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Consumer Watch: Get a free FICO score, plus more ways to save

Feb. 16, 2012 - 12:04PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 16, 2012 - 12:04PM  |  
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How to get your free credit check

The FINRA Foundation is making free FICO scores available to military savers who take the saver pledge and to the first 10,000 Military Times readers who visit this website during Military Saves Week. Active-duty service members and spouses can claim their free score by clicking on the "Register for Your Free FICO Credit Score" icon and entering WNAUVGBU in the Financial Educator Code field. The code is valid Feb. 19-26.

Free credit scores, sweet deals from banks and credit unions, and prizes are among the incentives offered during Military Saves Week to entice troops and their families to save more money and pay off debt.

If you take the http://www.militarysaves.org">saver pledge online from Feb. 19-26, you'll get a code that lets you get your FICO score for free, said Andia Dinesen of the Consumer Federation of America, which coordinates the America Saves campaign. The free credit score is paid for by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, a sponsor of Military Saves.

FICO scores normally cost $19.95. By law, everyone can get three free credit reports a year, one from each of the national credit reporting agencies. Credit scores are based on information compiled by those agencies, used by lenders to decide whether to loan you money, and at what interest rates.

By joining Military Saves, you'll get monthly newsletters with tips on savings and paying down debt. The campaign collects no personal data and does not track how much the 100,000 people in the military community have saved since they signed the pledge over the last five years of the campaign's existence.

But in a survey last year of those who had signed up, nearly one-third of the 276 respondents said they had saved more than $10,000 each since taking the pledge.

Look for things going on in your community. Personal financial managers plan and participate in activities such as military spouse financial-success seminars, financial-planning counseling, budget-making days and retirement planning days, to name a few. Banks and credit unions on bases also will offer special deals and incentives. For example:

Service Credit Union will offer its Military Saves Account MSA/13, paying 2 percent interest on balances of $2,500 or less, guaranteed until Nov. 30. You must sign up for the Military Saves pledge; those who do automatically will be entered to win an iPad.

Fort Hood National Bank will deposit an additional $20 into the accounts of those who open a Military Savings Account and maintain a balance of at least $20 for 12 consecutive months.

Customers who sign up for Armed Forces Bank's Saving Cents program will get $10 deposited into their savings accounts. Savings Cents rounds up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfers the rounded-up amount to a savings account.

Save money, win money

Members of the military community who sign up for the new, free SaveUp program will be eligible for a $1,000 Military Saves Week prize, sponsored by the Defense Credit Union Council. http://www.saveup.com/military">Click here to sign up. The deadline is 11:59 p.m. PST on Feb. 26. In March, the program will award another $1,000 prize.

The idea is to provide rewards to those who save and pay down debt. SaveUp co-founder Priya Haji noted that some programs in other countries link prizes to saving, but "in the U.S., rewards are always connected to spending money," such as credit card rewards programs.

In the first three months after the launch of SaveUp, she said, tens of thousands of people have saved a collective $12.9 million, and paid off a collective $12.3 million in debt.

You earn a credit for every dollar you deposit into your savings and retirement accounts. For checking accounts, you earn one credit for every $1 increase in your average daily balance for the month. You also earn one credit for every $1 you pay in debt reduction for car loans, mortgages, student loans and other loans. For credit cards, you earn a credit for every $2 paid on your credit card balance.

You use those credits toward entering drawings for cash and prizes, including a $2 million cash prize. If you have the credits, you can enter daily.

Roland "Arty" Arteaga, president and CEO of the Defense Credit Union Council, has been monitoring the concept of prize-linked savings initiatives as part of his work on the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, considering whether it should be used on a broader scale.

"This seems to attract people to saving. It's not just saving, but paying down debt," he said.

He has signed up for SaveUp himself. "I believe our troops may take a liking to this," he said.

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