Karin McKerahan, MBA, CFP®, has been in the financial planning industry for over 20 years. After volunteering her services pro bono through her church for several years, she began looking for a more consistent way to give back. Five years ago, Karin learned about NAPFA Foundation’s partnership with Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit that gifts homes to veterans who were injured while serving, and she embraced the opportunity to give back and help the brave servicemembers become more financially stable.
The role of a pro bono financial planner with Building Homes for Heroes is to help the veterans develop a financial plan to keep them in their homes, ensuring they are prepared for the financial responsibilities of homeownership and can afford taxes, insurance, maintenance, and utilities. The engagements are typically monthly or bimonthly meetings over the course of two years, occurring both in person and virtually. No engagement is exactly like another — over the course of her different pro bono engagements, Karin has found that it’s important to be open minded, patient and willing to meet each hero wherever they are in their financial journey.
Karin’s first engagement was working with a hero who was in his forties. He had five kids, a good job working for the government, and was working on getting his master’s degree. Financially, he was quite savvy, and most of their engagement involved questions related to college and retirement planning. Many of Karin’s most recent engagements, however, have been with heroes who are younger and not sophisticated about money. Karin normally starts by helping them get a grip on spending, budgeting, and debt issues, as those issues must be addressed if the veteran is to successfully afford their home over time.
If the hero is open and willing, Karin also takes a more holistic approach, such as finding “the why” behind their spending habits or their difficulty in paying down their debt; however, she has learned to be patient, not to probe too much, and to let them take the lead. “Sometimes it is hard to get them to open up. [I have to remember to] be very patient, be kind, empathize, and remember that you’re there to help, not to interrogate. Let them take the lead on how much they want to share.”
Karin encourages other planners who work with veterans to also remember that these are not your typical clients. “Be prepared to adjust the way you work,” she explains “Adapt to the veteran’s comfort level. Set aside what you’ve learned about financial planning and just keep it simple. Building that trust is super important. For example, instead of sending virtual documents for them to fill out, if appropriate call them and fill in the document yourself, as it can be overwhelming for them.”
Read another story about a veteran’s experience with a NAPFA/Building Homes for Heroes pro bono financial planning program here.
“Be prepared to adjust the way you work. Adapt to the veteran’s comfort level… Building that trust is super important.”
Helps client to:
- Develop a budget in order to ensure their ability to keep up with their house-related expenses.
- Examine spending habits to reduce debt over time and begin to save.
- Achieve financial stability according to their own needs and pace.