’s such fulfilling work,” she said.

Silfies graduated from EWU in June with a degree in business administration. That was a long way geographically and academically from the art degree she was seeking at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Ga.

She said she changed her major to marketing, for which she took an introductory course in finance. When she topped the class, Silfies said, her professor more or less strong-armed her into a career in finance.

It did not hurt that, on a career aptitude test, she was a match for financial planner.

Silfies finished her degree at EWU because her husband, Capt. Timothy Silfies, was transferred to the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild in November 2006.

The nomadic life of a military spouse was one reason a portable skill like financial counseling was attractive to Silfies. She’d like to open her own professional practice someday, she said, adding that her volunteer counseling and an internship at Waddell & Reed Inc. tells her the need is there.

From officers on down, Silfies said, too few people understand money.

She has been asked how big an emergency fund should be set aside, how much is enough for retirement, and how to earn and keep a good credit rating. There are concerns about credit cards and questions about insurance.

“You really get an in-depth look at all the issues,” she said. “These are really financially troubled times for everybody.”

If Silfies had her druthers, financial education would begin in the public schools. “We’re in the financial situation we are in as a country because of the lack of financial education.”

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